Category: Shared Vision

It’s a year later….

The homework policy went into practice. Immediately issues kicked up. Did they consider the individual needs of students? Could they cookie cutter a set time for every student per grade? How could they monitor the assignment of homework? Who would supervise the policy?

Over time, the principal and her Shared Decision Making Team made some adjustments and in the end what the team could be sure of was that homework was in fact assigned more regularly than it had been in the past.

However the Team was shocked when the principal asked the “Is the Emperor wearing his clothes?” question:

“Can we somehow connect the perceived increase in homework to improved student learning?” she asked.

One thing the team could do together was squirm and squirm they did.

Then Bob said, “You mean that we have to evaluate whether the policy worked?”.

The principal wanted to say “Duh.” but restrained herself. Instead she said, “We went through a lot of trouble and a lot of fine tuning to get some sort of homework practice in place. Don’t we owe it to ourselves and to the children to find ways to decide whether what we did was worth it?”

Bob put his other foot in his mouth by saying “Well it’s not like the School Improvement Police will come after us if our plan didn’t work. Where does it say that we get raises if we succeed or pay cuts if we don’t?”


Hmm, Bob’s remarks are both fortunate and unfortunate.

They’re unfortunate in that he said them in the first place.

But they’re fortunate on a couple of counts. One is that this is a kind of mini case study and hopefully not a true story. That a professional or a member of any school improvement effort would be so callous about whether there were positive or negative results from their collective planning and decision making is frightening although I daresay that members of school improvement groups near and far might sometimes think like this.

The other fortunate development is that we can now parse this kind of thinking in terms of what this dysfunction, Inattention to Results, may suggest.

It can be argued that school leaders are sociologists who also happen to be educators. We are after all spending so much of our time dealing with groups of people in various combinations to create the self sustaining, proactive, learning organization. When the groups go sour, perhaps out of the mental model shown above, or out of any number of other group process failings, the organization, and by extension certainly, the children it serves, suffers.

Search your memory and try to recall what happens when an educational initiative, or choice, from textbook selection, to policy making, and everything in between, falters or fails, how often has someone asked “Why?” “What have we learned from this?” worst, “WHO is responsible for this?”

The subliminal message albeit the cries near and far of “accountability in schools” is that we aren’t really held that accountable for our results, and in doing so we can continue to muddle on through to perpetuate what “mostly” works for “most” students.

It occurs to me that in so many ways, Inattention to Results is the most perfidious of the five dysfunctions. To ignore, blow off, make excuses for what we do or don’t do is really unconscionable in systems thinking where the correct model has always been PDSA, Plan, Do, Study, Act.

PDSA speaks to a kind of research and set of activities that needs further exploration in our mutual exploration of Systems Thinking and that is the idea of action research. That will be the subject two blog entries from now but for now it involves the obligation of the school organization’s leadership to build in mental models and inquiry skills to establish dialogues and analyses about our school’s practices, the great ones, the good ones, and the not so good ones.

As we end this segment of systems thinking blogs about Team Learning aka, Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team, let’s remind ourselves about Benjamin Franklin and his co-signers of the Declaration of Independence, one could wonder where we would be right now if these dysfunctions dominated their thinking before they signed it!

If you’re looking for a textbook or want to read a book re Leadership. Check out book just published where I am co-editor and a co-author, “Leadership for a Global Economy”.

Available through Amazon and North American Business Press.

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.

Those of us still willing to call ourselves trekkies remember with a grin and with fondness Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s famous “Make it so” command. By that he meant “I as Captain am giving you as subordinates authority to carry out my direction.” And thankfully THAT dialogue never made it to the television script!

But the sum is the same. Jean-Luc empowered his crew to carry out the mission.

Now suppose an outtake on the script was something like this:

NAVIGATOR: Sir, what do you mean by “Make it so.”?

PICARD: What do you mean by what do I mean?!!! I have told you to set course for the Romulan Empire!

NAVIGATOR: Sir. I do not know how to set course for Romulus anymore than set course for Earth.

Hmmm. Thankfully that dialogue never made it to the series either.

And the message is that the great leader – systems ensure that all participants have been trained to carry out their roles and need only minimum direction to take the appropriate initiative.

The question then becomes “To what extent do systemically unhealthy school organizations actually know HOW to make it so?”

And in this case, our Tale of Two Cities, to what extent do the LEADERS know HOW to make it so?!

And speaking of so, do school leaders of various stripes and types know HOW to first of all develop an effective strategic or operational plan even if they know what they want to have happen?

Going back to previous posts, we saw how an administrative team’s collective mental model could be transformed. All well and good. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. To get where you really you want to go, you need to know how to plan all details and issues properly.

So speaking of so, let’s consider what a plan should look like in this and succeeding posts.

The first step is obvious, for heaven’s sake, have a goal. As Jim Collins said “a big hairy one”, something first of all worth shooting for, and something that has been a result of heavy duty root cause analyses by all stakeholders and that has been accepted by all stakeholders.

So speaking of so, be sure that you recognize the goal’s complexity and that most likely this target will require in many cases, a multi-year plan as opposed to the usual thumb in the dike short term solutions to surface leaks we often expediently grab.

Once you have honed, shaped, smelted, and purified your long term goal then you need to be very clear on deciding how this goal will be assessed, formatively and summatively along the journey towards achieving it.

And that will be the next post.

The Root Cause term has garnered some attention these past few years of economic upset. When the market tanked in 2008 commentator after commentator pontificated on the root cause(s) for this systemic failure.

There are ways to more nearly isolate what “lies beneath” and how or to what extent groups and individuals can do this, first on a micro level and then at its counterpart. This is a skill and a mindset that needs more structured attention than what I intend to do in this blog series.

This blog series instead is meant to showcase how leaders “teach a man to fish” systemically. In this instance that idea appears to speak most nearly to Senge’s Personal Mastery and to Team Learning Disciplines but I would argue that neither has much traction without a reversal of prevailing Mental Models.

The Mental Model in this City appeared to be a dangerous mix of Futility, Powerlessness, Resentment, Frustration.

But I couldn’t tell them that. I needed them to figure that out and that was the challenge! I needed to teach them to fish.

I do not claim major victory here. I do claim that I distilled their feelings about the issues noted above by flat out telling them. “You feel Futile.” “You feel Powerless.” You feel Resentment”. and “You feel Frustration.”

They were almost surprised that I had “diagnosed” their concerns. And then came the key point.

To borrow a page from the late Steven Covey, I asked, “So there’s nothing you can do about any of the issues you lament?”

I guess it’s better put that I used a “reverse” Steven Covey. He among many practices, speaks to identifying what power or influence an individual or in this case, a group may actually have and to seek to use those competencies or abilities to work at solutions.

At first there was nothing. No answers or ideas. I waited the famous 6 seconds “wait time” strategy hoping that someone would offer up an idea.

Then I got, “Well, maybe the community has lost sight of what they want us to do. Maybe we should either reassert our vision or invite stakeholders to review it with us.”

Then I got, “I’m not sure we are communicating about the many wonderful projects and programs our districts offer.”

Then I got, X and then I got Y. And then I got Z.

And then, and then.

The ideas flowed! The Mental Model had been punctured.

What was necessary next was to take the bundle of ideas and show them how to make them happen.

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.

Listen to its apPEAL.

Get it?

There are many metaphors to use about keeping the Shared Vision of a school sustained. Here, I recommend Senge’s book, Schools that Learn, that contains a whole section about how schools around the world have worked hard to develop meaningful shared visions and how they have stayed true to their message.

As two quick examples I know of a school district where, in their elementary schools, their mission is recited after the Pledge of Allegiance. I know of several school districts where the mission statement is visited as the first teaching task of each school year. Each grade level has an assigned task, appropriate to it, that they complete; e.g. poetry, pictures, writing assignments, etc. These are shared in  a special Fair within the first two weeks of school’s opening.

What’s troubling about vision and mission statements and the fact that their appeal and momentum all too often lose their reverberation is that the effort to develop one that has long lasting meaning and by extension requires long lasting conscious sustenance and adherence may be developed poorly.

There is research both ways about this. That is, engage stakeholders pretty much from the outset in identifying those values, priorities and actions to meet both so that all the planning and involvement activities that follow are powered by that initial development of the shared vision. That would be fine if the facilitator and her stakeholders realize that the subsequent series of processes in which they are going to splash may very well lead them to CHANGE their initial thinking. And when that happens both the facilitator and the stakeholders have to be flexible enough to be willing to adjust and maybe even totally jettison what they originally agreed to.

If you have been part of the arduous and sometimes plodding process that may lead to a mission statement you will easily understand that it could be hard to give up a single comma notwithstanding that new thoughts and themes may have evolved in the activities that you have been participating in.

Better I think to wait on that shared vision statement until the group has had ample time to dialogue about what their shared vision will be.

Then and only then should it be solidified and then and only then should it be the rallying point for all of what a systemically healthy learning organization should be.

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.

2.” Observer should script the lesson and steer the bulk of the script toward the pre-agreed observation foci.”

The new four letter word out there is the D word as in data. Lesson observation within the systems framework that drives this blog is no exception. Gone are the times when supervisor could enter a classroom, observe it without notes and respond to its effectiveness solely on the so-called wisdom of the observer.

I know of a system briefly in practice in the 70’s, where just about every behavior, by teacher, and by student(s) was assigned a number. For example, a One (1) might have been Teacher asks question. A Two (2) might have been Student answers question, and so on. The observer was charged with looking up every 5 seconds to code the number that characterized what was going on at that time. Think about it. That meant that in a given 40 minute lesson the observer could very well have coded the activity in the lesson 480 times! But the “data” would enable observer and teacher to recognize the frequency of given lesson activities and diagnose from there.

I do not know of any schools where this supervisory method is currently operable and I can think of many reasons why it is not! Nonetheless the approach does have some merit in forcing the analysts, hopefully BOTH teacher and observer, to recognize the dominating activities in a given lesson, diagnosing why, assessing the merit thereof, and making decisions about the lesson’s effectiveness.

Today I am most familiar with “data-collection” via scripting methods. This requires the observer to try her level best literally record everything that happened in the lesson! However this is not the same as the coding method described above. Instead supervisor improvises a kind of personal shorthand to record all teacher and students do and say. Usually this becomes impossible and also usually in my experience, at best becomes a script of everything that the teacher says, and maybe does, and will often ignore what the students do and what the students may say. Not good.

Here I have a suggestion that works pretty well and again, is a result of a healthy Pre Observation conversation. Instead of transcribing, court reporter style, the “testimony” of the teacher, better that that there be a pre-agreement to script only the facets of the lesson that they agreed to pinpoint in the first place. So, as in the case of the dialogue of the last post, the supervisor may only record the teacher questions and student responses.

Doing so, enables the supervisor and teacher to filter the other “noise” to concentrate on what matters most to both of them.

And the sum of this post is best connected to Shared Vision (always), and primarily to Personal Mastery. This is so because ideally, supervisor and teacher will have collaborated in constructive dialogue (Mental Models) to identify areas of strength and of deficits so that the teacher and supervisor can pinpoint appropriate training and support to help the teacher get better at what she needs to get better “at”.