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Friday, December 17, 2010

District Leadership Team

Our District Leadership Team met in a day-long session today. This group is comprised of the school principal, superintendent, and representatives of the parents, learners, and teachers. The committee is responsible for monitoring available information involving the school, identifying appropriate goals, and generating strategies designed to promote increased achievement levels within the school community.

It was a productive day. The committee received input from several different staff members who were invited to offer insightful perspectives on programs and practices. We discussed a wide range of issues that were related to our pursuit of progress, including the master schedule, the need to actively engage learners in meaningful learning experiences, program expansion, and enriching opportunities for learners. Most notable of the areas of focus was the exploration of a vision of the future of The Heatly School. It was a view not merely spanning a single school year from September through June, but stretching three years beyond the present. It was a chance to momentarily unburden ourselves from what is and imagine what could be and what needs to be. We examined the prospects of on-line learning, virtual classrooms, school-to-work career awareness programs, summer school, partnerships with local colleges, and other possibilities that would expand our reach beyond the walls of the school building to embrace the concept of being a small school with BIG ideas.

The experience reflected an atmosphere of collaboration. Here's an essay I was asked to prepare for the state department of education several years ago for a publication called The Possibilities Catalog. It speaks of the value and need for a synergy produced by cooperation among constituent groups within a school.

How ironic that shared decision making is often greeted with skepticism and reserve within an educational arena that simultaneously embraces cooperative learning as an attractive and appealing practice. The similarities between the two areas beg concomitant acceptance by any school sincerely interested in developing a community of learners. Both concepts rest upon the benefits derived from multiple perspectives obtained from the collaborative efforts of a small, heterogeneous group of people focusing on an assigned task. Learning evolves from the enriched insight available from a variety of stakeholders. Commitment is engendered through participation in crafting outcomes. Success is shared with all contributors.

     Instead, many schools are receiving the process of shared decision making as an unwelcome, externally generated mandate that will disrupt the traditional, albeit tenuous, relationship between labor and management. Many administrators fear a diminished leadership role (“The inmates will be running the asylum!”) while many teachers are reluctant to accept the responsibility of leadership (“Let the administrators make the decision, that’s what they get the big bucks for!).

     If school communities hope to experience effectiveness they must collectively pursue a vision which acknowledges that all staff members are capable of leading. This belief must be expressed with the same vigor that is employed when we preach that all children are capable of learning. Surely, staff members would receive training in leadership skills prior to the expectation that they exercise such abilities.

     The nature of typical schools, with egg crate classrooms resembling an archipelago of islands, serves as a detriment to the professional interaction that fosters collaboration. The privacy of teaching and isolation from other adults obstructs the cross fertilization of ideas. Schools need to promote a changed culture that nurtures individuality while also cultivating cooperation. Maintaining an organizational culture built upon a patriarchal covenant evidencing a top down, control oriented bureaucracy impacted by external authority is not conducive to harvesting the full potential of human resources in schools.

   Harold Leavitt suggests that, "the future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious." Too many schools have, unfortunately, waited for the merit of this concept to become quite obvious, and thrust upon them through mandates, before indulging in the mutually beneficial interaction that results from a genuine commitment to shared decision making. 

I enjoyed the collection of ideas and the creativity evidenced by group members. I believe the District Leadership Team will forge success through common goals and shared meaning. It will be interesting to discover how the committee guides our progress.

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