Beyond School Improvement: The Journey to Innovative Leadership

Books

Robert Davidovich, Pauli Nikolay, Bonnie Laugerman & Carol Commodore

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  • Back Matter
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  • Part I: Leading Beyond Improvement

    Part II: Essential Leadership Practices

  • Copyright

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    Foreword

    It is with considerable humility that I introduce you to this volume on innovative school leadership. This is not my field of study; I have to admit to having developed little expertise in these matters. But in this case, my weak background represents an advantage because I, hopefully like you, come to the book with the intent of learning its lessons. And as I studied it, I did learn a great deal.

    First, with respect to the nature of the presentation offered and arguments advanced, clearly, these authors are far more than excellent scholars—they are teachers and leaders who have structured the presentation accordingly. The learning aids they have woven into the text direct readers—hopefully working in leadership teams—into activities that both support their mastery of the ideas being presented and their transformations of those ideas into reflections, conversations, and actions that make the authors' ideas come alive in the readers' organizations. For instance, readers are frequently asked to “take a moment” to reflect on what is being presented and to connect it to their personal professional experience. Each chapter concludes with very thoughtful self-assessments that spur teamwork in the service of systemic school improvement. And all of this is tied together with a variety of practical examples of innovation playing out in real school contexts.

    Next, with respect to the content of this presentation, again, I do not feel qualified to comment on innovative leadership. But I can address the relevance of the authors' position on how we must understand and carry out change in schools. They want us to think of innovation in terms of embracing dissonance, creating context, changing our field of perception, and letting ideas collide. My domain of professional practice is assessment. Nowhere in the development of schools of the future do we need a new vision more than in the area of assessment. As I read this book, it was increasingly clear to me how the process of innovation connects directly to the experience we are living right now in the assessment arena. Let me share several illustrations.

    I live my life striving to induce dissonance among practitioners and policymakers alike, by questioning and confronting decades of belief that the path to school improvement is paved with more and better annual standardized multiple-choice tests. Six decades of districtwide, statewide, national, international, and (soon!) interplanetary testing, at a cost of billions over the years with little research evidence of positive impact on school quality, must be confronted. It's not that such testing is inappropriate—it's that it is insufficient. It fails to meet the information needs of the most important instructional decision makers—teachers and students—whose needs can only be served by long-ignored yet critically important day-to-day classroom applications of assessment. Traditional assessment beliefs and practices have run exactly counter to what we know to be sound practices. Are there other domains besides assessment where this might be the case and where we must embrace dissonance to spur action? The authors advise that there are and it is time to confront them. And I agree.

    Further, they advise us to “create context” by establishing the relevance of innovation in the minds of the colleagues with whom we work. Create a constituency that shares a vision of sound practice and is willing to advocate for it. Again, nowhere is that more critical these days than in the realm of assessment. Traditional beliefs have held that teachers teach and assessment people gather the data on effectiveness and never the twain shall meet. As a result, it remains the case, in 2010, that preservice teacher and administrator preparation programs are still devoid of any relevant helpful assessment training. Historically, there has been no constituency built to demand sound assessment practice. But professional development opportunities to learn are becoming more plentiful, and we understand how to fill those opportunities with the key lessons that teachers and school leaders need to master to fulfill their rapidly evolving assessment responsibilities. Without question, future schools will be filled with practitioners who understand how to transform the traditional testing culture to a learning culture where assessment is a learning tool. Are there other school context realities that need a push in this direction? Again, the authors say yes, there are, and I concur.

    The presentation offered herein advocates for the long view of school quality—for a distant look toward what schools can become—for a new field of view and vision. It urges local leadership teams to unshackle from the view of the past and entertain the possibility that schools and classrooms might need to evolve to respond to the evolution of our society. In my assessment realm, this screams for a view of assessment that takes it far beyond merely serving as an accountability tool—as a source of intimidation for teachers and their students. Imagine a world where an entire generation of students view assessment as a tool that helped them gain the confidence they needed to gain mastery over something that they believed would have otherwise been beyond their reach—something they had been hesitant to strive for. Imagine those students watching themselves succeed and, thus, feeling in complete control of their success as it unfolds. Imagine assessment as something, therefore, that they look forward to. All of this is achievable in classrooms today if we take the risk of aspiring to it. Are there other dimensions of the schooling processes besides assessment that might need this kind of new field of view? I think there are.

    Finally, the authors encourage us to let ideas collide. In their big picture, they want us to embrace (indeed, create) dissonance, build learning communities to confront it, bring new ideas to the mix, and let those ideas fight with one another to discover the synergy among them or the superiority of some over others. Nowhere has the competition of visions played out more compellingly than in the domain of assessment practice: norm-referenced versus criterion-referenced interpretation of results, classroom versus large-scale assessment, formative versus summative assessment, assessment of learning versus assessment for learning, selected versus constructed response. Over the past two decades, these competitions have begun to resolve themselves in research conducted around the world. The results are guiding us toward a deep rethinking of assessment's role in the development of effective schools. Classroom assessments used in support of student learning (assessment for learning—a formative application) have emerged as most promising. Are there other dimensions of classroom practice that might be clarified for us in this manner if we permit other idea collisions like this one? The authors believe there are—and so do I.

    Organizational change, the authors tell us, requires the development of productive risk-taking attitudes and values within those practitioners who would lead the organization into a more productive future. They must figure out where we are now, where we want to be, and then act purposefully to close the gap. This volume provides a path to school innovation in just these terms. The authors have given me a new way to look at my work, and I believe they will do the same for you.

    RickStiggins, PhD, Assessment Training Institute Portland, Oregon

    Preface

    If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.

    —John Quincy Adams

    The world our students are growing up in, and will inherit, is changing at an almost incomprehensible speed. What these future adults will do as work and play may not even be in our imaginations yet. Thus, as educators, we need to develop schools and learning opportunities that prepare our students to be successful in an unpredictable global world. This requires leaders to not only lead in ways that help our schools get better but also in ways that help them become different. Many authors in the field of education are writing about how to improve teaching and learning, but our premise is that improvement is not enough; classrooms and schools need to innovate at the same time they improve. This creates a challenge for leaders—to help their school organizations improve at the same time they help them innovate.

    The point of this book is to start conversations about what it means to lead for improvement and innovation. Whether your district is small or large, urban or rural, rich or poor or the facilities are new or old, the challenges and obstacles are the same: using the tension between where you want to be and where you are as a creative force to become different, as well as better. This challenge involves knowing when to enhance current capacities and when to seek solutions that are beyond your school's current capacities. This second aspect, knowing not only when but also how to seek solutions outside of current capacities, involves adding new skills to your leadership repertoire.

    In this book, we hope to change your mind-set about what is possible for schools and about what it takes to lead into the future. We hope to scratch an itch you never knew you had or the one that's been nagging you forever. We hope to stimulate courageous conversations within you and to take you to deeper levels of thought and to higher levels of action.

    Who are we? you might be asking yourself as you read this Preface. Well, we are four friends who have shared experiences and have grown close over the years. We each have more than 30 years of experience as educational leaders. Collectively, we have been teachers, principals, central office administrators, and served at our state's department of public instruction. Additionally, we have taught at the university level and have served as consultants. Our friendship is an oasis where our learning thirst is quenched, challenged, and forever evolving. Perhaps more important, our friendship is a place where we challenge one another to think more deeply, more holistically, more connectedly than we can anywhere else.

    Our work together mirrors the process of innovation we discuss in this book. The ideas we wrestled with not only informed our thinking; they formed us. As ideas emerged, we discussed, debated, and dialogued. All the while, these ideas were evolving our thinking and changing how we saw the world and where we fit in it—the ideas formed us. Our working sessions were truly a learning laboratory. We never knew when one small comment would trigger a seismic response that reordered our thoughts in a more potent and powerful way.

    This kind of learning is genuine and adaptive because it is a dynamic process where new ideas and past practice interact, and new context is created. It is learning where ideas evolve into deep meaning. In this kind of learning, ideas evolve because they collide with other ideas.

    This collision of ideas is often messy, and it can make participants feel uncomfortable. Yet this business of messes and collisions is the only way individuals and systems transform. We have begun to see that educational systems are truly facing a dilemma. To address the future, innovation is an absolute must for our current system of education. Yet our current leaders have been acculturated to improve the current system. Improving and innovating are very different and require completely different skill sets for success.

    In our work, we have begun to integrate practices based on this understanding. As we talk to others about our ideas, we usually get an interesting reaction. It is almost as if we observe an awakening. The ideas we have shared create a spark in those we talk with. It is as if the principles we discuss are present yet dormant within them. The message seems to strike a chord, and the timing seems right—thus, this book.

    In this book, we offer you a similar inner journey intended to help you transform the way you lead. Being on a journey means that you, as the reader, need to make meaning of the new ideas you will be experiencing along the way. So we have expectations for you:

    • You can't change your system until you change yourself. Get to know yourself better. The book is about linking you to yourself, creating the energy to move beyond where you are now, and finding the courage to transform.
    • Be patient and reflective with yourself. Be involved with honest, deep, reflective thought, and learn to have courageous conversations with yourself. Trust the “becoming” nature of the journey: who you are now and the you that is becoming a more potent leader.
    • Reflect on how the concepts make sense to you in your situation. Always reference new ideas to your situation and your actions.
    • Use the Glossary (Resource A) at the end of book to help you refer to terms as you read the book and do the activities.
    • Engage in all of the Take a Moment reflections and other activities so that you can honestly gauge your progress as you move through the book.
    • Follow your development with the Continuum of Leadership Behavior for Creating Change. Your growth will be a pleasant surprise for you.

    Finally, we hope that, as you read, you feel a renewed optimism about the future of education and that you develop an enhanced capacity to make a difference in the lives you touch. You have our best wishes and deepest admiration as you embark on the journey to more potent leadership as a teacher, principal, superintendent, board member, or professor.

    Acknowledgements

    It is with humility, gratitude, and deep appreciation that we thank the people who gave us their support and encouragement during the development of this book. It is because of their ongoing words of confidence and gentle nudging that what was once a faint dream has become a reality.

    Most significant, we want to acknowledge our spouses Gerda, Ron, George, and Jim whose support is constant and immeasurable. Additionally, our children and grandchildren, our angels both big and small, motivated our work, for it is they, and their peers, who will most benefit from having passionate leaders who will inspire them to become the leaders of tomorrow. We are humbled as we thank our parents, always in our hearts, who everyday teach us the value of life, love, family, and dreams.

    We owe a special debt of gratitude to our friends and colleagues in the College of Education and Leadership at Cardinal Stritch University who have influenced our thinking, disturbed our perceptions, and expanded our vision. They planted the seed and pushed us to higher levels of engagement in the development of this book.

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following individuals:

    John W. Adamus, Assistant Professor

    Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University

    New Brunswick, NJ

    Randel Beaver, Superintendent Archer City ISD

    Archer City, TX

    Marie Blum, Superintendent

    Canaseraga Central School District

    Canaseraga, NY

    Sister Camille Anne Campbell, Principal

    Mount Carmel Academy

    New Orleans, LA

    Ned Cooper, Leadership Coach and Instructor

    Baker College, Central Michigan University

    Ann Arbor, MI

    Caitilin Dewey, Curriculum Coordinator

    Greater Southern Tier Boards of Cooperative Educational Services

    Canaseraga Central School District

    Canaseraga, NY

    Ann L. Ellis, Associate Professor of Teacher Education

    Weber State University

    Ogden, UT

    Sheila Gragg, Assistant Director of Academics

    Ashbury College

    Nepean, Ontario, Canada

    Douglas Gordon Hesbol, Superintendent

    Laraway Community Consolidated School District 70-C

    Joliet, IL

    Neil MacNeill, Principal

    Ellenbrook Primary School

    Ellenbrook, WA, Australia

    Gayle Wahlin, Director of Leadership Services

    DuPage County Regional Office of Education

    Wheaton, IL

    About the Authors

    Dr. Robert Davidovich is a consultant specializing in leadership, transformational change, innovation, systems thinking, and organizational planning. An educator for more than 30 years, he has served students as a teacher, principal, staff development coordinator, and director of organizational development. For 14 years, he was the principal of a U.S. Department of Education School of Excellence. In his role as the director of organizational development, he oversaw the district's transformational planning initiative. Robert is an adjunct instructor and lecturer at local universities and a consultant for organizations in several states regarding system improvement, innovative leadership, and organizational development.

    Dr. Pauli Nikolay has served as a teacher, principal, director of instruction, superintendent, and an assistant state superintendent at the Department of Public Instruction. In addition to her consultant work in the area of academic standards and instructional strategies, she facilitates workshops on leadership, culture, and improvement/innovation strategies. She received her state's Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Educator of the Year Award, the Educational Media Association Administrator of the Year Award, the State Reading Association Outstanding Administrator Award, and the Women's Leader in Education Award. She currently serves as a site coordinator, instructor, and mentor for students in the Master's in Educational Leadership program at Cardinal Stritch University.

    Dr. Bonnie Laugerman is a high school principal in a large suburban school district that is listed in US Newsweek as one of the top 1,500 high schools in the nation and Number 1 rated high school in sports in the state by Sports Illustrated. She is currently leading her district through a process of responding to the needs of the 21st-century learner. She has been an educator for more than 30 years, working in urban and suburban school districts in building and central office leadership capacity. Bonnie is a consultant and adjunct professor for a local university and teaches courses related to brain compatible learning, assessment, curriculum, and teacher supervision and evaluation. She has a special interest in the experience of high school principals shaping a learning culture in their schools.

    Dr. Carol Commodore is an independent consultant whose special interests center on leadership, assessment, motivation, and learning. An educator for more than 30 years, she served as a classroom teacher, a department chair, an assistant superintendent, and an assessment coordinator. During her tenure as a district leader, she facilitated the establishment of new programs in the areas of foreign language and balanced assessment. Carol has coauthored two other books in the areas of assessment and leadership. Carol presents and consults for local, state, national, and international organizations across North America, Asia, and the Middle East.

  • Resource A: Glossary

    • Amplification is the process by which an idea gains strength and grows into something we may not have thought possible.
    • Amplifying feedback serves the function of compounding change in one direction with greater change in that direction.
    • Attributes of innovation are choosing to be disturbed, self-referencing, amplification, and engagement.
    • Bifurcation point occurs when a system, in its present structure, cannot deal with the meaning of agitation, so it either reorganizes to a higher level of complexity or disintegrates.
    • Change elements are dissonance, identity, information, and order.
    • Change field of perception means changing your perception with information and feedback, viewing information in relationship to forming new structures and amplifying meaning.
    • Choose to be disturbed means that you choose to be open to an experience despite how uncomfortable it makes you feel, trusting that it will result in something better.
    • Courageous conversations are inner dialogues that bring forth the courage and character necessary to move into disturbances to create the conditions for innovation. It is an internal dialogue that influences your spirit and your life.
    • Create context means to create a coherent, well-articulated, and deeply understood shared purpose where people know why they are there and are free to act within that purpose to better the organization.
    • Creating order is about generating structures that allows a system to maintain itself while also allowing it to adapt to changes so that it remains in sync with its environment.
    • Cultivating the culture means that you commit to creating connections between individuals and groups, in every way possible.
    • Dissonance is anything that causes fluctuation, perturbation, discomfort, or discord within the present state.
    • Disturbance happens when something disrupts the current state of a system— nudging accepted ideas to make us aware of their relationship to other ideas.
    • Dynamic interaction is the process where the individual entities that make up the system interact with a constant influx of newness.
    • Embracing dissonance means developing sensitivity to perturbations, to notice information that is discordant with your current state, to be an explorer.
    • Engagement happens when a new idea emerges and is allowed to engage with existing ideas to see what will develop along the way. It is the stage where the meaning of a new idea has grown in strength and must engage the current order.
    • Espoused theories are the views and values that people believe their behavior is based on.
    • Hero's journey has three parts:
      • Departure—move out of your comfort zone
      • Fulfillment—let colliding ideas and reflections lead to a place of inner peace and contentment
      • Return—find a place to connect work and purpose
    • Identity is the shared intent that creates a system's sense of self. Our identity is our sense of self. It is the filter that makes sense of new information.
    • Improve means to enhance in value or quality: make better.
    • Improvement is about getting better within the current boundaries of a paradigm.
    • Information is the knowledge gathered by reading, listening, observing, and wondering about what one sees, thinks, and shares with others. It is any input that causes a system to respond and create meaning.
    • Innovate means to work outside of the current paradigm to make changes and to do something in a new way to achieve results unobtainable by improvement within the current structure.
    • Innovation is about doing things in a new way to achieve results unobtainable by improvement within the current systemic paradigm.
    • Innovation-oriented means to look for new ways of doing things to develop new capacities.
    • Leadership courage is the ability to let go of past practice, to move into uncertainty, to take adaptive action having minimal information, and to develop the trust that allows others to follow to the new destination.
    • Leadership practices include embrace dissonance, create context, change field of perception, and let ideas collide.
    • Let ideas collide is about creating the conditions for new responses to become the new norm—for the old ways to be replaced by new ways—recognizing reordering as something that emerges from supporting conditions rather than as an imposed will.
    • Lewin's change model identifies three steps: (1) unfreezing, (2) change, and (3) refreezing. The first step is the breakdown of meaning or relevance, followed by a change, and then the solidification of the new learning.
    • Mental model means the deep-thought patterns present in one's thinking that explains and defines the parameters of a construct.
    • Nanotechnology is the ability to manipulate matter at the molecular and atomic level.
    • Order is about replacing old ways with new ways without having everything fall apart.
    • Paradox is a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but, in reality, expresses a possible truth.
    • Regulatory feedback serves the function of keeping the system in balance, such as a thermostat.
    • S-curve is used to represent the growth and life cycles of systems and ideas from embryo development, to the spread of viruses, to professional careers, to technological advancements.
    • Self-organization is a process of attraction and repulsion in which the internal organization of a system, normally an open system, increases in complexity without being guided or managed by an outside source.
    • Self-referencing occurs when we reference a circumstance against a vision, mission, set of beliefs, or principles to guide our thinking and creative energies. Self-referencing means to reflect an idea against a vision, mission, set of beliefs, or principles.
    • Shared intent forms a system's identity and fosters an inspiring sense of purpose.
    • Strong identity occurs when people come to their profession believing they can make a difference with broad values, ideals, and beliefs.
    • System refers to interrelated, independent entities that form a complex, unified whole—both in nature and in social structures.
    • Theories in use are the views and values people use to take action.
    • Unlearning means that as one addresses new challenges, he or she learns to let go of the way he or she has approached things in the past so that new ways have room to emerge.

    Resource B: Essential Leadership Actions

    Resource C: Continuum of Leadership Behavior for Creating Change

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    Wheatley, M. (2007). Leadership of self-organizing networks: Lessons from the war on terror. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 20(2), 59–66. [Electronic version] Retrieved July 17, 2008, from http://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/Self-OrganizedNetworks.pdfhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1937-8327.2007.tb00440.x
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    Corwin: A SAGE Company

    The Corwin logo—a raven striding across an open book—represents the union of courage and learning. Corwin is committed to improving education for all learners by publishing books and other professional development resources for those serving the field of PreK–12 education. By providing practical, hands-on materials, Corwin continues to carry out the promise of its motto: “Helping Educators Do Their Work Better.”


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