Category: mental model

Recently I was on a Dissertation committee where the candidate proposed an action research study that would among other things, involve training fellow music teachers in using and collaborating about evaluating music teachers’ “effectiveness” in their instruction via a Moodle approach.

The proposal was excellent and has much, much promise for teachers on “non”-academic subjects as they will also be responsible for showing student “growth” by requirement of the New York State Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). His dissertation defense few months later was beyond terrific.

In the beginning though , I  was more than a little bit skeptical about the training-of-colleagues component with the Moodle. Moodle is an open source wiki-like Web 2.0 approach. A wiki site if you have never used Wikipedia as an example,  is a site that enables its members to add to, elaborate, and create new information for that site for the rest of its viewers.

This soon-to-be- Ed.D’s premise was that the Moodle would be a source to its participants in shaping how they might incorporate the online rating system that he had developed. It would also serve as a training platform so that participants could learn how to both use the Moodle and to implement the rating system.

At the time I remarked to now Dr. X, “This could be like herding cats.”

By the way, he more than pulled it off. However my concern in principle for all groups,whether face-to-face, or virtual had validity. For you see, as you already know instinctively, groups need to both be grown and grow themselves.

This is no easy task. Although there are plenty of examples to offer I’d like to offer Patrick Lencioni’s work as a good example.

Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team captures issues associated with effective group development in a tiered system that has much value.

  1. Absence of Trust
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

In closing this blog post I’d strongly suggest that the Group Facilitator (I hate that word) not keep Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions as secret code. In fact, it is both healthy and conducive to the group’s evolution that they become aware of these Five Dysfunctions as they operate among each other. As they learn the “language” they learn to be aware of the presence of these dysfunctions and more likely collaborate to eliminate or reduce them!

Next blog post – Absence of  TRUST!


1. How will you know if the Yankees met their strategic goal?

Answer: They won the World Series.

2. How will you know if you lost weight?

Answer: You lost weight.

3. How will you know if your organization’s systems are working?

Answer: Everything seemed to work.

Answer to number one: Yes, they must win the World Series. Anything less is an organizational failure.

Answer to number two: Technically yes, i.e. if you lose weight. But HOW much weight? One pound? Two? One hundred?

Answer to number three: How DO you know if your organization’s systems are working?

– if no one complains?

– if you have a profit?

– if your students are achieving?

Before we answer number three let’s piggyback off the first two questions: We all know that any athletic or competitive team (not only the Yankees), “measures” itself by whether or by how much they have  won their respective championship. It’s an absolute, either you have won the championship or you have not, sort of like if you’re pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t.

If my goal is “lose weight” it might be fine to lose a pound or two. But I’d also offer that a dieter measures her “success” by more weight loss than one pound.

If we consider organizations, especially schools as systems – as organizations those first two throw – in questions offer some guidelines, although not nearly enough to truly assess the extent to which the school-as-system-as-0rganization  (SASAO) has met its goals.

For one thing, there is no World Series by which it can measure itself for school systems. For sure we “create” artificial World Series types targets. 100 per cent diploma rates, everyone meeting standards, are two examples. But they are more nearly akin to leaves on a tree than they the stoutness of that same tree’s trunk.

For another thing, and maybe more preferably,  if a school-as-systems-as-organizations measures itself incrementally it can keep track of a promising or not so promising trend. Oh sure there is that AYP, Annual Yearly Progress.  This type goal basically says “Well you haven’t met the ULTIMATE goal but you are showing progress toward that goal. Let’s be satisfied with that for now. So let’s look at that. I’d proffer that that sort of measurement COULD be more effective than “winning the World Series” if the yardstick measured a continuum toward a meaningful goal in the first place.

I’d argue that the mental models offered and practiced in just about any schoolhouse have surface level merit but in their collective aggregate  miss the mark because the goals that steer them are faulty to begin with.

Because the “vision”, the shared vision, is not enunciated, or if vocalized from time to time, is not truly the beat by which the school-as- systems-as organization marches. Visions and so-called missions like these are  the  kind you find posted somewhere in the school entrance and in the masthead of the school newsletter, or even on its website if it has one.  But the so-called vision has little or no collective conscious in the day to day energies of the stakeholders.

More than that if the purpose of American schooling is to prepare citizens of the 21st century with economic, critical thinking, creative, and technological literacies and capacities, we will need to create CRITERIA BY WHICH WE ASSESS goals as offered in this very sentence that will give us true input as to whether we are in fact doing this or something far less effective and far less worthy.

So when we craft that plan to meet that vision, let’s wag the school-as-systems-as organization’s tail effectively by knowing how we will know before we construct what we think we want.

In another Tale of Two Cities I lamented poverty issues that affected the capacity and vision of schools and districts in need to do what they needed to do by their children-clients.

I have been to another such “city” recently and have seen it again. Truly saddens me.

However this case also drove home to me how Mental Models, negative ones, if permitted to persist, can possibly drag a whole system down.

Do NOT get me wrong, the individuals with whom I worked in this case were a splendid collection of educational professionals in every sense. These were folks who were working hard to counteract the negativity they perceived around them, affect how they lead and how they make it work. But some had begun to feel their efforts futile.

The negative mental models with which they contended were the perceptions and politics of the community in which they lead.

I have often noted to my Leadership classes that educators are many  ” – ologists”. They are

– PSYCHologists

– Economists,

– Political Scientists and

– SOCIOLogists, perhaps above all, before and / or in addition to being educator-leaders. They work with and lead people-groups!

This group clearly recognized and lamented the economic, political, and sociological forces that had intertwined for a “perfect storm” in their district.

For sure there are economic issues confounded by economic divide. One section of the district is very wealthy. Another section is very poor.

For sure there are political issues. I am not sure I have parsed them accurately yet but you can guess which group appears to control policy making and resource allocation.

These are underscored by sociological and demographic factors at play in many regions of our country. A growing “underclass” “threatening” those who hire them to perform service tasks but who are reluctant and / or downright resistant to providing them educational and social services to help them overcome their under-class – ness.

This becomes more likely an IMperfect storm whose consequences spin even the most well – meaning participants far, far from where they would prefer to be.

Incident after incident they recounted to me included how they wanted to do X and Y but were prevented by decision makers whose agenda were not grounded in the shared vision of creating and implementing the kinds of services, programs, initiatives, and resources that the district’s students truly needed.

Again, the paragraph above highlights the interconnectedness of Senge’s Five Disciplines. In this case the Shared Vision while still there was at the mercy of negative Mental Models.

As the group began to pile concern upon concern and negative incident upon negative incident I began to realize that I had to on-the-fly, try to give them new mental models or perspectives for engagement.

And so I drove to Root Cause.

Again as reminder, Senge’s Five Disciplines are not easily teased apart. However their sum is crystal clear. That is, twining these disciplines together makes a fabric not easily worn through. In other words, it lasts.

So what do we do to keep instructional excellence thriving through the multi-prism lenses of the Five Disciplines?

Shared Vision: Often when an accrediting agency visits a school an Examiner will make a point of asking children, staff, teachers and administrators what the mission of the building is. It’s certainly telling if no one can state and explain the the mission and vision. All too often a vision and/or a mission statement hangs in a prominent place in the school lobby or is perhaps also on a school’s letterhead and is ignored or forgotten anyway.

Whose fault would this be? The administrators? The staff? Other stakeholders?

While I suppose the easy answer is “Everybody”, the better answer is “The administrators”. I say this because they have been entrusted with continuity of leadership and have the moral suasive power, or should anyway, to champion, advocate for, fight for if necessary, for the values and intentions of the entire school organization.

When or if, the leader lets this lapse, she has truly abdicated her validity as leader except in name only.

I have an anecdote about this: As an elementary principal of an excellent building, I had worked with a terrific faculty (I inherited) and the community to not only create an ambitious mission but to create sub-systems and activities to align with it. One sub-system activity was to create a schedule where there was uninterrupted block time devoted solely to reading and language arts. This was inviolable and a focus point of all instructional planning.

After 9 years, I was “promoted” to Central Office just before the opening of the next school year. The new principal, in her zeal re-did the schedule I had developed. One consequence was to un-do the reading block. The principal, a fine educator, and who sustained the quality of the school well after I left, UN-did the schedule to meet what she construed as other priorities.

She was met with a near revolt by her faculty at the very first meeting. They were so committed to the instructional value of the original schedule, and to the overall mission and activities of the building that they gave her a very bad time for some time.

Think about the vision and mission statements in your own schools. Do your stakeholders know it? Does the planning and organization of the building or district functions support or dilute it?

If so, why?

If not, why? And how do you sustain emotional, intellectual, and yes spiritual commitment to it?

Next post will be about developing and sustaining your shared vision.