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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Magic and School Improvement

This afternoon I presented a magic show in the local park to about 40 Green Island children at the request of the town's recreation program staff. Today was the last day of the summer program and the staff had created a carnival theme, hence the magic show. I have enjoyed performing magic for many years. The smiles and laughter of kids during the shows always provides me with great satisfaction. Their puzzled expressions and their "oohs" and "ahhs" reflect both their astonishment and their inability to solve the mysteries behind the tricks. The unknown arouses their curiosity as they attempt to figure how how the magic worked.

In that respect, magic is often like the process of improving schools. The need to do so arouses curiosity. On first blush, improving schools, like a carefully enacted sleight of hand, is a bit overwhelming to figure out. People are startled and left in amazement, with little or no hope of solving the mystery. However, if I actually showed you how to perform the magic you would be shocked at how simple it was to present. Naturally, there are key steps in the process. Timing is essential. Sequences and patterns are critical. The words of the magician, called "patter," are a vital component to the trick. As long as you know what you're doing, and you've practiced enough, it's rather easy.

I certainly don't expect that it will be at all easy to raise the test scores at Heatly. But, I am confident that we can demonstrate progress, and we won't need magic! It's a matter of finding a difference that will make a difference, by identifying leverage points which can produce success. Timing will be important. Having a clear mission, and a vision for the school that is credible and inspirational, is necessary to convince learners of all ages that the challenge is worth their effort. The "patter" in the case of school improvement involves continuous dialogue on converting data into usable information, understanding the effective tactics of the change process, nurturing the empowerment of staff members, creating and sustaining a viable and dynamic organizational culture, and diffusing leadership to all levels of the staff.

It can be done. It must be done.

We owe it to our children.

Dr. Michael Mugits

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