“An overlong list of ‘really important priorities'”

“An overlong list of ‘really important priorities'” (see quote below).

From my experience in schools, an overlong list of really important priorities names a major struggle for many school leadership teams. Not enough time and effort and concentration are spent on creating clarity and shared understanding of the school’s differentiating organizational capabilities. Too many leaders and too many teams allow the time and effort and concentration needed for such identity work to be crowded out by other things.

Perhaps it’s that overlong list of really important priorities that keeps us from focusing more purposefully on our own identity within a school. Maybe we should make that investigation of identity and purpose the #1 really important priority and recreate the list once we have that critical foundation built of knowing who we really are and what we intend to concentrate on as a learning community.

I have no intent or desire to corporatize education. However, I think that schools can learn a lot by studying other sectors, industries, and organizations that have undergone periods of monumental change and transformation, particularly corporations.

The article cited below has been a recent piece of that study for me. I hope you school leaders find it helpful, too.

Therefore, it is crucial to be clear about the capabilities your organization most needs to stand apart. Too often we see functional leaders and staff struggling because this is not well defined. Imagine trying to use the objective of being “innovative” as a criterion for the multitude of investments a company must make around product launches and R&D.

Unfortunately, when the company isn’t coherent — when its strengths are not linked explicitly to its strategic focus — most functions end up trying to keep up with an overlong list of “really important priorities.” This is an unwinnable proposition.

from “Rethinking the Function of Business Functions,” Harvard Business Review, by Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi  |  12:00 PM February 8, 2013

Are traditional report cards “vanity metrics?”

Are traditional report cards “vanity metrics?”

In the business world, we talk about the difference between vanity metrics and meaningful metrics. Vanity metrics are like dandelions – they might look pretty, but to most of us, they’re weeds, using up resources, and doing nothing for your property value.

from “Know the Difference Between Your Data and Your Metrics” by Jeff Bladt and Bob Filbin, Harvard Business Review  |  11:00 AM March 4, 2013

English – 92
Math – 89
Science – 91
History – 88
PE – 93
Art – 90

Such a report card might make the refrigerator. But does it really say very much about the student’s growing capacities in writing (ideas, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions, voice)? And did you assume from that last sentence that I was referring to English, or did you assume that such metrics could cut across the departmentalized curricular landscape and comprise parts of all the subject grades? Do we know if the student asks probing questions and demonstrates curiosity for understanding more deeply? What do those dandelions tell us about the student’s application of such thinking skills as divergent, emergent, and convergent explorations? What do we know of the student’s perseverance, resilience, risk taking, and grit? Can we make any deductions about the student’s observation and experimentation capabilities? Do we know how the student has demonstrated integrity and empathy from those pretty flowers on the refrigerator door?

From that data set, the one that will live indefinitely in the fireproof cabinets and ethernets of schools, what do we know about the student’s growth and emergence in the 4, 5, or 7Cs of 21st century skills? What do we see on that report card about mindset?

What are we grading? What are we measuring? What are we commenting on? What are we collecting and recording and archiving data on? What do we say matters most about our children? Do our report cards shed light on what we say we value most?

Is your school asking these questions? Why or why not? Are these questions among more systemic considerations that you are examining?



Umair Haque: HBR Blog Network, Oct. 22, 2012 #Purpose

Purpose, like any great love, redeems us. Perhaps not from the inferno, but from the void. Of a life, starved by insatiable self-regard, that comes to feel desperately empty — because, in truth, it has been. There is no singular, simple, final meaning to life. And it is the scars of purpose that, finally, don’t just merely give meaning to life — but endow us with a greater privilege — giving life to meaning.

Umair Haque: HBR Blog Network, Oct. 22, 2012

System turbulence, needed green dye, innovating innovation, and #pedagogicalmasterplanning

Are you learning as fast as the world is changing? In this insightful HBR article, Bill Taylor wrote:

In a world that never stops changing, great leaders never stop learning.

Eddie Obeng made this passionately visual in his TED talk – “Smart failure for a fast-changing world.

Obeng provided a picture of injecting green dye into a pipe of faster and faster moving water until the turbulence created can actually be seen. Then, he graphed what happens when the pace of change outstrips the rate at which we learn.

What we call “schools” exist in this world of ever-quickening change. What “green dye” are you using in your school so that the pace and nature of change is more visible…more tangible and discernible?

When I was a school principal, a support I provided for nearly a decade, I thought the best green dye I could inject was providing time for faculty to be together – a meta-goal advocated for in Carrie Leana’s “The Missing Link in School Reform.” Together, we implemented and improved on a few practices:

  • Peer visits – we committed to at least two peer visits a year. Many practitioners, especially those who really strived to improve, made sure that they exceeded the minimum.
  • PLCs – learning from 25 years of research and practice in public schools, we built a system that created job-embedded R&D time for faculty. In the model we created, participating faculty spent four 55-minute periods a week together so that they could do things akin to what David Creelman described when writing about the architect Christopher Alexander as Eishen campus near Tokyo was designed and built. Just like Alexander employed a short-cycle, iterative-prototype mix of design-and-construction so that architecture could inform building and building could inform architecture, the PLCs together designed instruction and assessment, built the constructive lessons with student-learners, and debriefed how to improve the design for the next phase of building.

The infrastructure contained some additional parts and pieces, and this infrastructure facilitated learning at a rate and pace that more closely matches the rate and pace of change that we are experiencing in schools – from technology, globalization, and knowledge about the brain, just to name a few influencers.

My best work, which I did not do alone – I had tons of collaborative help, was simply to make it easier for faculty to work together. Individual learning remained important, too, of course, but the traditional silo-ing traits of school were broken down so that necessary and essential co-laboring and co-learning could occur more often than at sporadic lunches or happenstance encounters in the faculty lounge. The get-togethers were made intentional, purposeful, and systemic.

My next arc of learning and educational support finds me at Unboundary, a transformation design studio. As Polly LaBarre is calling in “Help Us Innovate the Innovation Process,” we are working to design and prototype something currently called “pedagogical master planning.” Essentially, we are deconstructing the campus-master-planning process, and we are re-imagining it as a metaphor or framework to architect and engineer a strategic-design method for systematizing and enhancing the core purpose and radial functions of a learning/teaching community. It’s a next generation of strategic planning. Like Christopher Alexander’s methods with Eishen, pedagogical master planning will involve a short-cycle, iterative-prototype, dynamic responsiveness. Like the PLC’s ethos and structure, pedagogical master planning will systematize the parts and pieces of the whole – not to make the system rigid or slow-moving in complexity, but to respect, leverage, and amplify the interrelated and integrated nature of real systems.

At a time when change continues to quicken, we must design learning systems that can keep pace – or even outpace – the rate of change in the world. Master planning for such learning systems will necessitate a series of shifts from strategic planning to strategic design…design that serves as a green dye to make the intersections of change and learning visible, harness-able, and enhanceable.