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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Wallace Foundation: Spending or Investing?

The daily email I receive from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (a great source of news on issues) indicated that the Wallace Foundation is seeking to leverage success in preparing principals for the challenges they face by allocating $47,000,000 toward the effort. Here's an excerpt from the ASCD article:

"Now the foundation is announcing that it will spend another $47 million during the next five years on an effort to improve principal preparation. The money will pay to redesign as many as six university training programs, each of which will be expected to partner with several school districts so that practicing superintendents and administrators have input into what aspiring principals need to learn in order to be well-prepared."

The concern I harbor, after serving as a principal for thirty-three years (at all grade configurations, in varied socio-economic environments, across the spectrum of demographics), is whether the grant will prove to be an investment (as the title of the article suggests in its wording) or whether it will merely represent another ill-fated expenditure. In an earlier Blog I sought to distinguish between "expenditures" and "investments" with the latter being a mission driven, goal supported, research based, strategic distribution of financial resources directed at a difference that makes a difference - as opposed to the former, which too often extends a traditional "more of the same" allotment of resources among competing parties, aligned with cost of living standards without respect to a changing context and uncertain future.

Simply changing titles, creating appealing acronyms (which sometimes becomes more important than the actual purpose and intent of programs in order to appease grant sources) adopting new accountability measures of principal performance, and cosmetic alterations, will not likely develop the school leaders we need to confront the challenges of an ever-changing political, social, technological, and economic interdependent world.

Einstein once claimed that, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

Here's what I would propose for any new principal preparation program.

First, erase the generic format of time guiding curricula in graduate programs developing future principal's. We live in a world where we can readily access incredible bases of knowledge which we can mine for addressing areas of deficiency regarding what we need to know about many of the issues within our schools. For example, if you have a problem with bullying in a school you are only a few clicks away from learning about a long menu of programs attendant to the issue, as well as a lengthy list of experts and practitioners who can supply assistance in crafting an appropriate and effective response for the school community you serve. Similarly, our historical commitment to the standard semester long, three or four credit course produces an off-the-rack selection. Why is it that every course magically requires/takes the same amount of seat time for accreditation? For instance, a school law class, typical in most principal preparation programs, must consume the fifteen week duration, the same as a school finance class. Coincidental, or just historical and practical? Additionally, nearly all school districts retain the services of law firms that specialize in educational and civil issues that confound school leaders. Why do we allocate essential time in a principal preparation program for areas of knowledge that we subsequently acquiesce to specialists, like lawyers? School finance may be vital for an aspiring school district superintendent, but how relevant is a fifteen week course in it for someone who hopes to lead a school? In short, we recognize and promote the value of differentiated instruction and flexible time allocations in public school classrooms, but choose to willfully ignore the same principles in our principal preparation programs.

Second, after providing a single survey course of law and finance and philosophy which (involves practitioners delivering much of the program rather than professors removed from the daily challenges of the principalship) eliminates the fifteen weeks of classes normally required in each of the subjects. I would apply the same scrutiny toward every current course requirement in principal preparation programs, paring away irrelevant or redundant classes and adjusting time frames. By the way, for full disclosure, I have served as an adjunct instructor at the graduate level and found myself surrounded by full-time professors who are swelled with a firm grasp of research and concomitant theories, but have not been challenged with incorporating what they know into a real, fluid, and dynamic environment. I am refraining from the politics of labor-management related to the growing concerns of full-time staff regarding job loss due to adjuncts - I'll leave that for others on another day.

Here are some courses/content/skills that should comprise a preparation program for principals - from someone who has served as a principal for longer than most people.

Sociology and Psychology (not just child psychology - often times the obstacles we face are adult-oriented, with staff, parents, and taxpayers) = to better understand the differences and nuances that can distinguish and divide us.

Communication = No, not the standard public speaking class, but the real thing, training in: how to go beyond 'hearing' and really 'listen'; understanding non-verbal communication; written and verbal expression, apart from the passive voice favored by the many; effective use of technology (reduce the addiction dependence on PowerPoint); how to harness and exploit the power of social media to manage meaning;

Marketing = how to identify core values and understand what is the 'unique selling proposition' of the school (you don't buy eyeglasses, you buy vision; you don't buy circus tickets, you buy thrills,.. see: A Crash Course on Marketing by David Bangs and Andi Axman. I suggest that children don't come to school for an education, they come to school to be transformed) - how to develop/burnish the school's brand in a way that distinguishes the school from any and every other school (what three adjectives do you want people to use describe the school to their friends, neighbors, acquaintances? - how to create surveys that elicit useful information - how to advertise the school - finally, these skills are crucial, given the increased competition of home schooling, charter schools, parochial and private schools.

Political Science = yes, Virginia, schools are communities within the pile of bricks and exist within larger communities outside of the schoolyard. Earning and maintaining a base of enduring followers around a common goal with shared meaning is inherently a political process. Examine techniques to navigate the political realm. One of the glaring weaknesses within educational leadership circles is our aversion to use the terms "business" and "politics" - bot of them considered dirty words! Well, check out the size of school budgets and the number of employees and there's no denying it's a business. Furthermore, schools operate in a competitive environment, against other alternatives (charter schools,...) that clearly understand and practice an awareness that they are indeed a business. Politics? Well, as resources become (and likely remain) scarce, the competition necessitates an understanding of the "roll up your sleeves" nature of obtaining services, commodities, and hope. Ignore these two elements, business and politics, at your peril. 

Leadership - I know, I know, every graduate program for principals involves instruction in leadership. But, rather than isolate ourselves around educational leaders, we can be better served by studying and meeting (if possible) positive and constructive leaders outside of education who are involved with intricate and complex, broad based issues to learn effective practices. 

Customer Relationship Management - visit and study the hospitality and/or retail sales industry to examine the best practices of customer service and sustaining relationships with consumers. We are ultimately in the business of growing people and ideas, and not confined to 'education.' How do we attract and keep customers? How do we convince taxpayers we are a worthy investment?

Resources - I would suggest that we dispense with most educational texts, which, by the way, are usually outdated (like most texts in the social sciences) and replace them with subscriptions to magazines in the field of business (i.e. Fast Company) and educational research journals. Similarly, required reading should expose future principals to Malcom Gladwell, Chip and Dan Heath, Daniel Pink, Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, Marcus Buckingham, Phillip Schlechty, Theodore Levitt, Terry Deal, Jim Collins, David Osborne and Ted Gaebler, Peter Senge,...   * I have read a significant number of business/leadership oriented books not found in the education section of the college bookstore, and compiled a repository of notes of difference-making thoughts extracted from the books to the tune of over two hundred pages of notes/quotes. This compilation has guided me like a lighthouse through the years.

Okay, that's enough for one day's attempt to solve the problems of the world. I could probably add to this, but I've run out of time at the moment. I hope I've given you something to think about.       


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