Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sustaining Outdated Practices Will Not Transform Schools

When one looks at education in general there is very little change from over 150 years ago.  Back then the education system was designed to serve an industrialized world that was in desperate need of skilled factory workers.  What resulted was the quick development of a system to educate as many students as possible in a fashion that was cheap and easy.  Conforming to this system created masses of compliant students who ultimately acquired the necessary skills to assist society become more industrialized. Fast forward 150 years and you will notice that the world has radically changed, but education has not. What are we really preparing our students for then? Seth Godin puts this question into context in the video below.



Watching the video above is a painful reminder of my lack of leadership at one point. During the early years as a high school principal I worked terribly hard to sustain practices that had been ingrained into the school learning culture. These practices looked good when viewed on the outside as they sustained the status quo, maintained control, and ensured the enforcement of rules/policies with the end result being an efficient educational system.  The resulting culture focused squarely on the metrics that my stakeholders held dear. So in the end my leadership was defined by maintaining a building driven by standardized test scores and how well students were able to conform to the system that I was brainwashed into sustaining. Luckily for me I was diverted along a different path thanks to an epiphany provided by social media.

Image credit: http://d3bzjcbbiattc5.cloudfront.net/assets/status_quo-0a5967ba7c6bca80e05a4b9836d8fabf.jpg

Upon reflection many years later, I have realized that my efforts created a stagnant school culture that was not appreciated in the least bit by the most important stakeholder group I was responsible for – my students.  If that was not bad enough, I also kept other stakeholders in the dark in regards to the innovative work that was taking place each and every day in my school as I relied on traditional methods of communication.  The evolution of technology has and continues to invoke fear in the eyes and minds of many types of school leaders tasked with transforming school cultures.  The fears, perceptions, and misconceptions that drive many leaders to maintain the status quo only work to perpetuate a growing disconnect that students experience with learning today. Conversely so other stakeholders remain in the dark in a time when leaders must be proactive with public relations to combat the negative rhetoric prevalent across the globe when it comes to education.

We can no longer afford to not only sustain an outdated system, but also rely on archaic practices that no longer have measurable impact.  The good news here is that the principles of effective leadership form a solid foundation to move schools in the direction that they need to go.  Digital leadership takes into account these effective principles that define great leadership along with the core work leaders do each and every day while leveraging available technology to do what is being done better. For greater context here are two recent posts I wrote for Scholastic:

  • Why today’s school leaders must become digital leaders: Leadership is no different today than it was years ago. The only difference is that style and focus need to change with the times if we are to accomplish the lofty task of preparing students for a dynamic world that is more social and connected as a result of technology. 
  • The seven pillars of effective digital leadership: Specific areas embedded in the culture of all schools that can be improved or enhanced through the use of available technology, especially social media. They present a framework from which any educator or leader can begin to harness the power of technology to change professional practice and initiate sustainable change. 

It is up to leaders in all positions to work smarter, not harder, if we are to create schools that provide an education that means something to our learners. For this to happen though, leaders need to get their heads out of the sand, acknowledge that the system and outdated practices no longer suffice, and take action to improve school culture.  If not, yet another generation of students will be lost upon graduation.

6 comments:

  1. This was a great reminder for me. Coming up on my 8th full year as a high school teacher, I can see in retrospect how much I have allowed those above me to slowly transform me to become like them. I have struggle with this in the past and more now being in grad school for Educational Administration. I still focus on the experience in my class but definitely not as much as I use to. The more I get creative and efficient in my efforts to educate my students I find myself meeting more and more brick walls set up by the powers that be. I will definitely be sharing this with like minds and hopefully a larger group to get more feedback and opinions.

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    1. I'm relieved to hear that from you, Marcus. I had to leave teaching because I was too different. It's good to hear there's hope in some places out there.

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    2. Marcus - The "powers that be" as you refer to were also major contributors to the rut that described above. The best you can do is be the change you wish to see in education and press forward for the benefit of your kids and school. Eventually your relevancy will empower others to move in a different direction with you.

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  2. Eric, continue to be careful. Supportive principals get targeted. Stay strong. I'd love to work at a school like yours.

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    1. Being careful has never been one of my strong suits :)

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  3. Empower students and educators to try new things and embrace failure. It's only through failiure that we all learn from the mistakes we made from taking chances. Be that leader that promotes this mindset. Great blog post.

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