Monday, May 04, 2009

Confront the Brutal Facts

In chapter four of Good to Great, Collins explores companies which "...confronted the brutal facts of reality head-on and completely changed its entire system in response..."(67). In confronting these realities, the "entire management team would lay itself open to searing questions and challenges from salespeople who dealt directly with customers"(72). Back in November of this school year I wrote a "Whaddya Wanna Bet?" post giving 3-1 odds that "when Central Offices ask for your input and the input of the community, they don't really care to hear it?"
Um, well I guess I might have to pay up. However, I am awaiting the data wall to prove that they listen. Truthfully though, I must give credit to my current Central Office for at least wanting to hear from the community and staff. I believe we are headed in the direction of confronting the brutal facts. The question is, will we be able to change the entire system if needed?
Collins provides four basic practices when confronting the truth:
1. Lead with questions, not answers: too often, Central Offices in general lead with answers. This program will solve this problem. Do these fads and results will happen. Unfortunately, teachers have become jaded and are unable to trust Central Offices, even when their intentions are noble.
2. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion: I think that when confronting major challenges, schools ought to have far more informal discussions. Allow the staff to work through the realities by engaging them in discussions on an informal but regular basis. Show that it is okay to debate, even argue. I think of a major disagreement I recently had with a colleague. She's still wrong in my mind, but I hang out with her almost every day. Disagreement on issues does not mean we have to be antagonists.
3. Conduct autopsies without blame: teachers often bear the brunt of the blame when schools fail. Them or the kids. Ultimately, we are all responsible for the failure, and we must figure out how to solve those mistakes.
4. Build a "red flag" mechanism: Data Driven Decision Making is one way schools are attempting alert possible problems. But truthfully, there has to be much more. Kids need a way to alert teachers of existing or developing issues. Teachers need a way to alert administrators of potential pitfalls or shifts in success.

In the end, we need to lay bare our failing schools. We need to examine them and make changes when necessary. We need to allow teachers to speak honestly and openly--and teach our students to do the same.