Schools in our state are in crisis mode. A double whammy of the elevated expectations of No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top plus drastically reduced revenues have forced our schools into the unenviable situation of trying to change the way they deliver services with no additional funds to prompt those changes.
It would be the same as asking a mechanic to improve the performance of your car’s motor and not pay him to do so. Over the past several years educational experts have tackled this question by studying how multinational corporations in a digital world are changing their structure.
Modern educational theorists such as Peter Senge, Art Kleiner and James Evers have studied the new structures of corporate America and have decided that we have, over the years, tried to reform WHAT is being taught but spent little time on HOW it is being taught. In designing new educational systems, the way we have designed our efforts to produce change have failed because we haven changed our system of delivery of those changes.
The mechanical age of the 20th Century is over and the Information Age of the 21st Century is upon us. The old “factory model” of school management – where the orders of the managers filtered down from the top to the workers/teachers – simply does not work in this new world.
Why? Information and knowledge is exploding around us; teachers are much more highly trained; the demands about what is taught in schools are much broader; the students are brighter, more vocal, more socially oriented. Students are no longer objects passing through a machine into which we pour facts so they have a skill with which they can get a job.
They are (or SHOULD be) cauldrons of inquiry and exploration where students utilize access to a myriad of sources of information, organize it and create new learning.
Enter, then, into this New World of education, the old style “Top Down” management of most schools and school districts. This is where all “new” ideas originate from a very few managers on the top and are filtered through the principals to the worker/teachers who must implement them.
With the dozens of “new” methodologies that have been foisted upon teachers over the last generation –Whole Language, Back to the Basics, New Math, Behavior Modification – is it any wonder most, if not all, of them have failed?
If we expect our schools to experience REAL change, then we must adopt a more modern approach to managing those schools. We must take a lesson from Corporate America and turn our school districts into collaborative generators of innovation.
This requires that everyone be involved in the changes – supervisors, administrators, teachers, parents and, yes, even students.
Let’s let the teachers do what they were trained to do: design lessons that meet the needs of their students. If they have trouble doing that, give them more training – if they still have trouble, they need replacing. Since they are the single most important agents of change, principals must be more than managers, mere conduits of decisions made by higher authorities.
They, too, must be innovators, leaders, mentors. In this model, district administrators must never believe that they have all the answers. They must be agents of change not dictators of “guidelines”. They must be teachers and mentors who develop new leadership within the ranks of professional employees.
Integral to this new model is openness to new ideas generated from everyone in the school communities, even the parents and students. Only by working together, can the school community generate the kinds of energetic ideas that will cause real improvement within our education community.
Edidtor’s Note: Bruesch is a member of the Garvey District School Board.
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