Governor elect Branstad recently announced Jason Glass as next Iowa Education Chief. Looks like a solid choice - someone touting innovation and freeing schools of the bureaucracy that weighs them down. Glass has experience in dealing with new pay schemes for educators - which I'm all for - and it caused me to spend some time thinking about the critical difference between "transformation" and "reformation" and how I may help contribute to ensure we are all spending time in transformation so as to not waste valuable time, ideas, and expertise.
I took the opportunity over the recent Holiday break to listen to some critical YouTube videos from the late, great Russell Ackoff. In one of his speeches he identified and discussed the seemingly simple, but rarely understood distinction between "reforming" and "transforming." He argues, and I agree, that most efforts at improvement and change are reformational in nature. It is important to note that he doesn't attack or question individual ideas but the implicit assumption that these ideas operate relatively independently of other system elements. Performance-based-pay, formative evaluation, standards-based grading, experiential learning - all are wonderful ideas that seem to fit most people's beliefs about what 21st century education should look like but if dealt with as "reforms" we will be right back to the 90's when groups of educators were working to get these things introduced into schools - and we know how that turned out! So, here goes. . .
Ackoff defines "REFORM" as "to leave a system as it is and try to change its behavior through a modification of the means it employs." This, he says, is about "doing things right." Reforming teacher pay would be to attempt to change behavior by changing the means by which teachers get paid.
He defines "TRANSFORM" as " to change a system's objectives or ends and the means it employs to acheive those ends." This, he says, is about "doing the right things." Tranforming teacher pay would be to match the pay system with the explicit outcomes of the new education system.
You may be thinking: "Yeah, great, same difference Pickering!" But is it? Let's use this idea to further explore Ackoff's idea remembering it is always better to make a mistake doing the right thing than doing the wrong thing right.
For years the "pay-for-performance" argument has been playing itself out. Virtually anyone taking even a minor amount of time to read research and study educational history knows that the experience & education pay matrix is outdated and ineffective. So why is it so hard to get rid of? Well, fear of the unknown for sure, tradition, and all sorts of implicit assumptions about vindictive principals, etc, etc.
A touchy subject - I know, but. . . Teacher's unions - called "associations" - are a product of the Industrial Age- they were needed to protect workers from seemingly random acts of favoritism or retaliation. The problem is, teachers aren't blue collar workers cranking out products on an assembly line or following an algorithm that is well-known and documented and that can be "six-sigma'd". The are white collar professional tasked with the formidible job of applying science and art to help individuals realize their potential, pursue their passions, and prepare for a bright future. Seniority and educational level have little relevance in this world. I do understand the angst, however. Since education typically only measure and counts "inputs" rather than meaningful outcomes, it is frightening to think about evaluating, paying, promoting, and dismissing teachers based upon outcomes that, honestly, aren't directly measurable in most cases.
You see, teachers are tasked with producing learning, and learning is an emergent property - it must be produced in context and in real time. What I learn in one context doesn't necessarily translate into another without re-learning in that context and real-time experience. This makes determining the quality of a teacher a difficult task - but one we must figure out.
The interesting thing to me is that if I walked into any local high school and stopped 15 random kids and asked them to tell me who the best and worst teachers in the building are, I'd get a pretty consistent list of names and reasons. Same applies to principals, secretaries, etc. So why is it so hard to escape the old experience and education linear progression of pay, seniority and security?
What say you?
My friend and colleague, DJ Corson, in teaching effective instructional practices, boils learning down to 3 simple words: WRITE, TALK, DRAW. SImple, memorable, powerful. Learning doesn't happen effectively without the interdependency and interplay of these 3 elements. I look at my own learning. Much of my job is thinking, creating, and implementing innovative practices and organizational tools. I'm often caught in my office working alone and find myself alternating between writing and drawing - diagraming, writing guides, etc. But I can only do this for so long before the urge. . . no - the absolute need - arises for me to share this with someone I respect. In short, its time to talk. This "talk time" increases my understanding significantly and helps me generate new questions and seek new directions. While talking, I often find myself and my colleague - writing and drawing together.
While there is much more to it - what if we required that teachers ensure that this happens everyday in their classrooms and supported them in seeking out strategies to get better and better at it? How do we, as educational leaders, invoke talking, writing, and drawing in our meetings and professional learning opportunities? How does that play out in your Professional Learning Communities? Your adminstrative meetings? Your work in helping parents understand the critical changes that must take place?
I look forward to your thoughts and reactions!