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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Losing Weight And Gaining Adequate Yearly Progress???

Losing Weight and Gaining Adequate Yearly Progress: A Fraction of the Traction and None of the Action

Lose thirty pounds in thirty days!! Take this pill and you too can shed inches from your waistline!! Simple weight loss from applying this lotion each night!! Eat all you want and still lose, by wearing this work-out suit specially designed by our research technicians!! If these advertisements really worked there surely wouldn’t be so many overweight people and schools wouldn’t be implored to respond to the increased percentage of children experiencing childhood obesity.

There is no instant weight loss for those who suffer from excess pounds. Yet, despite study after study identifying the elements of a successful weight loss program, generally involving reduction of caloric intake, good nutrition, and increased exercise, anxious people depressed by their weight or concerned about their health quickly turn to any of the many quick-fix pills and programs as alternatives. In fact, the authors of Influencer: the Power to Change Anything cite the findings of the National Weight Control Registry which demonstrate that the vital behaviors associated with sustained weight loss are: exercising on home equipment, eating breakfast, and conducting daily weigh-ins. (1) The temptation of a quick process losing maximum pounds with minimum effort is simply too alluring, hence the tremendous market of products and the countless infomercials teasing those in distress.

Similarly, there are no instant gains for schools suffering from low success rates and missing AYP. Nonetheless, many schools cited as being in need of improvement also appear to extend their hands with the fistfuls of dollars provided by the state or federal government and reach for the secret and rapid antidote for their maladies in the form of the right textbook series; the best test preparation program; the one best, scientifically proven way to teach Reading; the preferred ratio of computers to students; or some out of town prophet/consultant. If these solutions were indeed viable and easily replicated then there wouldn’t be any schools listed on state education department hit lists.

Unfortunately, there is an ever increasing number and endless variety of ready made, recipe-like improvement plans emerging in the wake of the No Child Left Behind legislation. The political and financial landscape is littered with commercially produced programs touted by skilled salespeople and erstwhile consultants all angling for position in the burgeoning marketplace of school improvement. The disadvantaged schools that shamefully appear on state lists of underperforming schools and embarrassing headlines of their local newspapers are especially vulnerable to the promise and prospect proclaimed by purveyors of vehicles touting lightning in the bottle methods of success.

Efforts to change and improve the operation of the school may be viewed by staff members with indifference or detachment. Such initiatives are too often either externally imposed on them by an outside agency or generated from within the school/district in a top down driven strategy without reference to the reality as perceived by the staff. As a result, the proposed change lacks or loses momentum because the staff has not sufficiently been involved in the developmental stages. Improvement strategies that do not embrace staff members as active participants in the action, lack traction.

If I have learned anything from my thirty three years of experience in public school leadership it is that success more likely emerges from a social, political, financial or cultural transformation, not a series of transactions. And, transformational change generally requires more time and patience than transactional change, though changes evolving from transformations are typically sustained longer. There are no short cuts or quick fixes. Once again, turning to Influencer, (a book well worth reading) the authors present six sources of influence in successful change efforts, either on an individual basis or an organizational level. They are; make the undesirable desirable; surpass your limits; harness peer pressure; find strength in numbers; design rewards and demand accountability; and finally, change the environment. This proposal, coupled with what we have long known as viable ingredients of effective schools, would serve any school interested in continuous improvement. The information is out there and readily available, the skills can be developed, and all that’s waiting is the constancy of purpose and the collective and sincere commitment of a school community. Warning: It’s hard work and it takes time. 

My recommendation of a guiding template for school improvement follows: 
a) communicate a credible and inspiring vision, b) manifest a mission that is believable and enduring, c) identify data points that leverage success, d) generate plausible goals that stretch the organization, e) nurture a productive and collaborative organizational culture, f) accept change as a process rather than an event, g) empower all staff members as learners and contributors, and h) recognize that leadership is distributive and situational rather than the purview of the few.     

Remember that this is not intended to represent a recipe. One must add, subtract, and modify according to the local needs and interests that make each and every school unique.


1. Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzer, Influencer: the Power to Change Anything. McGraw-Hill Books, NY, NY 2008

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