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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Finding Your Way in the Process

This is one piece of a continuing series of posts on school improvement reflecting my professional experience. I had prepared this manuscript for publication but time eluded me. The blog posts advance in time and concept in book-form beginning with the Blog post on March 21.

You Can Get Lost On Any Road

     Imagine that you are traveling in the vast and empty desert. The barren landscape becomes altered by every breeze that shifts the sand like waves on the ocean. You will become lost if you plot your direction by landmarks that are subject to the winds and susceptible to change. Instead, one must rely on a more constant source of reference for orientation. Just as the sun offers assistance in direction for desert travelers, so does the mission supply an unwavering guide for those involved in goal attainment in your school.

     And, continuing with this analogy, it’s essential that our journey through the desert include stops to obtain water at an oasis here and there for refreshment and renewal. Similarly, planning opportunities for short-term “wins” along the route of our goals will sustain and reaffirm continued efforts.

The Devil in the Details

     In addition to short term wins, we must acknowledge the role of short steps in goal setting. Recognize and appreciate the need to pay attention to details. While the flash and splash events tend to trigger more excitement among observers, it’s the small but important contributions that often facilitate successful goal attainment. Consider the glee and satisfaction that accompany the initial tour of a newly constructed school. The general population may be impressed by the latest technology, state of the art classrooms, glistening floors, and assorted architectural bells and buzzers but the invaluable and invisible infrastructure, the unseen maze of electrical and plumbing conduits, are overlooked.

     The same is true of our conceptual frameworks. When developing goals we must be careful that we do not overlook the necessary but seemingly mundane goals that are essential to supporting the more glamorous goals. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted from formulating appropriate goals by an alluring, mirage like oasis emanating from imagined public pressure and expectations or the inviting promise of short cuts. Senge discusses systems thinking in his book, The Fifth Discipline. He states that the essence of this strategic concept is “… seeing patterns where others see only events and forces to react to.” (Senge, p. 126) Rowan adds, “It takes leaps of faith to sense the connections that are not necessarily obvious.” (Rowan, p. 146)

     I am reminded of the financial plight a nearby school district experienced. They appeased fiscal conservatives by cutting corners in their budget through a reduction of expenditures directed at preventative maintenance. Later that school year they were surprised by the total breakdown of their high school’s two boilers. One hundred thousand dollars and much public anguish later they realized the short sightedness of their wavering financial goals.

     Osborne and Gaebler address this in Reinventing Government, when they site some surprising statistics: “We (U.S.A.) have the highest fatality rate from fire in the industrialized world because we spend most of our money responding to fires, not preventing them.” And, to bolster their claim, “According to the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, our society spends twenty times as much on medical care as we do on self care medication, fitness equipment, and nutrition.” (Gaebler and Osborne, pp. 223-226)

     Let me make it clear that while the above examples relate to finance and plant management, the caution applies to all aspects of goal development. I used the references to express alarm at our tendency to respond to crises rather than strategically planning for challenges through forecasting emerging from utilization of appropriate data. As Roy Rowan quotes former star quarterback Roger Staubach, “It takes a lot of unspectacular preparation to produce spectacular results.” (Rowan, p. 50)        

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