Why is it so hard for us to do the right thing?

[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]

As leaders, we often know what is the right thing to do. Just to pick a few examples…

  • We know that ongoing, formative progress monitoring is more appropriate than ‘data days’ or ‘data retreats’ for yearly summative data, and yet many schools still only do the latter.
  • When it comes to positive organizational and/or academic impact, we know that the ‘sit-and-get’ professional development model typically is a complete waste of participants’ time and organizational resources.
  • Under any reasonable scenario planning forecast, it’s quite clear that the world is going to be quite technological and globally-interconnected, yet we continue to ignore that fact in most schools.
  • Under any reasonable scenario planning forecast, it’s quite clear that schooling and/or learning and/or assessment are going to be much more personalized and invidividualized than they are now, and yet few school organizations are preparing themselves for these new ways of doing things.

We’re supposed to be leaders. We’re supposed to be out in front, leading the way. And yet the organizations that we supposedly ‘lead’ are so very far behind in so many areas. We like to point fingers; it’s easy for us to do so and ignore our own culpability.

As leaders, when are we going to own the fact that much (most?) of it is us? Why is it so hard for us to do the right thing?

11 Responses to “Why is it so hard for us to do the right thing?”

  1. One idea I’ve been pondering is related to the question you posed is teacher cynicism. Perhaps administrators and a small group of teachers (20%, maybe) are “talking” about what “should” be done, but the rest (85%) are sitting in the back row thinking, “I don’t buy that idea at all…” One person calls assessment reform “ongoing formative assessment” while another calls is “assessment for learning.” (I’m just throwing out numbers here to make a point) 40% of the staff doesn’t think they need to change the way they assess their students and the other 40% might be interested if they could sift through the always changing academic lingo. Doug Johnson called this cynicism C.R.A.P. (constantly renaming academic practices http://bit.ly/10yToC).

    In other areas, some want “technology integration” while others think it should be “technology transformation.” Without a shared definition as a fellow edu-blogger (www.tagmirror.org) often reminds me, we’re left bickering over how to go forward with your short list, Scott. Well..at least the 80% that are on board or confused about how to get on board. Still not sure what to do with the 20% who refuse to change and/or are disinterested…

  2. Most of the staff development I have received as an elementary school principal this summer has been paging through manuals in notebooks. Along with “sit and git”, I refer to this as the “turn to page 45” model of learning which is extremely outdated. The unfortunate thing I have seen this summer is a lot of tough talk about how teachers need to improve and held accountable, and we administrators never teach each other with engaging methods, or rarely.

    In terms of assessment, our school system uses a “mid year review” process which has a school look at data in January in a formal process. This is usually just a show and our school is trying to use data in a bi-weekly manner instead which has produced great results for us.

    Thanks for the entry!

  3. Why should leadership change? There is no incentive for our school leaders to change how things are being done. They are more comfortable doing things the way that it was done before, or the way that they’ve seen it done elsewhere, which is pretty much the same.

    The only new organizational models in education are the charters and they’ve not been proven to work in whole system models, and probably won’t work. Charters don’t provide benefit to the whole, they’re a niche market.

    Look at the new stimulus money; the way you get it is to prove that you’re being tough on teachers and testing the crap out of kids using yesterday’s testing tools.

    Change will happen when teachers are recognized and acknowledged for creating change that works. It is, after all, teachers who do the teaching. Change is not going to happen by cracking your master’s whip.

  4. I agree with Dan. Teachers should bE held accountable for engaging students in meaningful learning experiences, students should be held responsible for taking advantage of their opportunities to learn, and school admin should lead the organization to advance these goals. I don’t want to make excuses, but I see all three of these levels overworked and overstressed. So the answer to your question is: it’s just easier not to change. Reassessing priorities is overdue.

  5. Good thoughts…I heard a quote from a mental health professional at a conference (not in therapy!) once that said “people won’t change until the pain of remaining the same becomes too painful to maintain” …and I think we’re at that point in our school districts. As educational professionals, I happen to be a superintendent in a small, rural district in Iowa, we have got to take the lead in this change process. We have to model new strategies ourselves as well as encourage others to take risks and not fear retribution from the parent that says (“what we used to do in our school”…some 30 years ago…what is the same in our society except for school???…the same parent also said at our last board meeting that we don’t need to invest all this money in technology because what we need are “not Smartboards but smart teachers”…I say we are doing our best to hire the best and brightest so adding the smartboards to their tool belt is a great compliment to what they’re doing!!!)…we have to show the great things that are happening in our schools and give our teachers permission to step out and try things that actually engage the students of today. I continually agonize over the site at my house each night when my kids are using all kinds of technology to communicate and be informed (not sure everything is learning but I’ll take it because they are going to be great leaders in their chosen career fields) and hearing another day spent at school that didn’t allow them to utilize technology. We cannot continue to “power them down” at our doors and expect engagement and therefore the highest quality of learning. At some point, even in Iowa, the students are going to revolt and leave us with even higher declining enrollment or lower graduation rates…they will make the choice that fits their needs best! Right now we are lucky that we live in this part of the country.

    I plan to keep working diligently on this but my patience is wearing thin with our profession!

    Hoping for a better tomorrow,


  6. scott – you’re a breath of fresh air.

    knee deep into pd. i believe everyone wants to get it. they are just so brainwashed and exhausted. but i also believe:
    1) we are at our limit – if public ed doesn’t change it up soon – there will be no more public ed
    2) we can change if we network it. it is a huge shift – it’s got to be public ed and standardized tests and college. but we know the exponential capabilities of the network.
    3) it is easy. so easy today. the web gives us our text and our tailored plns. but people aren’t getting that potential in the classroom.

    thanks for continued direction and encouragement – to do what is right.

  7. Here’s a thought that you, Scott, put into my head at NECC 09 that I just can’t (and won’t) let go:

    How many decisions, as an administrator, do I make that reinforce traditional school?

    Maybe we own this more than we care to admit? Culpability.

  8. It’s so hard for us to do the right thing because we keep trying to change what we don’t control. Most often, this turns out to be other people. All of us in ed tech should know beyond all doubt that coaxing, reasoning, and coercing don’t work well enough to be a strategy. I hate to go all Dr. Phil here, but he’s right: we can’t control other people, only how we react to them.

    Better to figure out those things we can control, regardless of how trivial they may seem at any given time, and change those. These are the cogs we grease to get the change machine moving from the bottom up. Start small, hang tough, and don’t get sucked back into the tar pits of trying to changing what you can’t control.

  9. I’d have a couple of responses…

    1) Your “right thing” and my “right thing” might be two different things. Multiply that by everyone who has a voice or decision-making ability or influence in public education and you get a lot of “right things to do” (and some completely contradict each other).

    2) It is too easy to underestimate the complexity of any change in public education. For goodness sake, how many schools still go to school (roughly) 9 months on and 3 months off? This example should be a slam dunk – 10 people out of 10 people might just agree that it is a bad idea – but why is it still happening? Because change is vastly complex.

    I’m not saying change cannot happen, but time and time again, people underestimate it; and we get the rubberband effect in schools – pull hard in one direction and snap back.

  10. Curt – Sweet response.

  11. Scott: Looking forward to seeing you at SAI. I am going to use this post to lead into PD for the start of the year.

    Jeff: Former CAM principal you share many of the same beliefs I now have sitting in your old office.

    Everyone: Change is just a decision away. Let’s make it.

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