A Future-Ready Education Plan–“Banning the Average”

* The following is adapted from the work of Michael Fullan, John Hattie, the BC Education Plan, the Ontario Education Strategy, Douglas County School District, the Center for Individual Opportunity, and more.

The Challenge

Most people agree that our education system is a good one. Teachers are skilled, facilities are sound and students succeed. Yet an education system designed in the very different circumstances of an earlier century can’t possibly always meet the challenges students face – both now and in the future. In the social, economic and technological environment of the past, change was much more gradual than it is today. Many of the opportunities and jobs we’re preparing our students for don’t even exist today. So while we enjoy a strong and stable system, we need a more nimble and flexible one that can adapt more quickly to better meet the needs of 21st century learners.

We’ve all got a stake in preparing our young people for success in a changing world. Our challenge is clear. The world has changed and it will continue to change, so the way we educate students needs to continually adapt.

The Opportunity

Children are natural born learners, and teachers are passionate about teaching. We have a unique opportunity to forge that common ground toward a more innovative education system that meets the needs of our families today and in the future, to keep our young people achieving and thriving in a dynamic, rapidly changing world. To do this we need to build on the many strengths of our existing education system while modernizing education so it can adapt and respond to students’ needs. Having high quality schools starts with deeply supporting our teachers and administrators. Implementing this model well will result in better teaching and improved student learning throughout our system. We can and must make education more flexible so students and families benefit from the exciting knowledge economy we’re part of. To do that, students must be at the center of a more personalized approach to learning and our schools must be more adaptable in responding to student needs.

For far too long, and especially as a result of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), we have understood K-12 performance principally in terms of ‘average’ student performance in math and English language arts. This narrow-minded focus on these subjects ‘average’ performance represents and impoverished view of education’s purpose and one that is not supported by our educators, students, parents, or community. To illustrate this I ask you to look at the following hypothetical scatter-plot diagram:

Average Each dot represents an individual, and each axis represents some variable. This typical approach to understanding correlations looks for the ‘average’ behavior or outcome. But in my view this misguided approach has created what research calls, and what many school systems have become as a result No Child Left Behind’s narrowing of curriculum, the ‘culture of the average’. For example, far too often in education when someone asks a question such as, “How fast can a child learn how to read in a classroom?”, educational systems change that question to “How fast does the average child learn to read in the classroom?”. We then ignore the children who read faster or slower, and tailor the classroom toward the ‘average’ child. If we focus the system merely on what is ‘average’, we will remain merely ‘average’ and in doing that destroy the talents of the students we are charged to serve.

Despite the diversity of our society, and the economic necessity of developing more talent, our educational institutions remain firmly committed to the ‘average’. The way we design educational materials, structure learning environments, assess learning, measure intelligence, hire employees, and evaluate performance; all of it is based on the ‘myth of average’, and none of it is based on insights about real-life individuals or the fact that scientifically and mathematically we have shown that ‘averages’ rarely tell you about individuals. For at their best, ‘averages’ represent a small percentage of people; at worst, they are artifacts that literally represent nobody.  The simple fact is that if our goal is to understand individuals, ‘averages’ will not work. Instead of focusing on the ‘average’, it is my belief that we must build a system of opportunity focused on the individual potential of each of our students. Our work is not centered on moving students up to the ‘average’ but instead focused on moving the entire ‘average’ up in all of schools across the district by banning ‘average’ thinking and demanding we design our learning environment to the edges of student potential, nurturing and growing each and every one of our students.

Building on Our Strengths

This Plan builds on the strengths of our existing system while moving to adaptable education for the world of today and tomorrow. New policy direction will be required for some of these changes, while others can be made through collaboration and engagement with all education partners.

Staying Solid on the Basics

For all students, reading, writing and math skills will still be emphasized and students will still be required to meet core learning outcomes. Our students have a strong track record of success in state, national, and international measures of these skills and this Plan will build on that success.

More Real-World Skills

While a solid knowledge base in the basic skills will be maintained, to better prepare students for the future there will be more emphasis on key competencies like self-reliance, tenacity, critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, innovation, teamwork and collaboration, cross-cultural understanding, and technological literacy. We can also connect students more directly with the world outside of school, with increased focus on learning these skills across topic areas.

Improved Student Assessment and Reporting

Students’ progress will continue to be monitored through rigorous district-wide assessments. Effective classroom assessment practices are key to student success and will be even more vital in a more personalized learning environment. Educators will have more ability to decide how and when each student is assessed. New tools will be developed to provide greater access, richer information, and more consistency across the district on student progress. Regular reporting to parents both formally and informally will remain key.

Importance of Teachers  

A great teacher has always been the key to creating outstanding educational experiences. Under this Plan, this will continue. To help students succeed in a rapidly-changing world, teachers will be empowered to shift from being the primary source of content to focus on helping students learn how to learn. This Plan will make it easier for teachers to use their professional knowledge and discretion to guide students toward the skills and knowledge that will help them thrive in later life. By having the curriculum built around fewer but higher level outcomes, this plan gives teachers and students more time and flexibility to explore student’s interests and passions.

Effective Teaching

Students, parents and teachers all need the teaching profession to be administered in a way that ensures high standards and puts the public interest first. To achieve these goals, this Plan will address widely-shared concerns about how our teaching profession has been regulated. It will make sure teacher regulation protects both students and the public interest. It will also ensure teachers get regular, meaningful feedback to inform how they teach. This Plan opens the door for new ways of learning – not just for students, but for teachers as well.

Greater Flexibility

Under this Plan schools will gain new flexibility to design programs that really work for all students. There will be more flexibility and choice regarding how, when and where learning takes place, and there will be more flexibility about how students are organized for learning. Choice options and focus programs will continue to be options for parents and students.

Freedom to Adapt

This Plan will give students, families and educators more say on how, where, when and what students will learn. In many cases, the way classes and schools look might change. School and daily calendars may change if supported by the board and community as benefitting students. Almost certainly, more learning will take place outside of the school setting.                                                                                                                          

Our Plan: Flexible, Adaptable, World-Class Education

This Plan is based on a simple principle: every learner will realize their full potential and contribute to the well-being of our world.

Theory of Action

To move our education system from good to great, the Plan implements a theory of action that is targeted to support and improve schools, our district, and our community through three clearly defined and articulated critical areas of our strengths and success:

1) Focus on the individual (People and relationship building);

2) Our diversity and variability matters (Transparency of accountability throughout the system); and 

3) Capacity for innovation (Knowledge building and innovation).

These areas are interrelated and will collectively play a critical role in our successful journey from good to great and the ways that we continually adapt, improve and changes over time.  All initiatives and activities within the Plan’s implementation strategy, detailed below, are anchored within these three key areas.

Seven Implementation Components

While the overall Plan strategy is built upon the theory of action just described, there are seven key components or actions which form the building blocks for its implementation.

1)  A small number of ambitious goals

Personalized learning for every student is the goal of the Plan.  A close examination of our current Key Performance Indicators must guarantee that they are centered around goals that challenge us to design to the edges–ELL, SPED, TAG, Students in Poverty, ACT College Readiness, etc.  For under this Plan, teachers, students and parents will work together to make sure every student’s needs are met, passions are explored and goals are achieved. This means student-centered learning that’s focused on the needs, strengths and aspirations of each individual young person. Students will play an active role in designing their own education and will be increasingly accountable for their own learning success. It’s all about putting students at the center of education. That means giving teachers and schools the flexibility to make sure each student is well served by their educational program. Each student is unique and our education system will support each student’s interests and nurture their talents.

Action Steps:

• Key Performance Indicators will be redesigned to reflect the core competencies, skills, and knowledge that ALL students need to succeed in the 21st century–rejecting traditional “aggregate-then-analyze’ measures to pursue an “analyze-then-aggregate” focus of key performance indicators in which the starting point is patterns of individual variability.

• A powerful real-time data dashboard will be available to all employees within the Bend-La Pine Schools to support our effort to increase flexibility for our schools, through a balance of autonomy with accountability.  We are drowning in data while starving for information as we have large amounts of data that is all over the place–ACT scores, state assessment results, student attendance, EBISS early warning data/tipping points, staff attendance, transportation routes, fiscal and countless other data pints.  We will put all data points into a SQL server and use Tableau to visualize the data allowing every single employee in the district to have access to see the data that effects them on a daily basis.

2) A guiding coalition at the top

From the beginning, central leadership, especially the board of directors and senior leadership, must be committed to the same ends.  For top down guidance is essential in communicating the vision, monitoring progress, financing high-leverage programs and initiatives, and helping the system to stay the course relative to the core priorities and avoid distractors.  The relationship between a board and superintendent establishes a tone for the district environment. If the relationship is collaborative and harmonious district employees feel secure as roles are clarified, expectations are clear, and ambiguity does not cloud attempts to change and improve programs. Conflict between the superintendent and board creates tension inside the district and in the community. The situation discourages program innovation and reform, and deters constructive community involvement in the schools.

Action Steps:

• The board of directors will consistently produce high-impact governance through their governing activities, setting clear strategic directions and funding priorities, fashioning policies that provide boundaries for operations, rigorously monitoring educational, financial, and superintendent performance, and building close, positive ties with key stakeholders in the community.

• The board and superintendent will focus on developing a strong working relationship as they are the two most important members of the district’s strategic leadership team, whose continuous, close, creative collaboration is essential in our district’s longterm success. Neither partner making up this strategic leadership team can go it alone. The superintendent not only needs the board’s input in making complex, high stakes decision involving significant longterm impacts, but the superintendent also needs the legitimacy, authority, and support of the board in carrying out these decisions. And, of course, the board depends heavily on the superintendent’s detailed planning and management in carrying out its directions and policies. We—not we/they—is at the heart of effective district leadership.

3) High Standards

What students know and what they are expected to learn with respect to knowledge and competencies is reflected in a strong core curriculum. Student performance with respect to standards will be key to moving forward. Student progress will be reported to parents in a more meaningful, effective and consistent manner across the district, enabling parents to play a key role in shaping their children’s education.

Action Steps:

• We will redesign the Bend-La Pine Schools Diploma to guarantee the following for ALL students:

  • Intentional experiences to equip students with skills to persevere when faced with challenges; value and exercise creativity; discover how critical thinking skills are used across disciplines; become a functioning member of a team; exercise effective communication and presentation skills; understand the importance of taking initiative; learn about various aspects of leadership and develop those skills; adapt and problem solve; manage time and create a plan for accomplishing a task or goal; know how to find reliable and accurate information; and analyze, synthesize and make inferences from data
  • A requirement to demonstrate readiness to move to the next level at specific transition points (grades 5, 8, and 11) by demonstrating growth and development as a learner and productive, contributing member of the school and larger community
  • Meaningful, in-depth experiences for students with service learning and career interests as well as on-going opportunities to experience and explore both visual and performing arts
  • Opportunities each year for students to plan for successful pathways for both college and career, starting no later than fifth grade, with the purpose of being exposed to as many options as possible
  • A requirement to take either AP, IB or college-level course and the opportunity to earn career certification
  • Opportunities for students, beginning in kindergarten, to become conversant in one language other than English or their native language, with the chance to explore others
  • Learning through meaningful projects and taking part in meaningful processes to develop deeper understandings
  • Opportunities to become financially literate, both on a personal level and within the larger economy
  • An understanding of using social media responsibly including possible consequences when appropriate judgment is not utilized; and
  • Development of what it means to be a responsible citizen, and a deep sense of connection to the Bend-La Pine community.

• We will ensure our standards remain relevant and robust so that every graduate has every advantage to succeed in life.  We will build on basic core curriculum skills but also make sure that students are well-versed in the competencies they need to succeed, like critical thinking and teamwork, through the implementation of a guaranteed and viable 21st century curriculum with fewer but higher level outcomes will create time to allow deeper learning and understanding for all students. This guaranteed and viable curriculum will be supported through the systemic implementation of Atlas, an easy-to-use software system which promotes best-practice in curriculum mapping and implementation by providing all school staff ready-access to all curriculum outlines, abstracts, resources, standards, and more across the district.  

• All assessment activities, whether district-wide or classroom-based, will support ongoing student learning. Our district assessment programs will be reviewed to ensure they focus on key competencies and critical skills and knowledge. Classroom assessment tools, including performance standards and other assessment support material, will be developed with educators.

4) Quality teaching and learning

The Plan acknowledges the complexity of the teacher’s role. Teachers will receive support as they continue to adjust their roles to match what students need, moment by moment, to design personalized education that opens the door to educational success for our young people. Professional standards will be high, and we will continue to support our new teacher evaluation and compensation systems.

Action Steps

• We will work with our education partners to make sure that job-embedded professional development is used to enhance educators’ knowledge base and professional expertise. It is important that teachers are able to refresh and develop new practices throughout their careers by participating in professional learning opportunities. On School-Improvement days, parents make alternative arrangements for their children and they need to be assured that these days are used as intended.

• We will continue to work with universities to ensure teacher preparation programs give new teachers the knowledge and skills they require to support student learning through the development of a series of Professional Practice Schools that employ an co-teaching pre-service model.

• We believe mentoring is key to supporting teachers’ professional learning, both in their formative years and throughout their careers. Teachers will have increased access to learning opportunities by working with teacher mentors and each other.

• We will work collaboratively with educators, to continue to support our new evaluation system with the goal or regular, quality feedback to teachers that will help focus their professional development opportunities.  This feedback will include the use of video and student survey information to increase the practical and powerful nature of our feedback systems for educators.

• We will work collaboratively with educators, to continue to support our new compensation systems with the goal to raise the stature of the teaching profession and increase public confidence in the profession.

5) Investment in leadership and capacity

If there is one concept that captures the centerpiece of this Plan’s strategy, it is capacity building.  Capacity building has been a long-term focus in our district that must continue to be strengthened.  The district has made major investments in personnel but will continue to resource this expectation.

Action Steps

• We will need to continue to find creative ways to increase leadership opportunities throughout our district–ICCLs, coaches, mentors, interventionist, etc.

• We will need to continue to find creative ways to increase professional learning opportunities for all employees.

• In the spirit of comprehensive redesign, it is nearly impossible to change our curricula, assessments, teaching, classroom management and student advocacy, and not reimagine our leadership expectations for administrators.  We know that it is only through quality leadership that we will collaboratively reinvent our profession. That is why we will work with our administrators to develop new leadership expectations when creating our leadership evaluation tool.

6) Flexibility and choice

This Plan will mean more choice for students and families with respect to how, when and where learning takes place. To accomplish this schools and programs will also have more flexibility to organize classes and other learning experiences so they can better direct resources to support student learning. Schools will also have more flexibility to vary the school calendar to better meet their student needs. Students will continue to create blended learning opportunities through online learning and class-based environments. Enrolment in online courses has grown by more than 500% in the las five years.

Action Steps

• The board of directors will support creative use of school calendars and daily schedules for schools to better meet the needs of their community.

• Parents and students will have increased choice and opportunity to decide which school their child attends within our district through strategic boundary, transportation, and instructional programming decisions and supports.

• We will create better opportunities for parents to engage in their child’s learning with more flexibility and choice with respect to what, how, when and where their child learns.

• We will expand our current learning credential program to better recognize learning that takes place outside of the classroom – like arts, sports, science and leadership programs – so that students are fairly acknowledged for this work.

7) Learning empowered by technology

Our district leads the state in the effective implementation of instructional technology for learning. This Plan will continue to encourage smart use of technology in schools, better preparing students to thrive in an increasingly digital world. Students will have more opportunity to develop the competencies needed to use current and emerging technologies effectively, both in school and in life. Educators will be given the supports needed to use technology to empower the learning process, and to connect with each other, parents, and communities. Schools will have a full digital conversion to support learners and educators.

Action Steps

• Learners, educators and families will have improved access to digital tools and resources that support both face-to-face and online learning.

• The district will promote the use of technology for both students and educators.

•  An improved district student information and reporting system will help teachers plan a more personalized learning experience with students and their parents.

Taking The Next Steps

Under this Plan, ours will be an education system that’s more flexible, dynamic and adaptable, to better prepare students for a bright future. We’re not alone in recognizing the need for change. Parents, school systems, and governments around the world are re-examining how their education systems are designed and they are working to make them more responsive to the kind of learning children need now, and what they will need in the future.

The way to get from good to great is through personalized learning, supporting teachers, creating more flexibility and choice for families, maintaining high standards and embracing technology. It is an opportunity for every child, every student, every learner to do their very best in education.

Working with our education partners, and in consultation with the public, we will get from good to great as we bring personalized learning into classrooms. And we invite all of our community to get involved in this exciting transformation.

Learning is the Work

by Michael Fullan

It may seem strange to say that professional development—educators going to workshops and conferences, and taking courses—bears little relationship to classroom and school improvement. Similarly teachers toiling away as individuals do not add up to school or system success. What really counts is what happens ‘in between workshops’ or what I call learning is the work (Fullan, 2008).

Learning on the job, day after day, is the work. My colleague Richard Elmore (2004) nailed the problem of superficial school reform when he notes that “improvement is more a function of learning to do the right thing in the setting in which you work” (p.73). He elaborates: “The problem [is that] there is almost no opportunity for teachers to engage in continuous and substantial learning about their practice…observing and being observed by their colleagues in their own classrooms and classrooms of other teachers in schools confronting similar problems of practice” (p. 127).

Fortunately there is new work underway that is building new collaborative cultures within and across schools in order to build the individual and especially collective capacity to improve instruction linked to student needs and achievement. This work is driven by the moral imperative of raising the bar and closing the gap for all students, and doing so for the whole system—not just for some schools, but for all students; not just for some districts but all districts; and not just a one level but at all levels. We call this ‘whole system reform’ (Fullan, 2010).

The research has been clear and consistent for over 30 years—collaborative cultures in which teachers focus on improving their teaching practice, learn from each other, and are well led and supported by school principals result in better learning for students. The difference in the past few years is that we are moving from research to improved practice. In this article I will examine the nature of this work, what results it gets, and what the implications are for the future.

The Nature of Collaborative Work

Starting within the classroom the basic building block is instructional practice linked to student achievement. I am going to call this the instruction-achievement nexus. This work has to be clear, specific and precise so that it can be understood and well implemented. We have done this for example with literacy and numeracy in Ontario. Instruction and assessment operate as a two-way street, one informing the other. Personalization, i.e., individual needs of students becomes the focus. So the first element is focus.

Second, for teachers to improve their practice they learn best from other teachers provided that these teachers are also working on improvement. These exchanges are thus purposeful, and based on evidence.

Third for this system to develop it must be led. Supportive leaders become an essential component including for example literacy or other instructional coaches, and principals as instructional leaders. Again this work is precise and always under development. To take one example, we and others have found that the greatest impact a principal can have on student learning is the degree to which the principal participates as a learner in working with teachers to make improvements.

Fourth, it is not sufficient for schools to work out collaboration on their own. External facilitation is required. And since we are interested in system change we also need schools to learn from each other. Thus we employ strategies where schools are in small clusters (3-8 schools for example).

Fifth and finally there needs to be some vertical support across the levels—schools and communities, districts, province—for this to develop on any scale.

To take another specific version of the same principles in action we can consider ‘professional learning communities’ (PLCs) as developed by Dufour, Dufour, Eaker, and Karhanek (2010). There are three ‘big ideas’ that underpin PLCs:

  1. The first and biggest idea is that the fundamental purpose of schools is to ensure that all students learn as distinct from all students should be taught. This will require the development of shared goals and vision, the alignment of procedures and practices, and specific indicators of progress.

  2. The second big idea is that helping all students learn requires a collaborative culture and collective effort. Educators will need to work in interdependent teams to achieve a common goal to which they hold themselves mutually accountable for all students learning.

  3. The third big idea is that all schools will be unable to monitor their effectiveness unless they create a results orientation. They use common assessments and make results from those assessments easily accessible and openly shared in order to build individual and team capacity.

Surrounding these big ideas is the need for school cultures to change toward collaboration; for district cultures to change toward school-to-school openness, and greater two-way partnerships between schools and districts; and for governments to change toward partnership with the sector in which capacity building as distinct from compliance (or equally problematic, site-based school autonomy). All of this means that the individual, isolated autonomy of the teacher becomes passé. The cultural transformation then involves the de-privatization of teaching. The new norm is interactive professionalism, which incidentally is the way of all advanced professions.

In sum, the big difference between effective and ineffective schools systems—and all organizations for that matter– is the ‘collective or shared depth of understanding among members about the nature of their work’. You can’t get collective depth from a workshop, or from episodic team meetings. You can only get shared depth one- way—make learning the day-to-day work.


In Ontario we have use this fundamental strategy of collective capacity building to improve the whole system. The public school system in Ontario consists of 2 million students, 130,000 teachers, 4000 elementary schools, 900 secondary schools organized in 72 districts (public, catholic and francophone districts, all publicly funded

Prior to 2003 the system was stagnant for at least five years in terms of literacy, numeracy, and high school graduation. There was constant strife between the government and teacher unions. A new government was elected in 2003 with its Premier, Dalton McGuinty declaring himself as the ‘education premier’. He appointed me as his Special Advisor and we set out to transform the system using the collective capacity building linked to results as the core strategy.

The details of the strategy and results are discussed in my book All systems go but the short version is that we began to get improvement within two years. Now in our seventh year (with a second term of office in 2007) literacy and numeracy has improved 14% across the 4000 elementary schools; high school graduation rates have increased from 68% to 81%; and the morale of teachers and principals is better. More importantly, the capacity of educators is greater providing the basis for further development.

The results of the Dufours’ PLC work in schools and districts are equally impressive. In chapter after chapter reporting on 6 schools (elementary, middle and secondary), and three districts we see teachers collaborating around the three big PLC ideas and getting impressive results for diverse student populations (Dufour et al, 2010).

The cases in our work in Ontario, and in that of the Dufours cover the waterfront: rural, urban and suburban settings; large and small schools; elementary, middle and high schools; single schools and entire districts– all benefiting through focused collaboration that increases skills, and commitment at the individual and group levels.

An even more convincing case comes from an intriguing small study by a business professor at the University of Pittsburg, Carrie Leana. She starts with the well- known finding that the patterns of interaction among teachers and between teachers and administrators when focused on student learning make a large measurable difference on student achievement and sustained improvement. This she calls ‘social capital’, which she contrasts with individual capital that is based on “the widespread belief in the power of teacher human capital to transform public education [which] is one of the cornerstones of current reform efforts” (p.12) Leana set out to test the relationship between the power of human and social capital. She and her team followed over 1,000 4th and 5th grade teachers in a representative sample of 130 elementary schools across New York City. The human capital measures included teacher education and qualifications, and experience and ability in the classroom. Social capital was measured in terms of the frequency and focus of conversations with peers that centered on instruction, and that was based on feelings of trust and closeness between teachers. She studied the impact on math achievement over a one-year period.

Leana uncovered several interrelated themes directly related to my argument here. If a teacher’s social capital was one standard deviation higher than the average, her students math scores increased by 5.7%. It is of course the case that teachers with high ability outperform teachers with low ability, but that is not the big driver. Leana reports that teachers who were both more able (high human capital), and had stronger ties with their peers (high social capital) had the biggest gains in math achievement. She even found that low-ability teachers perform as well as teachers of average ability “if they have strong social capital” (p. 10, italics in original’).

Remember human capital refers to the teacher’s cumulative abilities, knowledge, and skills developed through formal education and on-the-job experience. Social capital is not a characteristic of the individual but instead resides in the relationships among teachers and between teachers and principals. Leana’s findings mean that bad working conditions (low social capital) make good teachers less effective, and make poor teachers get even worse. Her findings also mean that the goal is to develop in concert both high human and high social capital. More than that –high social capital is a powerful strategy to leverage human capital.

I could site other examples but the point has been made: focused, purposeful team work, facilitated and well led produces better results. Given the moral imperative of serving all students it would seem non-negotiable that teachers should throw their commitment and energies behind developing collaborative cultures within and across schools. However it is the case that some jurisdictions are not conducive to supporting collaborative cultures. For example, governments that focus on punitive accountability, bureaucratic compliance, low-trust of the teaching profession undercut the likelihood that collaborative cultures will thrive. Nonetheless, my argument is that teachers have a moral obligation to help redefine the profession toward interactive professionalism. Paradoxically they will gain more autonomy and respect for the profession if they become more effective in raising the bar and closing the gap in student learning and achievement.


To return to whole system reform it has become obvious that the development of a collaborative teaching profession is associated with performance of the leading countries in the work. Whether one takes the recent PISA results (OECD,2010), or the in-depth study of 20 jurisdictions and countries my Mourshed and her McKinsey colleagues the message is the same. Top performing systems invest in the teaching profession, but as the profession evolves they discover that the next breakthrough requires the peer culture of teachers lead the way. As the McKinsey group found, when capacity of teachers is low more direct methods of capacity building are required, but if you are going to get breakthrough results innovation must come from teachers working in collaboration. Leadership at the school, district and system levels, in other words must help develop such an interactive system.

Finally, it is revealing how accountability plays itself out. It turns out that blatant accountability focusing on tests, standards and the like is not the best way to get results. Rather, successful systems combine strategies of capacity building and transparency of results and practice. In these ways they get deeper de facto accountability. The public is assured by the vertical accountability of transparency, and the system generates greater lateral accountability because peers working with peers in a focused deliberate way provide both support and pressure to improve in measurable ways. When this works gets underway it actually causes greater moral purpose—what we call the ‘moral imperative realized’ (Fullan, 2011). Realization becomes its own further force for continuous improvement. There is no greater motivator than internal accountability to oneself and one’s peers. It makes for a better profession, and it makes for a better system.


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Harvard Business Review on Leadership Skills

by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman  |   8:00 AM July 30, 2014

A few weeks ago, we were asked to analyze a competency model for leadership development that a client had created. Its was based on the idea that at different points in their development, potential leaders need to focus on excelling at different skills. For example, in their model they proposed that a lower level manager should focus on driving for results while top executives should focus on developing a strategic perspective.

Intuitively, this makes sense, based as it is on the assumption that once people develop a skill, they will continue to exercise it. But, interestingly, we don’t apply it in athletics; athletes continue to practice and develop the same skills throughout their careers.  And as we thought about the excellent senior executives we have met, we observed that they are, in fact, all very focused on delivering results, and many of the best lower level managers are absolutely clear about strategy and vision. This got us to wondering: Are some skills less important for leaders at certain levels of the organization? Or is there a set of skills fundamental to every level?

To see, we compiled a dataset in which we asked 332,860 bosses, peers, and subordinates what skills have the greatest impact on a leader’s success in the position the respondents currently hold. Each respondent selected the top four competencies out of a list of 16 that we provided.We then compared the results for managers at different levels.

As you might expect, the skills people reported needing depended not only on their level in the organization but also on the job they held and their particular circumstances. But even so, there was a remarkable consistency in the data about which skills were perceived as most important in all four levels of the organization we measured.  The same competencies were selected as most important for the supervisors, middle managers, and senior managers alike, and six out of the seven topped the list for top executives. Executives at every organizational level, our respondents reported, need a balance of these competencies. The other nine competencies included in the study were chosen only half as frequently as the top seven.

What Leadership Skills You Need chart

This suggests to us that as people move up the organization, the fundamental skills they need will not dramatically change. Still, our data further indicate, the relative importance of the seven skills does change to some degree as people move up. So, in the graph above the top seven competences are listed in order of importance, as it happens, for the supervisory group. With middle managers, problem solving moves ahead of everything else. Then for senior management, communicating powerfully and prolifically moves to the number two spot. Only for top executives does a new competency enter the mix, as the ability to develop a strategic perspective (which had been moving steadily up the lower ranks) moves into the number five position.

What to make of all this?  From our analysis we conclude that there is some logic to focusing on distinct competencies at different stages of development. But, more fundamentally, it shows us that there are a set of skills that are critical to you throughout your career. And if you wait until you’re a top manager to develop strategic perspective, it will be too late. Lack of a strategic perspective, our research has further indicated, is considered a fatal flaw even when your current job does not require it. Your managers want to see you demonstrate that skill before they promote you.

So it is useful to ask yourself which competencies are most critical for you right now. But it’s also critical to ask yourself which competencies are going to be most critical in the future for the next level job. Demonstrating those skills in your current job provides evidence that you will be successful in the next job.


Louis CK Reveals an Important Lesson about Getting Things Done in the Office

Every creative solution begins in gridlock. We know we’re close, but we don’t know how to proceed. In these vexing moments—those painful instances when you’re overcome with the feeling of simply not knowing—it’s tempting to give up. We’ve reached the limits of what we know, and unearthing a solution feels impossible.

In May, David Letterman interviewed Louis CK on The Late Show. CK performed his usual shtick but also made a shrewd insight about the nature of learning.

My kids panic when they [can’t figure out a problem]. And that’s ok. My mother was a math teacher and she taught me that the moment where you go “I don’t know what this is”—the moment when you panic—means you’re about to figure it out. That means you let go to what you know and you’re about to grab onto a new thing that you didn’t know yet. I’m there for them in those moments.

It’s a great insight because it’s true: no one likes getting stumped. And when we do, it’s natural to think that the problem is a lack of brainpower. Yet years of research demonstrate that CK is right. Impasse is a sign that we’re nearing the solution, a veiled indication that we’re almost there. The trick is how we respond.

If we believe that intelligence is the problem—what the psychologist Carol Dweck calls a “fixed mindset”—we give up easier. But if we believe that persistence, effort or grit is the problem—a “growth mindset”—we push through the gridlock and, as Dweck has demonstrated, solve more problems compared to a control group.

Dweck’s distinction is aimed at students and schools but it’s a nice way to think about employees and work. When we’re struggling with a problem in the office, it’s easy to blame the rigid hierarchy—the equivalent of the fixed mindset—and give up. On the other hand, once we treat the office as malleable we’re more likely to accomplish our goals.

This distinction matters because in the fixed mindset, good ideas are enough. If you’ve made a great suggestion and everyone ignores it, off to the bar to complain about your colleagues—you did everything you could. In the growth mindset, good ideas are just the beginning. Overcoming those dreaded office absurdities is the real challenge.

Businesses talk about being “lean” or “agile.” Given Dweck’s insight, however, I wonder if these approaches are overrated. Instead of restructuring the company, remind employees that their job isn’t just to fulfill their responsibilities but to improve how the company operates. CK is right. You know those moments when you complain about how inefficient your department is? That means you’re one step away from a solution.

– See more at: http://250words.com/2014/07/louis-ck-reveals-an-important-lesson-about-getting-things-done-in-the-office/#sthash.5bHcHKT1.PaZbvLyc.dpuf



Why teachers have a tougher job than doctors

It’s no secret that Japanese kids perform much better on international math tests than Americans do. Japan is ranked second in the world, while the US is far below average.

But there’s a surprising twist. Japanese teachers’ methods for teaching math were developed in the United States, yet never caught on here. Why not? Perhaps because many Americans assume good teachers are born, not trained; that teaching well requires innate talent, or recruiting the best and brightest to begin with.

Elizabeth Green, who founded the education news site Chalkbeat.org and serves as its editor and CEO, spent five years researching those assumptions. She visited the classrooms of talented teachers and charter schools renowned for high test scores, and traveled to Japan to watch math teaching methods in action. Her book, Building a Better Teacher, argues that teaching is perhaps the most complex profession there is, but that training, not talent, can create exceptional educators. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length.

Libby Nelson: What’s the most important thing about teaching you learned while writing this book?

Elizabeth Green: Teaching is not something that even the most brilliant and gifted among us is born knowing how to do. I think I would have said of course, it’s hard work, it’s important, it’s a skill. Even early elementary school teachers are doing so much more than sitting on carpets and wiping noses. They are really thinking about ideas — numbers theory and algebra in math, and teaching a child to read is an incredibly detailed enterprise.

I didn’t really know that, really. And I think most of us don’t really get that, and I think that leads to policies that are misguided. I came away feeling like, I get it. I get why teachers feel under assault. They are really misunderstood.

LN: How would you describe the thought process of a really good teacher at work?


EG: One of the characters in my book compares the work of teaching to the practice of medicine. He at first was really interested in studying the mind and how people think, so he assumed that the most ideal subjects for that research would be doctors, because they must think the most on the job. Only later did he end up studying teachers.

If you’re comparing teachers with doctors, the only comparison that really could apply is an emergency room doctor in a natural disaster. With doctors, you just have one person that you’re working with, and they want to be there. With teachers, they have as many as 30 or more people they’re working with at one time, and some of them do not choose to be there.

Teachers have to be mind readers at the same time as they have to be incredibly interpersonally sophisticated. They have to be masters of emotional intelligence. And at the same they’re supposed to be teaching academic content. Even the most sophisticated practitioners that we can imagine — it’s still more complicated to be a teacher, I ended up thinking.

LN: Why is there so little attention paid to the practice of classroom teaching?

EG: The fathers of educational psychology, the first education school professors, were bored by classroom practice. Edward Thorndike, who set the tone for all future education researchers, said when somebody asked him what he would do in a particular real-life situation at a school, “Do? I’d resign!” I think that’s typical of a university system that focuses on disciplinary research — it’s the history of education, the psychology of education. It’s not education itself as a thing to study. That has meant that we train future teachers in everything but how to teach, pretty much.

LN: What about after teachers are already in the classroom?

EG: We don’t give teachers the space to do anything but work, work, work. They have no space to learn. Whereas in Japan or Finland there are 600 hours per year of time spent teaching, in the US, it’s 1,000 hours or more. So teachers have no time to think, no time to learn, no time to study the kids, no time to study the curriculum. They have no way of seeing anything that’s happening outside their own classroom.

They have no time to see each other teach. Other countries show that time is some of the most valuable time. When you get to have a common classroom experience to look at, then you get things like figuring out that “13 minus 9” is the very best problem to teach subtraction with borrowing. That kind of learning doesn’t happen in the US.

LN: One fascinating thing you found is that reforms in math teaching that were proposed in the US but never really caught on have transformed teaching in Japan.

EG: The Japanese were doing all these things differently in terms of teaching. I didn’t know how Japanese teachers got to that point, so I went to Japan myself and I asked them. It was this really strange experience where they would all say, “We learned from you. We learned from the US.” I was like, “From who, what?” and they would name these seminal figures throughout US history who had influenced the Japanese system.


The difference is they take good ideas and they know how to put them into practice. We take good ideas and we mandate them, and we pay no attention to how to put them into practice. The policies we come up with to try to put them into practice are the opposite of what actually makes sense.

LN: How do the Japanese do this differently?

EG: The Japanese are lucky in that they start from the place of believing that teaching is a craft. They already had a way for teachers to have time to learn, and they have the space to learn from each other. In their lesson study system, they not only do demonstration lessons of best practices, but they pose questions: Is 13 minus 9 really the best problem to teach subtraction with borrowing? Let’s try another problem.

They have the teaching equivalent of Iron Chef. One teacher will teach the same concept one way, and another teacher will teach it a different way. And they’ll have a discussion of what was good and what was bad, and you can see in these discussions why that system is so important. Teachers are learning about all the different things they need to know, all at once in this one experience in this really condensed way.

They’re learning about how children make sense of the problems they’re given, what children are likely to misunderstand. They also learn what techniques are useful to let children track the flow of ideas. They have an entire art of how to write on the blackboard that’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.

LN: The one place you found a similar system in the US was at charter schools.


EG: They have a system of watching each other teach, sharing ideas about what they’ve seen. They have time dedicated just for learning about teaching. It’s really simple, basic things, but they make a huge difference, and they don’t exist inside the traditional US school system.

I think we take the wrong lessons from charter schools. I think a lot of policymakers have looked at the successful charter schools, and they’ve said the lesson here is they operate in a free-market system where they can fire and hire whomever they please. And students choose to go there.

When I asked the charter school leaders, they don’t credit their success with market models. In fact they talk about the limits of those models. Instead, they credit their success to the “build it, don’t buy it” approach. You can’t buy talent; you have to build it. You can’t incentivize your way or fire your way to better schools. You have to give teachers opportunities to learn.

LN: When we talk about improving teacher education, one idea that tends to come up most is that education schools need to be much more selective — that teaching needs to be like law or medicine.


EG: One place we have to start is with the reality of the scale of the teaching profession. There are 3.8 million teachers in this country, and that number actually understates the challenge because of teacher turnover. In the next several years we’re going to have to have a million new teachers.

That is unlike any other profession. It just totally pales in comparison. We can’t simply expect to get the best and brightest — it’s not a feasible idea at all. If recruiting talented, smart, more academically successful college graduates were enough, then Teach for America would not think it needs to invest so much in training. They obviously invest more in recruiting the best and brightest and even do a better job of it than some investment banks.

There is nothing wrong with elevating the status of the teaching profession. I think that’s a great idea. It’s just obviously not enough.