Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Good to Great: School Edition

It has taken a while, but I have finally finished Good to Great by Jim Collins. The world of education shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the business world's findings concerning the development of a great organization.
One of the frameworks Collins explores is "First Who...Then What." Collins writes, "We found...that they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats--and then figured out where to drive it" (13). He notes that with the right people on board, motivational problems disappear (42).
The first important gem for struggling schools lies in the mining of the right people. No quick fix exists for schools long entrenched with the status quo, yet as the old guard moves into retirement, struggling schools must make greater strides in attracting and retaining energetic, relationship focused men and women who understand that without the ability to connect on a human level, the content will never pass through the pipeline. The right teachers believe in the mission and are determined not to fail where others have failed before.
Secondly, struggling schools need the ability to move the wrong people out of the schools. Who are the wrong people? The wrong people have tunnel vision and lack creativity. They fail to buy into the mission (though they may be talented) and are willing to coast or rest on their laurels.
As important as having the right people in the organization, the leaders must put those teachers into the correct positions of leadership and the right classrooms. Some teachers have great success at moving the lowest performers quickly towards proficiency. Some teachers have great success at refining the highest performers carefully towards excellence. Some teachers are quite happy going about their business. Some teachers are never satisfied with their current business.

Until schools get these principles, they will never reach greatness.


At 5:52 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

as correct as this seems it depends on having leaders who are able to assess and execute the situation to move staff to the right seats or off the bus.

perhaps knowing where the bus is going on a steady course may help determine the success possibilities of the staff.

the problem with WPS leadership has been a very long history of tacking back and forth changing the target partway to the goal.

the book is a fine one; the model the same. too many leaders at various levels do not aim at the same target over the time required to show progress.

At 6:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I sort of agree that teachers should be put in the right spots...I am concerned with the attitude that some teachers have regarding teaching the lower level students. Some teachers feel that this is beneath them. Having the opportunity to teach both higher level and lower level classes, I find them both equally challenging. Both groups need to strive to reach the next level, as a teacher I have to find and/or be the motivating factor that brings them to this level. Unwise, I am not doing my job. I HATE those who say I am only successful with one group or the other. In order to be a great teacher you need to be able to teach at all levels. Otherwise you should get out of the profession

At 3:08 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Braemar, I will cover your concerns later when I write about Level 5 leaders, which are discussed by Collins.

Anon, Collins also discusses, and so I will write about, determining the things you can be great at and focusing on those things. He also points out that the "great" companies don't wander off at the first sign of the latest and greatest.

On the other issue, I slightly disagree. I agree that great teachers can teach anyone, but I also believe some great teachers are even greater when they are teaching the low-level students. These teachers simply havea knack for connecting and communicating witht that group. I envy them. I believe I can teach anyone, I am less convinced that I am great at teaching everyone. As an example, I feel less confident about my ability with 9th graders than I do with 12th graders (of all levels).

Thanks for stopping by and let's keep positive open dialouge moving (another important aspect of great companies).

At 9:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a new-ish school board member, I feel frustrated by all the bureaucracy that seems to get in the way of a superintendent or board making these personnel decisions that would get the right people on the bus and in the right seats. Tenure, seniority, often seems our hands are tied.

I have not read Good to Great yet but I have heard that it has powerful applications to schools. Gonna check it out.

At 5:11 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

anon--it can be frustrating, especially when trying to address the entrenched beliefs of a long union dominated profession. Unfortunately for schools, teacher unions in general lack the willingness to mature and adapt to a with a changing landscape. Those reasons are what draw me to the charter school movement.


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