Archive for the ‘ Leadership ’ Category

Cultural Change and the Brain

In a recent article in Talent Management magazine concerning changing company culture, Reut Schwartz-Hebron suggests that using what we know about how the brain learns will be a way to deliberately develop more positive outcomes as part of organizational change.

Cultural change is not easy. Using the latest findings in brain science about how the brain unlearns and that it does not see everything as experience will help change managers to design a program that anticipates these issues and will be more successful as a result.

Culture and Loss

In his recent guest post on Clarity, Jamie Notter talks about a company’s culture and his belief that it is the organizational culture that drives success.

“People leave the culture, not the company.” is one of the culture clichés he uses. It is clear that without effective cultural change why many districts are unable to address their consistently high turnover. One large district told me that one-third of their instructional workforce will leave within five years. I understand from superintendents all over the country that those statistics are not unusual. Could it be time to focus on cultural change within educational organizations? After all, it is one aspect of the education business that will be cost-effective. Every time an employee leaves, it costs the district roughly 20% of that employee’s salary to hire a replacement.

I know some of you have begun change management, but once the rest of you get Common Core and PowerSchool up and running, it is time to for us to talk about real cultural change. Measure your annual losses and calculate the cost.


Periodically in your career as superintendent you get THE QUESTION.

“So how long do you plan to stay with our district?”

Why is this so difficult to answer with authenticity? Well, because that question comes with a lot of baggage. The previous superintendent may have stayed a long time and many in the community did not want to see him leave. Or she may have stayed a short time and many in the community felt betrayed. In any case, this is a new opportunity or a new position for you and you would like to think that you will hold it for an extended period of time. You don’t want to act like an idiot by admitting you don’t know how long you will stay. But let’s face it, the averages are against you! For every superintendent that retires with decades of service to one district, there are multiple colleagues that either move on to a better position or are asked to leave either before or after their contract term is up.

For a more realistic answer try a variation of this. After a thoughtful pause…”I believe that stable and long-serving leadership is best for this district, but clearly it is not entirely my decision. The board and the community must be pleased with the work that the staff and I have done in order for me to continue as superintendent.  Although I know there will be some decisions that may be unpopular, I hope that the staff and I will continue to have the support of the board and the community for a long time.”

Good Hiring Advice

Educational organizations are in the middle of the hiring season. Anthony Tjan offers some good advice about what to look for in a candidate. Not your typical HR questions, but you may not be looking for the typical HR results!

What is Strategy?

I believe that sound business principles have a place in the world of education. A good strategic plan is part of that. Just saying that you want to be better than everyone else isn’t a strategy. If you redact your district name and logo from your strategic plan, could it belong to another district?  Every plan doesn’t have to be as unique as one of Seth Godin’s “ideaviruses”, but there are local opportunities and nuances that need to be included. A plan can be a single sheet description of what is important to your district – the chance for leadership to set the course. The more pages in the plan, the better the chance it will become a paperweight or sit on a shelf unused. The plan should explain the “why” and include a little of the “how” – big picture, less detail. Too much of the “how” and you will need to revise it more often. A colleague of mine has shared Mark Sniukas’ overview of strategy. Skim it first, then go back and read what caught your interest.


Building Adult Capabilities to Improve Child Outcomes

A five-minute research-based video that deals with the community influences we all know hurt student outcomes.Clearly, the next step is for someone to take responsibility for addressing this, although no one has the authority to do so.

Seth Godin’s blog

Overcoming amazing.

This is why when we start a design session we ask each participant to generate at least ten solutions. Number one is never perfect. Number ten is better. Zolli in Resilience talks about hybrids as being the way to avoid catastrophic system failure (unless they change, all systems fail). Taking the best of solution number one and solution number ten and combining them gets us closer to amazing.

Parent participation in school improvement.

We often get enthusiastic parent or community groups that want to participate in school improvement, but many districts do not have a process that accommodates that effort. Why not let design thinking drive the solutions? The parents and teachers at Riverdale Country School in New York City and the folks at IDEO have produced a manual that may help. You will also need an integrative thinker or two (see Roger Martin, The Opposable Mind) to facilitate the process. Here is the URL for the manual…it’s free.


Even if you are suspicious of using high-stakes tests as a benchmark of national progress, this dataset showing high school and college graduation rates, college readiness and investment per student should be a wake-up call for us.


What are the implications of social media for the future of education? As Nilofer Merchant says in her Wired magazine article, our descriptors must change, but so too must our methodologies. The better districts will become truly collaborative and inclusive. No longer will parents and families be simply “customers”, but rather “collaborators”, “contributors”…”educators”! Those districts will move away from the assembly line processes of traditional education and toward a more organic and agile delivery system.