Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sir Ken Robinson has a new TED talk

You may have seen the first talk where Robinson talked about how schools kill creativity.

In this new talk, Robinson argues that we need to revolutionize education.  We need a new metaphor for thinking about education, one that is organic, not linear.  We need to move from a mass education system to personalized learning.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

America Speaks is hosting a town hall meeting on the economy

America Speaks: Our Budget, Our Economy will engage the American public in an unprecedented national discussion about our federal budget. Thousands of Americans reflecting the demographic, geographic and political diversity of our nation will come together on June 26, 2010 for a National Town Meeting connected via satellite video, webcast, and interactive technologies to weigh-in on the difficult choices involved with putting our federal budget on a sustainable path.

The National Town Meeting will take place in up to twenty AmericaSpeaks 21st Century Town Meeting locations across the country, in many Community Conversations, and online.  All of the town meeting locations will be linked together by live satellite, webcast, and interactive technology.  Chicago is one of the major locations.  The UW-Madison is hosting the conversation in the Red Gym.  Check the America Speaks website for more details.

This is an important opportunity for school district leaders.  Consider attending the event and encourage others in your community to participate as well.  

Monday, May 10, 2010

What is Adaptive Change?

When I speak to school boards, I talk about leadership and explain that because the world, Wisconsin, and the expectations of public education have changed, we need to lead our school districts in a different way. Today, globalization and technology have combined to speed up the pace of change, changing the nature of our economy and connecting people in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago.  Demographic and economic changes bring new challenges to the state.  The focus in public education has shifted from inputs to outputs, and the notion of “all children can learn” has been codified in public policy. 

Put all of this together and we see that the challenges we face today are complex.  And complex problems require a different leadership strategy.  Solving a complex problem is a lot like raising a child.  Expertise plays a role, yet the relationship you have with your child matters more.  Like every child, the challenges of complex problems are unique, and what works in one situation does not assure success in a similar situation.  Finally, outcomes remain uncertain, in spite of our best efforts. Complex challenges require more than technical leadership; they require adaptive leadership.  Complex challenges require different leadership strategies, yet leaders tend to address the challenges we face today as if they were technical in nature, and draw on strategies that do not work in adaptive change situations. 

When dealing with technical change, expertise rules the day.  Problems may be complicated, and require collaboration across disciplines; yet the resolution of the problem is clearly identifiable. For the most part, when we face technical challenges, we focus on improving processes, providing training to improve skills, and doing the right things right.  In other words, we know the answer; it is more a matter of implementation.  Leaders who can take charge tend to be successful when the problem is technical in nature. 

Adaptive changes require more than simply sharpening our processes and skills.  Instead, adaptive change challenges our beliefs and ways of thinking; and requires that we do things differently then we have in the past.  When leaders fail to recognize adaptive challenges, they tend to interpret staff behavior as resistance, when it is more likely that staff members are experiencing loss.  Asking staff to learn new skills or break old habits is difficult, especially for people who have been successful using traditional practices. 

For example, many school districts restrict cell phone use in school.  Ninety-three percent of people under the age of 30 possess cell phones, meaning most students possess a tool that could be used to access the Internet to enhance their learning.  Changing cell phone policies requires the adults in the system to think differently about students and their cell phones.  Rather than controlling and limiting cell phone use, staff need to consider the benefits, and develop learning opportunities for students to develop responsible cell phone use—and, need to accept that they have to relinquish some control to students.

Adaptive challenges require that people with the problem are part of the solution.  For example, in the cell phone scenario, a school board could change the cell phone policy and practices in the schools could remain unchanged.  Unless teachers and administrators understand how they could use cell phone technology to enhance learning, and believe that the change was worth the time and energy to change practices, things would stay the same.    In fact, it is likely that such a policy change would result in bigger problems.  Teachers may not feel the effort is worth it.  They may only imagine the problems that unrestricted student cell phone use would mean for them—ringing phones interrupting instruction; students accessing inappropriate sites or playing video games rather than working on school-related projects.  Students would believe (rightly) that they could use their cell phones in school, creating opportunities for conflict with staff that did not support or understand the policy change.

Understanding the importance of including the people with the problem would take the board in a different direction.   Rather than simply changing the policy, the board that understands the nature of adaptive change might provide opportunities for the staff to explore cell phone policy changes, include students and staff in the creation of guidelines for classroom use, provide professional development for staff so they could learn new techniques that would incorporate cell phone use.

For more than twenty years, education reform has focused on technical change—creating standards, aligning curriculum to the standards, creating accountability systems to monitor achievement.  Yet, in spite of these efforts, little progress has been made.  Many of the changes reflected in education reform challenge our beliefs and habits in addition to our technical skills.  Today’s leaders do not solve problems for people.  Instead, they provide opportunities for people to confront challenges and learn new methods; create a context where staff can safely confront uncertainty in spite of their discomfort, and adjust their values and perspectives to better develop solutions that address the complex challenges facing public education today.

Additional resources
Heifitz, Ronald A. and Linsky, Marty. (2002).  Leadership on the Line:  Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading.  Boston:  Harvard Business School Press.

Heiftiz, Ronald A. and Laurie, Donald L. (2001).  The Work of Leadership. Harvard Business Review.

Patton, Michael Quinn.  (2007).  Deepening Extension’s Knowledge Base.  National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.  September 19, 2007.

Smith, Rolf. (1997).  Seven Levels of Change: Create, Innovate and Motivate with the Secrets of the World’s Largest Corporations.  Arlington, Texas:  Summit Publishing Group.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Leading and Listening

It's been awhile since I've checked in.  Busy with work.   Also, in my personal life, learning how to play the drums.  I am obsessed.  I have always wanted to learn, and finally decided I was going to do it.

First off, it is way harder than it looks (maybe that is age-related.)  It is amazing to me how you can play one beat pattern, but change just one thing (a different beat on the base drum, move from high-hat cymbal to a tomb drum) and it is like a whole new experience.   What is really interesting to me, is that learning to play the drums is a metaphor for leadership.  Hang with me as I explain.

Right now, I am struggling with sixteenth notes (especially on the bass drum).  When I play the notes on the snare, no problem.  When I play the notes on the snare and the bass drum, no problem.  When I try to put it all together with the high-hat, problem.

There is something about the high-hat that makes my brain think the beat pattern is not balanced.  It has something to do with the sound.  It just doesn't sound right to me. I cannot allow myself to HEAR the correct pattern.

I was talking about this to someone and started to air drum the beat as if I was playing the snare drum.  Then, I moved my hands as if I was playing the snare and high-hat--suddenly my brain clicked in--IT WAS THE SAME THING! Taking away the sound made it easier for my brain to understand the mechanics of the whole thing.

I realized that this is what my friend, Hazel Simonette, means when she says "you have to lean into the listening."  In order for me to understand the beat pattern, I needed to take out the sound of the high-hat.  Then I could understand the pattern.  Once I could get my head around the pattern, I was able to play the beat pattern using the high-hat cymbal.  Why?  Because I was able to hear it.

How many times do we encounter this situation in our leadership work?  We need to figure out how to filter out the noise that makes it difficult for us for to listen.  In "Community:  The Structure of Belonging," Peter Block talks about the art of leadership.  Leaders create a context that nurtures an alternative future; initiate and convene conversations that shift people's experience; listen and pay attention.

The ability to listen is a key leadership skill.  What do we need to do to improve this skill?  The drum lesson works for me; helps me understand what I need to to do to "lean into the listening."  What's your metaphor?