Below is an excerpt by one of my Master’s students from our online discussions about data-driven schooling practices. I liked the emphasis on mindful precedent…
The last chapter [of On Common Ground] talked about barriers to action. Full disclosure: I am usually one of them.
The fifth barrier is described aptly as mindless precedent. In other words, some teachers will simply and automatically reject change because that’s not the way it’s always been done. Trust me when I say I love this phrase. To me, it helps explain some of the dumber "traditions" of high schools, ranging from prom queens to early senior graduation to valedictorian speeches at commencement. It’s everywhere, and it’s not going away.
However, I would like to ask about mindFUL precedent. Many times in administration I’ve detected (and/or endured) a quick dismissal those who question whether or not a reform is a good idea. Given that we’ve been reforming schools for about a century now, and still have the same basic problems (some learn much, many learn, most don’t learn enough) there is validity in some of those questions. At the beginning of last year two of our administers told our faculty on the first day back to school that the school is going to do "what’s best for kids" and that those who weren’t on board should find another job. Welcome back, indeed. Immediately most of our faculty tuned them out.
Reform efforts are critical. Continuing pursuit of better educational delivery is essential, and morally compelled. Reform must be completed in a school that is built on a foundation of trust, respect, and humility. If we as administrators pretend to have all of the answers, there are going to be a lot of people that suffer because of it. Calls to action are good, but we better know where we’re going, why we’re going, and how we’re going to get there.
When do leaders fall into the trap of ignoring mindFUL precedent? What are some things that we can do to avoid doing so? And how can we tell the difference between mindful and mindless precedent?
This is a very real danger. Some of us forget that criticism can be a gift as our visions can get a little myopic. First of all, It’s a good idea to float ideas out to a leadership team for refinement before going forward schoolwide. Better yet, shared decision making processes create a culture where ideas belong to the staff instead of being imposed from adminisration. Also, I think leaders gain lots of credibility when they actually pull an idea back after initial negative feedback and poor results. This is a good model of risk taking and learning from failures that teachers can emulate in their classroom as well.
Developing hubris and forgetting humility. I don’t even like the term “leader” but rather like to think of leadership in the organization. That implies leadership is throughout and deeply imbedded in the organization. The best principals I’ve seen are those who see themselves as part of a team of professionals, not THE leader.
Reflection, coaching, peer consultation, Parker Palmer’s clearness committee process, keeping a journal, having a critical friends network—these are all things that come to mind to help prevent hubris and to keep a healthy attitude/perspective.
We must also be wary of being mindlessly groundbreaking as well. Leaders who cite mindful precedent are resistant to change because they have seen futile change efforts before. They are wary of people eager for change but who march forward blindly. Or even worse, they have seen those who use change to simply peddle their newest edproduct© at the expense of the school. Leaders need to be open to change that is mindfully without precedent.
So the question becomes: How do we strike a balance between mindful precedent and mindful change? How do we make sure the former doesn’t rule out the latter as too much of a risk?
As long as it is mindFUL, precedent and change both should then have a purpose that has been explored. Routines without reason and change without cause are the risks.
The comments from this masters’ student is well penned. One dimension I would offer is that of leadership, inside and outside of the confines of the schoolhouse walls. 21st century schools require the community to support change to the extent that pressure for change occurs from the establishment (educators) out AND the stakeholders (community).
Indeed, the practice of homecoming queen posses the same visionary disconnection to needed change as undifferentiated teaching, overhead projectors and powerpoint lectures as cutting edge technology, and the eight period day.
Leadership that asks the critical questions, hires those who most closely approximate the answers, challenges resistors, and builds the environment for change is most likely to tilt change.
We might prefer that administrators bureaucrats and politicians, but any administrator whose job is at the whim of a school board is first and foremost a politician, and any administrator who has to answer to the state is first and foremost a bureaucrat.
We might prefer that administrators not be bureaucrats and politicians, but any administrator whose job is at the whim of a school board is first and foremost a politician, and any administrator who has to answer to the state is first and foremost a bureaucrat. It would be nice to believe that most administrators, even if heavy handed, make decisions based on their belief, experience and conscience, but survival and self protection is the real driving force in the machine of education. Sorry to be such a cynic, but it’s been true in my experience.
Excellent thoughts in this piece, things I would like to hear more about. It seems to me, that our preservice programs and new teacher orientation processes are an excellent place to start bringing about some of these changes. In fact these are the two places I where we should concentrate on bringing change as heavily as possible.
Change does require some administrative buy-in, but not necessarily exuberance. And, just like in the classroom, we have to expect that it will require some work to get us where we need to be, we cannot simply say, we are here, if you are not, go home. Just was we engage students and let them explore, we need to be doing the same with teachers.