[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]

Cognitive dissonance. noun. conflict or anxiety resulting from inconsistency between one’s beliefs and one’s actions. [definition from the American Heritage Dictionary]

I believe that one of the biggest challenges facing school leaders today is the issue of dissonance. As the definition above notes, cognitive dissonance refers to the disconnects between what we believe as leaders and what we do. Here are some examples of dissonance that regularly occur in the lives of school administrators:

  • Few administrators believe that the current American focus on yearly, one-time, standardized tests (as opposed to more instructionally-sensitive progress monitoring assessments) is healthy for students, teachers, or schools, yet they spend a great deal of time and energy on preparing for and working with the results from those tests.
  • Administrators know that the predominant ‘sit and get’€™ model of professional development almost never leads to long-lasting, substantive changes in practice, yet most school systems continue to provide training for teachers and staff using that very model.
  • Most administrators probably would admit that more teachers should be terminated (after appropriate remediation opportunities are given) than actually are.

These are just a few examples. I’€™m sure that you can come up with others and invite you to add your own in the comments to this post. There are other dissonance issues too. For example…

  • time dissonance: the disconnect between the amount of time administrators have and the amount of work they have to do it;
  • expectation dissonance: the disconnect between what our society expects schools to do and what they actually are able to do;
  • curricular dissonance: the disconnect between what is best instructional practice (i.e., high-yield instructional strategies) and what occurs on a day-to-day basis in many teachers’€™ classrooms;
  • technology dissonance: the disconnect between the technology skills and knowledge that students need for the new millennium and the capacity of most schools to prepare students for their future lives and workplaces;
  • moral dissonance: the disconnect between how we currently serve disadvantaged students and how we should be.

We must find ways to resolve these conflicts. Although most states have adequate numbers of people with administrative licenses, fewer individuals are willing to actually take the job of principal or superintendent. The time demands, stress, community and legal pressures, and other factors are just too much for many educators, who look at administrative jobs and say, “€œWho wants to deal with that? Not me!”

We know that sustainable success in schools never occurs without effective leadership. If schools are to attract talented, creative people to serve in leadership positions, we must somehow figure out how to reduce the dissonance.