Sunday, November 28, 2010

What about adaptive leadership?

Okay, so the issue of technical leadership has been addressed.  According to the New York Times a deal has been struck.  Mayor Bloomberg will get a waiver to hire Cathleen P. Black as the next chancellor of the New York City Schools and Shael Polakow-Suransky will serve as Ms. Black's deputy.  Polakow-Suransky has the technical expertise Ms Black lacks.

Now, what about the adaptive leadership issue?  Can either Ms.Black or Mr. Polakow-Suransky lead the change effort required to transform New York's school system?  Technical expertise alone will not make it happen.

The challenge public education faces today, in New York and the rest of the country, is one that is not easily solved with technical expertise.  The problems are not simple and do not have easily identified answers. The challenges exist in chaos and uncertainty.  The public education system does not have the resources to tackle the problems on its own.  Solving the problems found in public education today requires leaders to use their communication skills to build relationships and create a context for others in the system to create solutions.

In fact, the public education system will not be successful on its own. Today's successful leaders understand that Collective Impact is needed, that collaboration across social systems is required for successful social change.

If the New York City school system is to experience that kind of social change, its top leaders need adaptive leadership skills. They must value building relationships, both within the school system and with other organizations that serve students and their families.

Our country has focused on the technical issues in public education for more than 40 years.  Little progress has been made.  It is time to start focusing on the adaptive aspects of the problems.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A debate over adaptive versus technical leadership

Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, recently appointed Cathleen Black as head of the New York City schools. Ms. Black is currently the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, but has no experience leading a public education system.  This appointment has set off yet another debate over the issue of who is best suited to lead large, complex urban public education systems.  A number of experts weigh in on this debate in the New York Times Room for Debate: Who's qualified to run New York City schools?

What I find interesting is that most of the arguments against Ms. Black's appointment focus on her lack of technical expertise.  Only two of the debaters consider her adaptive leadership skills.

The country has focused on education reform for over forty years, yet the achievement gap stubbornly remains a problem.  Much of the focus of reform has been to improve the technical aspects of education.  Yet, much of the problem lies in the social aspects of education.  There is more involved than simply ensuring that curriculum is aligned to standards and highly qualified teachers work with our students, although these are important.

Education is a social enterprise.  And much of what doesn't work in our public schools is rooted in social failings, which often exist outside of our schools.  If we really want our schools to work better, we need to connect them to their larger context and work to improve that context.  If we want to see success we need to consider the collective impact  of all of the organizations in a community that focus on the social well being of its citizens.

Many of the posts on this blog point to the promise technology holds to help transform our schools.  Yet technology alone won't do it.  We need standards and curricula that align to those standards.  We need highly qualified, highly effective teachers in our classrooms.

Even more importantly, we need leaders who can develop relationships across the various (and often conflicting) stakeholders in our communities.  Creating a context that enables those closest to the problem to act is critical to the success of any leader, no matter what the sector.  The effort needs to be high tech and high touch.

Yes, technical expertise is important.   AND, adaptive leadership skills--listening, empathy, the ability to hold the space so the messy work of transformation can occur--are more important than ever.  We need to get off of the either/or argument.  It is a both/and.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Collaboration makes it happen

Another example of collaboration across disciplines and agencies:

Collective Impact

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A New Model of Pedagogy

We are starting to see models of what a transformed school system might look like.

Here's another example:

A New Model of Pedagogy

Saturday, November 20, 2010

How does this stuff work?

If you are not sure how some of this technology stuff works, here is a great little guide to introduce you to the basics of the web.  I feel like I am fairly savvy when it comes to this stuff, and I learned a couple of things.

20 Things I Learned about Browsers and the Web

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What might the future look like?

Yesterday, at the Wisconsin Association of School Board's Legislative Advocacy Conference, innovation and transformation were center stage during the morning session.  After presentations by CESA 1, CESA 6, and Wisconsin Way, school board members spent a little time talking about the information presented.  One question posed to the group : For transformation to occur, what kind of advocacy is needed?  One table talked about how they need guidance, they are not sure how to talk with legislators about new possibilities.  School board members don't want to go to the state legislator, simply asking for more money.  Some at the conference went so far as to say, "We need to stop whining."  At the same time, they are not sure how to talk about possibilities for the future.

Here is a link that describes some of the activities a 21st Century Teacher would use in her or his classroom.  I post this here to get the conversation started.

There are lots of ways to learn about possibilities that can serve as a starting place for conversations in your community.  Read books.  A number of relevant titles are listed on this blog.  Don't have time for a whole book, watch TED Talks.  They are short, interesting talks that will touch, move, and inspire you. In less than 20 minutes you can learn about something interesting and innovative that is going on in our world.  Follow blogs.  If you are reading this, you are off to a good start.  Another interesting blog:  dangerously irrelevant!: Technology, Leadership and the Future of Schools.

To develop meaningful talking points about possibilities for the future in your school district, you need to bring interested stakeholders together to talk about the future. What do teachers and administrators already know about transforming public education?  What do your students think?  They are most likely already plugged in in ways that the adults in your community may never have thought of.  What do the business leaders in your community have to say about the needs of their businesses? How can you present possibilities to parents and others in the community who may not see the need for transformation?

From these conversations, you will begin to see what will work best in your school district.  You can then develop your own stories to tell your legislators about the possibilities for your schools and your community.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Web 2.0 is about more than information. It is connecting people

Michael Wesch has had done some amazing videos in the past. (Check these out:  Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us and A Vision of Students Today  In this talk, he explains social media in an engaging and understandable manner.


  • Connections between Communication--Thoughtfulness--Empathy
  • When media changes, relationships change
  • The power of new media to influence business practices (example, Dove)
  • The phenomenon of free hugs
  • The social imagination:  the capacity to invent visions of what should be and could be in our deficient society--Maxine Greene
  • Digital citizenship--making a better world
  • Tensions between good and not so good
  • It is ridiculously easy to connect, organize, share, collect, collaborate and publish

Monday, November 1, 2010

Relationships Matter

I worry that the strong emphasis on data that has crept up in public education.  Test scores, value added, accountability.  That's all we seem to hear.  I keep thinking, "What about the people!!! Students AND teachers are people and the relationships they have with each other are critical to the learning process.  It is nice to see that element in this article, In School Turnarounds, the Human Element is Crucial.