We speak frequently about helping our students to become lifelong learners and the need for educators to model that in their own lives. Professional development is essential for anyone working in an educational environment. One of the many ways we do that at All Saints’ is to have summer reading expectations for the professional staff just as we do for our students. This summer the entire faculty and staff read A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, a wonderful book with a somewhat conflicted teacher at its heart. My administrative team also read Great by Choice, the latest effort by Jim Collins of Good to Great and Built to Last fame. I’ll return to the insights in Collins’ book in comments below.
I also regularly read topics on education in the professional and popular press. Reading such articles and op-ed pieces is certainly helpful and stimulating, but it can also be confusing as I read intelligent articles that if not diametrically opposed, are clearly divergent. One can meet one’s self coming and going as a result. Recently I read a profile of noted education scholar and activist Diane Ravitch, who has done a complete reversal in her own life. She is the epitome of a person meeting herself coming and going. While there is nothing wrong with changing one’s viewpoint based on additional research and experience, the example of a person so highly visible in the world of educational reform changing so dramatically makes evident that discerning the right path is a formidable task.
Another example is the plethora of C words floating across the educational landscape. You may be aware of the Common Core standards that are gaining quite a bit of attention and controversy nationally, especially in the public education sector. Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction now advocates changing the name, but keeping the standards because of the controversy around the Common Core language. Some see these standards as counter to the 21st century skills at the heart of some reform efforts. All these skills are described with C words: Character, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, and Cosmopolitanism/Global Citizenship. All of these items are on our radar but not as an either-or proposition. What we are trying to do is what the Partnership for 21st Century Skills describes as fusing those C skills with the 3Rs. Balance is once again the guiding principle.
This brings me back to Great by Choice. The premise of the book is to compare 10 pairs of companies, each pair in the same industry to determine why one in each pair has prospered more consistently and impressively over time. Jim Collins makes the point that the successful organization in each pair tends to be more cautious in adopting innovation. Adopt innovation they did, but by following what Collins calls empirical creativity. The most successful organizations are not the first adapters but ones still diligent enough to be in the early vanguard of successful strategic moments as they embrace productive paranoia. All this requires considerable fanatic discipline if success is to be attained.
Even as a multitude of strategic educational options present themselves to me and my colleagues, keeping our sense of balance as we also embrace the organizational imperatives articulated by Jim Collins and highlighted in the preceding paragraph is the pathway to success . We have a better chance of advancing and growing, not meeting ourselves coming and going.
Until next time…