The Second Most Important Lesson of Positive Leadership.

The most important lesson for those who aspire to be powerful, positive leaders is that it is not about you. The second most important lesson is to focus on one’s purpose and, almost always, that purpose/mission is to satisfy one’s customer.

In the private sector, focus on customers is easy because it is the customer who buys goods and services. Dissatisfied customers can act immediately to take their money and seek out other suppliers. If that dissatisfaction spreads, the enterprise is at risk of losing their ability to compete.

In the public sector, of which public schools are a part, there can be a disconnect between leadership and dissatisfied customers.

Unlike buyers of consumer goods and services, the end-users of public education (the community, parents and employers) are faced with limited choices. Rarely can they take their money and seek out other providers of education services. With no consequences with which to deal, leaders of schools and other public institutions  are under minimal pressure to alter what they do. In the absence of choices and meaningful responses from educators, the dissatisfaction of the community festers.

It is this author’s belief that striving to replace our nation’s public schools with a smattering of uninspiring charter schools is a classic example of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

Contrary to the perception of many public-school educators and advocates, however, education reformers—with  their focus on charter schools, vouchers, and digital learning—are driven by neither a greed for profits nor for a reliable pipeline of automatons to work in their factories. Just the opposite is true.

An over-supply of unthinking workers is the very thing employers are unhappy about.  And, while reformers may want their charter schools to make money, profits are not the motivation. There are much easier ways to make money.

The true motivation for creating charter schools, in present day, is to create an environment where dissatisfied parents can take their money and seek out a better school for their children; to have a choice. Having such choices puts pressure on providers to produce better outcomes.

It is this observer’s assertion that reformers are not out to do harm rather they are misguided. Just changing the name on the door does nothing to differentiate charter schools from public schools. Different teachers working in different facilities matters little if they teach in the same way. And, no, it does not matter that they rely more heavily on digital tools. Varying media does not alter the essential nature of the learning environment.

It is a positive environment that fosters learning and it is the quality of relationships that create positive environments.

What superintendents and local school boards must understand is that it is not enough to believe their schools are effective nor does it matter how hard their teachers and principals work, or how dedicated they may be. Neither does it matter that the societal issues of poverty, crime, discrimination, and segregation make it difficult for educators to do their jobs. These are excuses. The only thing that matters is whether a school’s outcomes are acceptable to their communities.

The challenge for leaders of public education—their essential purpose—is to accept responsibility for the outcomes with which one’s customers are disappointed and find solutions that work for all kids. Societal issues do not diminish the need for change, they make it more compelling.

In public education, or any other setting, innovative solutions must be sought outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom. Finding them requires that we go back to the drawing board and challenge our assumptions about what educators do, and why.

Throwing out the bathwater of public education but not the kids is a formidable challenge. Professional educators must take the lead and would do well to invite corporate America to join them in addressing this most significant challenge for 21st Century America. Only by working together and rallying around innovative solutions can educators and corporate America marshal the resources necessary to transform the American educational system.

The education model I have developed is an example of just such a solution and I invite superintendents and corporate leaders to examine it at

Public Schools and Teachers Must Heed Customers!

Public school teachers are not to blame for the problems in public education but they must accept responsibility for responding to the customer dissatisfaction and doing something to fix it.

I once heard a public school teacher making a presentation who said that “it was not his job to train students to work for someone’s corporation.” His comment brought an immediate cheer from the audience of other public school teachers. At the time, I accepted his comment as true. It was only later that I decided this was not right!

It is the job of our teachers and schools, both public and private, to help their students gain sufficient knowledge and skills to give them choices about what to do with their lives. One of the choices a young man or woman may make is to go to work for “someone’s corporation.” In fact, they all need to find some way to make a living for themselves and their families. If a young person lacks the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful at such a job then our public schools have not done its job. Performance must always be judged against the results produced and this applies to private, parochial and charter schools, as well.

This past week, The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, printed an article in which improved graduation rates in our area’s schools were touted. What those educators who were celebrating their success do not seem to understand is that, to the communities those school serve, graduation rates are meaningless statistics if these young graduates are unable to use what they have learned on the job, in the military, at a college or university, or as a responsible citizen of their communities. When many of those graduates return to their communities and gravitate to gangs, drugs, crime, violence, incarceration, or an early violent death, they don’t choose such a life because of its glamorous appeal, they choose it because they are not qualified for much of anything else. Clearly the interests of neither the community nor these young people are well-served.

When our private and public schools are meeting the needs of neither their students nor their communities then something is horribly wrong and it doesn’t matter whether we blame poverty and segregation, or unmotivated and unsupportive parents. When something does not work it is the responsibility of the people who produce that “something” to keep trying new approaches until they find something that will work. It is not sufficient for public school educators to say they are doing their best. Customer dissatisfaction is never acceptable even in a community with poverty and segregation.

What educators must come to accept is that it is dissatisfaction with the results produced by public schools that is the motivating force driving education reformers to use high stakes testing to document those unacceptable outcomes. It is such failures that are the motivating force behind the privatization of schools through the creation of charter schools and voucher programs. These reformers did not wake up one morning and decide that charter schools might prove to be a profitable enterprise. They were motivated by what they have witnessed with respect to the qualifications and work ethic of young people entering the job market and by their belief that they can do a better job. It does not matter whether we agree with this logic but it is the reality behind the reform movement.

Unfortunately, these business men and women did not apply the same rigorous problem-solving methodologies that they would have used to replace an under-performing production process in one of their operations. They did not take the time to understand why public schools are not performing up to their expectations and then use that knowledge to design a more effective education process. Rather, they decided that if they just move kids to a private school setting; pick teachers who are not members of a union; recruit students whose parents are motivated to move their child to a better school; and, then manage those schools the same way they manage their businesses, everything will be better.

Today, we are seeing that many of the charter schools that have been thus created are not performing any better than the public schools they were intended to replace. Instead they are teaching kids the same way public schools have been teaching for as long as any of us can remember and they are getting the same outcomes.

If we want better outcomes, we must take the time to understand why the existing educational process is not working and re-invent that process to do what we need it to do. We need an educational process that gives each and every child the time and resources they need in order to learn and that gives teachers the time, support, and resources they need to help their students along, each and every step of the way. We need an education model that works.

The education model I have introduced in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America is a model that is designed to give teachers what they need in order to teach and give kids what they need in order to learn. The reader is encouraged to check out both my model and a white paper that summarizes the findings and conclusions of my book at

Teachers Are the Solution and Not the Reason Why So Many Kids Fail!

Nothing will change for the better in public education until teachers take ownership and start doing things differently!

One of the most frightening things that can happen to a business is when its customers begin to take their business elsewhere. This is a watershed event and how the business chooses to respond will determine whether or not it survives.

This event signals that customer satisfaction has eroded and has been transformed into customer dissatisfaction. It is at this point when customers begin taking their business elsewhere.

In public education the very same thing is happening. There is a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the quality of education young people are able to demonstrate when they leave school. Public school teachers and other educators may not want to acknowledge this reality but it is real and it is tangible. It is this dissatisfaction that is the driving force behind education reforms and the call for more accountability through standardized testing.

What makes this situation even more critical with respect to public education is that our federal and state governments are encouraging families to abandon their local public schools. Many states, like Indiana, are promoting the creation of charter schools for just that purpose and many are providing vouchers as incentives for families to move their children from public school to charter schools or private schools.

Teachers do not live in an ivory tower and when they ignore the truth about this fermenting dissatisfaction they do so at their own peril. Government, reformers, and the much of the public actually believe the problems in public schools are the result of bad schools and bad teachers.

The only ones who know the truth are public school teachers, public school administrators and those few groups that advocate on their behalf. This reality will not change until public school educators begin doing things radically differently.

This shift must begin with a public acknowledgement on the part of teachers that the crisis in public education is real. This is something teachers already know no matter how much they try to ignore or deny it. The next step is to present to the public the real reasons why so many children fail and they need to make this presentation boldly at every opportunity.

Every teacher knows why the system fails but they need to believe that it is okay to shout out the truth because it is not their fault. They are as much victims as are their students and their communities.

As teachers, you know the educational process if flawed:

• Every time a student shows up in your classroom who is hopelessly behind;

• Every time you must move on to the next lesson when you know that some kids are not ready;

• Every time you are asked to focus on test prep rather than subject mastery;

• Every time you see students who have given up on themselves;

• Every time you see kids who could be honor students if only they cared
and would try;

• Every time a student disrupts your class because they are hopelessly behind and have no motivation to learn;

• Every time the parents of your struggling students:
o Do not show up for BTSN or P/T conferences,
o Do not respond to your phone calls or the notes you send home, and
o Blame you for the problems their kids are having at school,

• Every time a colleague leaves teaching or, worse, gives up and goes thru the motions; and,

• Every time your state or school district asks you to implement policy changes that make no sense and make your job even more difficult than it already is.

You know each and every one of these things is real and can probably add a few more to the list. Just remember that they are not your fault and start educating the American people of the real truth about public education.

The next step is even more important! Public school educators, singly and corporately, must tell the world that they have a solution and that they are the only ones who can fix the problems that contribute to this flawed educational process! Educators must not be afraid to ask for the public’s help, however, because there are believers out there.

Teacher must act or your schools will be shut down, just like that restaurant you once patronized that is no longer there and will soon be forgotten.

Teachers must act because the consequences of not acting will be catastrophic for our way of life. The current reforms will destroy our society as surely as a cancer will destroy the cells around it and time is running out!