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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Staking Your Claims

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.

Stake Your Claims

     Identifying relevant and reasonable goals that challenge but stop short of frustrating is an important first step.

     In Search of Excellence, by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, includes a reference to a study conducted involving individuals entering a room with a stake standing upright, and three rings.(p. 72) The participants were instructed to go into the room, one at a time, and throw the rings onto the stake. That was it. They were not told where to stand. Observers looking through a two-way mirror plotted where the individuals stood and the distance from the stake.

     They found three distinct groups. One group practically stood over the stake where it would be difficult to miss. Another group located themselves at the opposite end of the room as far away as possible where it would be unrealistic to expect success. The third group was about halfway between the two; far enough away to pose a challenge, but not so close that it would be easy.

     This is not dissimilar from the distinctions drawn among learners when pursuing their goal of learning. As educators we understand that there are three general levels of instructional delivery when developing lesson plans for learners; frustrational, instructional, and independent. The frustrational level is a task too difficult for the child to meet with success. The instructional level requires teacher intervention for the learner to experience success with the task. The independent level is one which the learner is able to experience success with the task without direct interaction with the teacher. An appropriate goal is one which stretches the school with a realistic challenge that is neither too hard nor too easy. It has to be imaginable and credible, worthwhile and inviting enough to enlist followers.

     Goals facing your school are no different. Progress can not be expected overnight. Follow the advice of whoever suggested that the best way to eat an elephant is “one bite at a time.” Additionally, I’ve heard a Chinese proverb that offers, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

     Make certain that you begin constructing goals by insuring that they evolve out of your database and point directly toward your mission and vision. These incremental goals, when linked together like connect the dot exercises, will eventually yield a recognizable and complete picture.

     Next, acknowledge that the conditions and environment that exists when you author your goals may very well vacillate and require periodic modifications. In Peak Performers Garfield discusses the critical path course correction central to the Apollo flight to the moon. (Garfield, p. 199) The most efficient or appropriate trajectory to take toward a target is referred to as the critical path. Within this path is room for mistakes and corrections. During the Apollo trek to the moon the capsule was off course ninety percent of the time. However, the astronauts had the ability and control to correct their path. Those involved with goal attainment must feel the same latitude to practice course correction in order to land on target.

     Another point regarding flexibility in creating and pursuing goals is made by Waterman in, The Renewal Factor. He states that the problem inherent in the plans of many organizations is the “attempt to overlay a rational, linear, deterministic technique called strategy on an underlying process that is random and full of surprises.” (Waterman, p. 31) 

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