I have been thinking a lot about how to manage the needed change process in education. Looks like a lot of folks have been playing with that idea as well. ISTE released their new NETS for ADMIN framing it as having the potential for -
Transforming Education- Administrators play a pivotal role in determining how well technology is used in our schools. The NETS for Administrators enable us to define what administrators need to know and be able to do in order to discharge their responsibility as leaders in the effective use of technology in our schools.
And take a look they are NOT too shabby when thinking about the characteristics leaders need to reform education in today's fast changing world.
The rub for me comes in when I try and look at these and other efforts to "transform" education and wonder if we aren't really just talking about reform- small principled changes that look at change as we always have - through the lens of problem solving.
In Phillip Schlechty's new book, Leading for Learning: How to Transform Schools into Learning Organizations (great read btw) he distinguishes between reforming and transforming a school.
REFORM usually means changing procedures, processes, and technologies with the intent of improving the performance for exisiting operating systems. The aim is to make existing systems more effective at doing what they have been always been intended to do.
TRANSFORMATION is intended to make it possible to do things that have never been done by the organization undergoing the transformation. It involves metamorphosis: changing from one form to another form entirely. In organizational terms, transformation almost always involves repositioning and reorienting action by putting the organization into a new business or adopting a radically different means of doing the work it has traditionally done. Transformation by necessity includes altering the beliefs, values, and meanings- the culture- in which programs are embedded, as well as changing the current system of rules, roles, and relationships- social structure- so that the innovations needed will be supported.
REFORM in contrast, means only installing innovations that will work within the context of the existing structure and culture of schools.
During a recent PLP Bootcamp I posed the following question to the attendees.
So as you develop your vision for leading in the 21st Century how do you see it- should you be a reformer or a transformer and why? Make a case for using one or the other as a change strategy.
I was really surprised at the passion in the responses supporting reform. Here is a sample-
I think for my school and the circumstances I find there, I am more a reformer than a transformer. The school has an ingrained culture that is sort of self-satisfied. But I think there is a desire by many to improve the existing system, and that includes the uses of these technological tools.
Interestingly enough not one educational leader in attendance spoke out for transformation. Probably because transformation is so risky. Whenever leaders tinker with values, technique and skills things get messy. But is reformation of our schools enough? Will 21st Century reform bring schools to where they need to be to meet the needs of the 21st Century citizen and learner?
Peter Block in his new book, Community- the Structure of Belonging
suggests that transformation is the only way we will create a future distinct from the past. Peter suggests that the current context supports the belief that the future will be improved with new policies, more oversight, and stronger leadership. However, creating a future is different from defining a future.
As reformist we typically ID a problem we want to address, fix, or improve. Next, we study and analyze the need by gathering data and making a compelling case for change. Then, we search for solutions, looking for examples of how others have addressed this issue. We bring in experts, consultants, academics to offer advice. Once that is done we establish goals and initiate a pilot project to validate our strategy. We bring others on board creating buy-in and the launch the program. Next, we measure and hold people accountable for results and showing outcomes. Finally, we loop back. We take what we learn about what's not working and adjust, starting the problem solving process a new.
Block feels that these classic problem solving steps are fueled by the belief that "to make a difference in the world is to define problems and needs and then recommend actions to solve those needs." This resonates with me as I think back to my days as a district administrator and remember a culture that demanded that each meeting I attended (and they were seemingly endless) had to end with an action plan type "to-do" list. We wanted measurable outcomes that somehow justified the time we spent solving problems. We believed that only if we had better or more leadership, programs, funding, expertise, studies, training, and master plans then we could reform education in ways that prepare this next generation- digital citizens of a global economy fueled by connections and collaboration- for the world that awaits them. But is anything really changing? For all our conversation and sharing and meetings and action plans are we seeing a significant shift? We keep trying harder at the very things that just gives us more of what we already have. These are the steps to improvement but not transformation.
So I am curious- what do you think? Should we be focusing on a different conversation than the one we are having? Should we be reinvisioning education in ways that are radically different? And if so- How do we move from talking to doing? Or is that important?
Personally, I believe that the secret to change lies in developing the social fabric, capacity and connectedness found in communities of practice and learning networks. I believe that by focusing on a strengths-based model of education, looking at possibilities rather than problems, by using inquiry to ask the kinds of questions that reveal the gifts each of us bring to the table, by realizing that "none of us is as good as all of us" and somehow leveraging all of that to shift the conversations toward building a new future- one that focuses on the gifts each teacher, student, parent and leader has, that we have all we need to create an alternative future for schools. One that focuses on the well-being of the whole and uses diversity as a means to innovation.
What do you believe?