Archive for the ‘ Leadership ’ Category

Where to Find a Consultant

Here is the dillemma:

You can hire a “consultant” for your school district who is a retired local administrator.

The advantage is that there is little or no learning curve and no travel expense. Since this consultant has worked in your district, they know the issues and the players and can begin to solve whatever issue you need help on immediately.

The disadvantage is that they are too familiar with the issue and may even have been trying to solve it while they were still an employee of the district.

Seth Godin has written recently about this dillemma. “If a problem is worth solving, it’s worth engaging with the right people to solve it with urgency, isn’t it?”

Peter Drucker often claimed that his lack of knowledge of a specific local issue was his greatest strength as a consultant. His perpective as an outsider allowed him the ability to ask the appropriate questions and discover the solution for which he was hired.

  • The cost of a consultant should be only one consideration in the selection of a consultant.
  • Diversity of experience should be another.
  • However, solving a similar problem may or may not be a criteria since some will seek to apply a square peg solution that has worked in the past to a round hole problem.

I have participated in many selection processes. I have made presentations. I have selected consultants. I have advised committee members on selections. I can’t recall a single presentation in which the consultant did not claim to listen to their prospective clients. Just as the written material usually boasts that the consultant is uniquely qualified.

The best advice is to choose a consultant that matches the issue.

  • If the problem is chronic, select an outsider.
  • If the issue is new, use an insider.
  • If you want plausible deniability for the proposed solution, hire an outsider. If you want confirmation of a solution you have developed internally, pick an insider with peerless credentials.
  • If you need an innovative solution because everyone familiar with the problem has tried and failed, call on an outsider.

As a planner and project manager, my preference has always been to hire a problem solver with a proven process, but not an answer. A thoughtful selection is the best path to a satisfying experience!

 

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Curious

I have been reading Pasi Sahlberg’s book on the lessons to be learned from Finland’s successful education program. Dominant in the PISA assessments since their inception in 2000, this Scandinavian country which set out deliberately to improve its educational system in the 1970’s is used by reformers and politicians alike as the exemplar of high academic standards. And yet, we have largely failed to learn from their experience and methodologies. Increasing the competition among schools, assigning letter grades to schools based upon high stakes testing for a handful of subjects, and denigrating the profession as a group of inadequate part-timers is neither productive nor factual.

Ifinnish lessonsf we cannot learn from Finland’s success, then we should not use the PISA scores as evidence that our educational system is in need of reform. If you decry our mediocrity in international testing, then learn from the international leaders. Emphasize the importance of all subjects, not just those that are tested. Treat our teachers as professionals and compensate them accordingly. Do not hold back those students who have mastered the content. Apply special education as a resource to all students who have difficulty and apply it immediately. Personalize the delivery of learning to each student, not simply through software, but through empathetic personal connections to caring adults.

It’s time to offer practical help and solutions, not just criticism. Take Finland as an example. Take it to heart.

Graduation Question

This is obviously graduation season. The latest commencement addresses are on the news. Families and happy college and high school graduates are out celebrating with their families and friends at local restaurants. Groups of young men and women with gowns and tasseled mortar boards seem to be at every arena in town.

Since I regularly work with superintendents and their staffs all over the United States, I have to ask…

Do you know how many of your former high school graduates obtained a post-secondary degree this year?

Questions, not many answers.

Here is an example in The Atlantic of how data is used for analysis that changes strategy. Sabermetrics correlates statistical data to outcomes and has been used for strategy in baseball since Billy Beane began using them in Oakland (Moneyball). It is now as unthinkable in baseball to build a strategy without using this tool as fielding a team without a pitcher. The current controversy is about who should really get credit for the win. What if the pitcher didn’t have a single strike out for the entire game? What if the catcher made every close pitch look like a strike? Does it matter? Only if you are responsible for outcomes.

How do we develop sabermetrics for education? Do we measure outcomes for teachers or students? What’s the educational equivalent of winning the World Series? What’s the equivalent of winning a division title? How about the equivalent of winning one of the 162 games in a season? How about the outcome for each inning of each of those games?

I love baseball, the great American pastime, and the correlation of data to outcomes that sabermetrics has brought to the game make all the more effective and exciting.

More importantly I also love education, the great American ask time. A time of inquiry and discovery. The current correlation of data to outcomes is that a child’s family income is a good predictor of their test scores. Is that as deep as we can go? And once we have the data, can we use the information to change outcomes?

The Stigma of Asking for Help

Asking for help requires a healthy dose of maturity and emotional intelligence. In her article in the New York Times seven years ago, Alina Tugend, award-winning columnist and author of the book Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong, wrote about why it is so difficult to ask for help. I can hear many of you in leadership positions saying, “Oh that’s not hard, after all I ask for help from my direct reports all the time.” But there is a difference between asking for help and delegating tasks to your direct reports. The difference is your vulnerability. If the person you ask to help is in your chain of command, there is little or no likelihood of a refusal and therefore no vulnerability on your part.  No one expects a leader to know everything, least of all do everything, but the stigma of seeking expertise from outside your organization may cause some to stick with the usual suspects.

What is worse, the stigma or a bad decision?

 

“Not My Department!”

I am a strategic planner. If you tell me what you intend to accomplish, then you need to tell me how you are measuring your progress toward that goal. If your vision and mission statements talk about a goal of student “success”, shouldn’t you measure how many of your graduates acquire post-secondary degrees? A high school degree alone, unless accompanied by skills training for a trade, is not a guarantee of a living wage – clearly a threshold measure of “success”.

In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education Beckie Supiano analyses a report from the Pew Research Center on “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College”. The economic disparity between younger workers with a college degree and those without is growing. The number of college graduates with career building jobs is also much higher than for those with a high school diploma.

I know that as a superintendent with less than five years in the job, you are measuring the success (or lack thereof) of your predecessor. Nonetheless, if your vision is the success of all of your students, one measure must surely be how many of those students graduate from college. If your graduates are not making a living wage, how can you claim they are successful?

Remember the 1965 Tom Lehrer satire?

Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down?

That’s not my department, says Wernher Von Braun.

Aren’t we subject to a similar satirical criticism by claiming success is just high school graduation?

 

Ten for Ten?

Lots of talk recently in the Ed Press decrying the high turnover rates among education professionals. If you add the number of teachers who leave the classroom for administration, the numbers are horrific.

Liz Ryan in her recent post in Forbes talks about the ten ways companies drive away talent. Is your district ten for ten?

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