The revolving door of heroes who have been brought in to reform our nation's schools never seems to stop turning.
Washington DC chased Michelle Rhee (and Mayor Fenty) out the door, and now NY has chased Karen Black out the door. Worse:they failed to reform the schools.
To me that's no surprise. We've had well over a century of school reforms that have failed. NY Mayor Bloomberg thought that a successful business leader such as Cathleen Black would do the trick. It didn't. DC Mayor Fenty thought that Michelle Rhee, recommended by NY School's Chancellor Joel Klein would do the trick. It didn't. Some large cities have hired former military leaders. That hasn't done the trick either. And so the revolving door keeps revolving, spinning in promising new heroic leaders and spewing out failed ones.
Should the schools be led by successful business leaders, successful military leaders, or by educators who have successfully come up the ranks? It doesn't matter, because if they all continue to follow the old boss dominated management model, as Rhee, Black, et al did, they too will fail.
Why? Such reformers fail because they impose reforms, and in a service industry faced with so many challenges such as our schools are faced with, imposed solutions eventually fail to reform. Systems analysts have long since shown that when something is imposed on a system, the system usually push back. And since schools are systems, it should be expected that imposed reforms will initiate a push back of resistance and even sabotage of the imposed reforms.
Effective changes must be made systemically within the system and not imposed on it. And because systemic changes require a deep knowledge and understanding of the system being changed, all stakeholders must be involved in the change process.
A few years ago, Ed Bales, former Director of Motorola's Global School Connection program told me that reforming a system implies that it can be reformed. And then he said, "Schools are an obsolete system that can’t be reformed; they need to be transformed -- changed into a different kind of system."
From my over 35 years of experiences behind the scenes in schools, this is precisely the position I take. A truly transformed school is one that is consistently effective because it is an organization in which the relationships among all stakeholders are collaborative, trustworthy and transparent, rather than antagonistic, mistrusting, and secret. By stakeholders, I mean students, parents, teachers, administrators, boards, governments, and the larger community.
Sadly, in most schools the relationships among these stakeholders are often anything but collaborative, trustworthy, or transparent. Rhee, Black and Klein antagonized the teachers, their unions, and the parents. Is it any wonder then why they and so many other school reformers fail? It is right relationships among all stakeholders that will finally make our schools sustainable and highly effective.
How to do it? Transforming a school into to one of trust and right relationships, a system in which everyone matters, can be accomplished best through changing the structure of management from a top down bureaucracy to one a democratic network of stakeholders. And this is accomplished by practicing at least one of the following three proven successful collaborative management practices: Appreciative Inquiry, Servant Leadership, Open Book Transparency Stewardship.
However, you need to know that transformation will require a strong willingness by everyone to do the sometimes-hard work of giving up old ways and ingrained habits. A wise school leader wouldn't impose this transformation, but would be the model of it.
Now, here’s the added good news: The cost for putting these transformations into place is quite minimal when compared to what we now spend on school reforms, and the cost of operating a school system will decrease, and the effectiveness of learning will rise because of systemic efficiency.
In a nut shell:
There is compelling evidence that organizations that are collaborative with, respectful and appreciative of, and transparent to all stakeholders are organizations that are sustainably more effective than traditionally run organizations whether they are businesses, governments,non-profits, or schools.
(For a deeper study on collaboratively managed schools, see my book Crisis in School Management: Making Schools Work for Everyone
It's a free download) (kindle version: kindle)