A archetypical tale of (and great advice for) school transformation…if you listen closely enough!
A archetypical tale of (and great advice for) school transformation…if you listen closely enough!
If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts — physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on — remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for.
Richard Feynman, as shared on Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings
“We are a house of exceptional height whose purpose is to keep its inhabitants safe and dry.”
“We will raise this house so that it is impregnable from flood waters.”
“We will utilize beam and tie jacks to increase and enhance the height of this abode and build a more formidable foundation.”
Mission, vision, strategies, tactics, and logistics. These words – these objectives and means – spur a great deal of thought from me. To be most honest, I am working to discern the important differences in these words – these means and objectives. I am convinced that a school must continually strive to ensure that its people have shared understanding and shared values around these words – that when someone talks of a school’s mission, or when someone speaks of strategy and tactics, we are operating from a deep sense of mutual understanding. It’s not just semantics. Shared meaning of this language – mission, vision, strategies, tactics, and logistics – ensures that members of a school community work together more harmoniously as a team, with less negative friction at the points of movement and change.
On many mornings, as Lucy (my dog) and I are walking, we venture past this house that is being raised. The house is in an area of Atlanta that floods fairly often, and I can certainly understand the homeowners investing in a different foundation system. A number of other houses in the neighborhood have done the same.
Because of my work for the past decade (in school innovation and transformation), I feel I am constantly trying to get a better handle, a better grip, on “mission, vision, strategy, tactics, and logistics.” This house – as a metaphor – is helping me do so.
As I walk past this house, I imagine what the mission and vision of the homeowners might be. Perhaps that mission or vision is represented in the quotes that opened this post. Perhaps not. I try to imagine the conversations and planning that certainly occurred among the homeowners and the experts who are lifting that house with those beams and ties. I can hear them talking strategy and tactics and logistics, and I can hear them working out a shared understanding of those means and objectives. I think how critical it must be for the workers on this project to have a shared sense of the strategies, tactics, and logistics!
Then, I begin to wonder if the owner of the lifting company talks of the mission of his/her company. I become curious if the lifting company’s mission and vision is actually more of a strategy or tactic in the view of the homeowner. I ponder how confusion over these things might result in a less than optimal house transformation. Or worse – a house toppling.
If you’re still with me, God bless you! If you’re wondering what in the world I am writing about, then I would challenge you to listen more intentionally to conversations and meetings at your school. Listen as people talk about mission, vision, and strategy. Consider how faculty and admin are approaching the tactics and logistics to achieve the strategies that will ensure success of the mission and vision. Perhaps your school’s mission is only written in aspirational terms, loose and general terms, that make strategic design a significant challenge for teachers, parents, and students. Simply listen for the words “strategy” and “strategic” and note if different people speak of the very same actions being different rungs of the strategy, tactics, and logistics ladder.
Listen as teachers talk of lesson plans and classroom activities. Listen as students respond to questions about what they are learning and why. Listen as parents discuss where the school is headed and how it plans to get to such a destination.
Try to discern when people are talking with clear, shared understanding around mission, vision, strategies, tactics, and logistics. For a school to strive for common language around these means and objectives – such effort could have significant consequences on the trajectory on which a school intends to be. Such effort around common language and shared understanding could be a real difference maker in the “if and when” a school will accomplish its mission and achieve its vision.
What’s your school’s mission? Your vision? Your strategies? Your tactics? Your logistics? In what ways are these ends, means, and objectives aligned and misaligned? When students, parents, alums, faculty, staff, surrounding community members and administrators talk of the change you are undertaking at your school, do they speak with common language and shared understanding?
This morning, while re-reading and studying Heath Bros. #Decisive (and prepping for upcoming #MVPSchool Leadership Council retreat), I was playing with some new ideas about #PedagogicalMasterPlanning.
“Widening my options” and thinking about PMP, I began to wonder more about a school instructionally mapping (like curriculum mapping but with more focus on methodology). Literally seeing a map in my mind’s eye, I grew more and more curious about a school engaging in cartography of its teaching and learning ecosystem. I have been thinking of PMP with analogy of architectural blueprints, and today more about cartography and mapping came into view.
Some of my tribe members had teased me about the hashtag #PedagogicalMasterPlanning, and I reached out to these great thinkers by introducing the new hashtag #Pedagography – the art and science of create maps of our pedagogical ecosystems in schools – our teaching and learning landscapes, so to speak.
Adjacent possibilities and some mental playwork deepened and stretched my thinking.
Then, I think we began to check for shared understanding.
And other super-thinkers entered the conversation. We really had quite a Stephen Johnson “coffee house” going – with ideas and hunches colliding to form new ideas and possibilities.
I could have taken notes privately. All to myself. But then I would have missed out on these incredible educators weighing in, inquiring about things, and enhancing my thinking.
Some dots in my mind are forming stronger connections among them. All of these particular dots relate to the visioning and implementing processes that schools undertake.
In my research and practice, and in my work at Unboundary, I’ve called it Pedagogical Master Planning. Essentially, PMP utilizes strategic transformation design to engage a school/learning community in the construction of “as-built blueprints” and transformation plans for it’s teaching and learning core – its pedagogical ecosystem (purpose, leadership, professional learning, instruction, curriculum, assessment, and learning environments). It’s like campus master planning or design-build architecture, but for the system that really makes a school a school – not the buildings but the teaching and learning core/corp.
My close friend and colleague Grant Lichtman has recently coined the term and led workshop experiences around Zero-Based Strategic Thinking. On May 11, he wrote about it here. Like zero-based budgeting, Zero-Based Strategic Planning takes on more of a “start from scratch” mindset. Instead of assuming the present condition and tweaking it slightly for next year, it assumes a future-back mindset and builds to systemically accomplish that ideal future state.
Another friend and colleague Chris Thinnes may be the most beautiful writer about this moment of transition and transformation in education. The beauty, for me, resides in the creation of phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and pieces that lend poetic turns to very deep thinking about the crossroads we face as school leaders and educators. As just one example, Chris writes here about “Alves, Dewey, & Rinaldi on Our ‘Season of Design.”
A third, even more recent, stretcher of my thinking is Thomas Steele-Maley. On May 14, he published “On Mutation in Education.” He provokes us readers to consider the dynamic ecology composed largely of education, content, and hours. And he reminds us that “the individual is the kernal of energy for educational design.” I wonder which individual? If I might be so bold, much of the structure of school seems to be based more on the adult individual efficiencies and conveniences than on the “user experience” or “user interface” of the student learners. (As just one test of that – find me an adult workplace, other than school, that is organized in time schedule and content structure like a school.)
Also on May 14, Scott D. Anthony and Mark Johnson published an HRR Blog Network piece titled, “What a Good Moonshot is Really For.” It’s been a serious mental-marble ringer for me in the last 24 hours.
Organizations should have their moonshots. They’re a keystone of what we call a “future-back” approach to strategy, which unlike the “present forward” nature of most strategic-planning processes, doesn’t operate under the assumption that tomorrow will be pretty much like today, and the day after pretty much more of the same. In stable times, present-forward approaches help optimize resource allocation. But in turbulent times, these approaches can lead companies to miss critical market inflection points.
At the heart of the future-back process is a consensus view of your company’s desired future state.This isn’t scenario planning, where you consider a range of possibilities. This is putting a stake in the ground — specifying what you want your core business to look like, what adjacent markets you want to edge into, and the moonshots you’ll try for. And, as Kennedy did, a good future-back strategy goes well beyond the three-year planning horizons that typify most corporate strategy efforts.
Anthony and Johnson go on to explain that a moonshot has three traits: 1) it inspires, 2) it’s credible, and 3) it’s imaginative. But to me, the very most important insight from them – “At the heart of the future-back process is a consensus view of your company’s desired future state.” Do you want compliance or commitment to realizing your vision as an organization? If we want purposeful commitment, we have to devote tireless energy to establishing the consensus view. In PMP, this is why I stress the power of the visualization in the design. It enables a community to exercise collective voice in creating the desired future state and it enables them to SEE a common understanding of what they intend to build and create. It’s why architectural blueprints are so effective for building and renovation. The various sub-contractors can SEE all of the sub-systems and how they interact and connect with each other.
Finally (this is just a 10-minute time-limit process post), I am convinced I need to do a deep-dive study into Otto Sharmer’s Theory U. An executive summary lives here.
My time’s up. We need a MOONSHOT in schools. And it needs to come from backwards design of the future we want for our citizenry and learners and the wisdom we have about brain science, engagement, psychology, flow, play, passion, and purpose… and the challenges we face as a society and the degree of commitment we have to innovating and creating toward the resolutions of those challenges.
What’s your moonshot at your school? I’m quickly growing to believe that new schools have them, and existing schools mostly lack them.