Changing Our Thinking
Over the years the hierarchy of education has evolved into an unchanging leadership formula that has managed to survive without adopting change management strategies to meet the changing goals and needs of their customers. As more mandates have been passed to encourage schools and teachers to perform at a higher level, and expectations for student success have increased, we have not seen leadership evolve and grow to meet those demands. The result has been that school systems are trying to reach 21st century goals using 19th century concepts. The passage of "No Child Left Behind" and the broad "highly qualified" teacher design has simply highlighted the insufficiency of most school leaders to adapt proactively by aligning their techniques and attitudes with successful business models.
Education is a business. At one time the failure of a school to reach goals was not published, made public or available to anyone with a computer. Now, before families move to a new area they check the numbers on the schools that their children may attend and choose their home based on the location of the school with the highest scores. Students, who must pass competency examinations at virtually every facet of their education in order to move through the system are falling further behind as they are taught between schools trying to increase their own scores and teachers trying to accommodateate mandates presented them by leadership to increase school scores.
Once schools and educators in leadership positions realize that the success of any business, including their own, depends on their ability to adapt to the needs of their customers, they will find that numbers, both for schools and students will rise with each change that is successfully implemented.
Leaders in the academic arena face many challenges. The foremost being that they usually do not have a business background and have been in education for their own career. (Except for that stint they did at Pizza Hut while getting through college). These individuals are usually excellent educators who enter leadership in a school with great ideas for how to make the system better. Many of these individuals have some great ideas. But, as with all businesses, leaders are not only involved in operations, but also in budget and politics. This is true of any business, the difference though, is that business leaders are trained in operations, budget and politics. While, leaders in schools often go from teacher to vice-principal, to principal with little or no business training added to their toolkit for success. In addition, what may make a wonderful educator in one classroom, may not work in another, so the ability to motivate and give incentive to others must be accomplished as any other change management method. In most schools change management is a foreign concept, or something that was studied while obtaining the first of many degrees and certificates that are necessary to teach. Many times, in order to develop successful programs that meet the needs of our customers we must return to the library and learn an entirely new subject. Many books have been written on change management, how to build teams, how to motivate groups. It is vital in implementing change in your school that you have a true understanding of these concepts and methods.
Businesses make good customers and profit greatly by creating a proactive adaptability to change. Schools also profit by this same action. However, when identifying gaps, and establishing where to start your change management program it may be wise to look at how your students, community and staff are treated. Are they treated as customers or are they treated as people who just have to be there. If you went to a restaurant and the meat was undercooked, you would not hesitate to say "take it back, I want it well done." But, what happens when a teacher comes to you because her classroom is not quite ventilated, or a student has a problem with a certain subject. If the auto-response is "that's the way it is," or, "that's the way it's always been," then this is a gap that a change management program can address. While businesses take great pains to assure that their vision and goals are clearly understood, spend countless hours assuring that their staff are well trained in conveying those visions and goals, and work very hard at exuding great customer service. Schools have responded to mandates. This is a costly endeavor instead of a proactive approach, we start the "blame game." The gaps, when addressed proactively, are much easier to manage than to wait until the state or federal government pronounce on the Internet how bad your school is and you start losing students before families even move into the area.
School leaders, teachers, students and parents must become business partners for positive change to take place and be sustained. Proactive leaders utilize change management in every aspect of their enterprise. And, school is an enterprise. Without a drastic assessment and change takes place in most schools, the money lost in terms of drop-outs, low scores, fines, take-overs, etc., will negatively affect not only the school, and students, but the community as well . So, let's discuss some steps for change management that leadership can use to start improving their standing in the educational community.
Collaboration Beyond the Classroom
Teacher training days are already built into the school year. Most of the teachers will attend these training days. Can you imagine what would happen in students homes if parents and teachers participating together in a teacher training day? Parents would suddenly find themselves part of the solution instead of being blamed for the problem. There would be an opportunity to teach communication skills and collaboration to a gymnasium of people who deal daily with the students. Imagine a student taking homework home and a parent actually understanding what the teacher is trying to do ahead of time. The reason that parents do not participate in parent-teacher nights and other activities at school is because most are working parents. They have either the time or energy to go to a school on a Wednesday night after work and walk around a classroom. Teachers are tired, parents are tired, kids are hyped up because they've been ready for weeks. The result of parent-teacher night is that everyone is disappointed. Teachers, because most of the parents do not show up (which just proves they do not care), parents because they had to drive to school with screaming kids to basically stand around for fifteen minutes and pick up their students homework, and students because the subject they really do like was not discussed enough and they did not have time to really be noticed in the commotion.
What if parent-teacher night were parent-teacher "day" on a Saturday afternoon. What if each class sat up booths on the playing field and it was actually a carnival like atmosphere where parents and teachers really could talk and students really could man booths and show their special projects. Would this cost more? No, Would it take more time to set up? No, Would more parents and students show up? You bet, there is nothing like a student with a place to go on a Saturday that is all about them and very few parents say no. In addition, for those students who have parents that do not participate, could still come because it's during the day and they could still feel that they were important and needed. Is not that what we are really trying to instill in students in the first place, to be better members of our communities?
Final Thoughts – Where to start?
Start with a simple survey sent to teachers, parents and students. Make sure that they are totally non-threatening and ask for honest answers. If you school is on the low end of the scale a simple survey will give you all of the information you need to start raising those scores. And, you will be surprised to learn that the teachers, students and parents are pretty aligned on identifying gaps and giving ideas for filling those gaps.
In our next series of articles we will be discussing some of the possible gaps you may be facing and some cost-effective alternatives to making small changes that have a big impact.