Posts Tagged ‘ education ’

Teaching Failure

How many times have you heard fail fast and fail often to achieve success? Jason Seiken in his HBR blog talks about how he made it more than a slogan at his organization.

He writes, “Business-school literature has long stressed the importance of taking risks and encouraging rapid failure. In the real world of quarterly numbers, though, embracing failure mostly remains a throwaway line in CEO speeches.

At PBS Digital, we went beyond corporate lip service and demanded failure from each and every employee.”

Check it out…http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/09/how-i-got-my-team-to-fail-more/

I firmly believe that growth comes from failure, not success. I know “teaching failure” sounds like an oxymoron, but research shows that students who believe that failure is a temporary condition and are resilient are far more likely to be ultimately successful. Are you providing a safe space to fail in your classroom, in your school, in your district?

Have you made your quota of failures this week?

Mastering Meaningful Meetings

The start of the school year also means the beginning of that age-old institution, the weekly senior staff meeting. Whether it is a cabinet level or senior directors level, since it is the beginning of a new year, one cannot help but question the need for these sessions of senior level administrative over-think. Jeff Booker, now a deputy at Gaston County Schools in North Carolina, used to caution his staff about the relationship between the money that was sitting around the table and the work being done at the meeting. Peter Bregman makes a similar point in his recent HBR blog, http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2013/09/four-areas-where-senior-leader.html Both Booker and Bregman speak to making these meetings more meaningful. The alternative (if there is an unbalanced ratio of money at the table vs. the gravity of the topics) is to cancel the meeting. That’s leadership!

First Day of School: Planning 101

With the start of school everyone is looking at the demographic planner for enrollment information. A little advice for school leaders before you get to the podium:

  • Use a year-over-year comparison to get a sense of the volatility of the numbers. If your  planner didn’t hit projections at School A until day 10 last year, don’t expect to hit them until day 10 this year.
  • There is a lot of noise in the first day of school enrollment numbers. If the roles from the previous year have not been purged, the numbers will be high. If you just report the actuals, your numbers will be low on the first day. For this reason many states use the 20th day of instruction as the official enrollment, some wait even longer.
  • Enrollment also vary by demographics and grade level. Elementaries will equalize within the first week, middle schools a little later, and high schools may take up to a month to really settle. The enrollment at higher poverty schools will be more variable and more students will enroll during the first week of school.
  • Your planner should be able to guide you regarding the schools that will have big swings in the numbers. Attendance boundary adjustments, a new housing development or a new charter school in the attendance area are just a few of the reasons for volatility in a school’s enrollment numbers.
  • Make sure you know what you are reporting – total enrollment, average daily attendance, or another variation of attendance figures.
  • Always have your planner compare your school by school numbers with each school’s rated capacity (and know how that capacity is calculated). Often rated capacities are an “ideal” condition and schools that exceed that capacity by a small amount can operate that way until a solution is found.
  • The big concerns should be those schools that have exceeded their projections by the staffing ratio and are above classroom capacity. Work with your principals to reach an accommodation – team teaching in one of the larger classrooms, use of a smaller room (office and/or conference room) for a self-contained class that has just a few students, float an elective class, using the library/media center for pull-out classes, etc. Your school leaders should know their buildings and what may or may not be possible. Because of the logistics involved, moving a temporary classroom into place on short notice is usually not a timely answer.
  • A less than two percent variation between total enrollment projection and actual total enrollment is acceptable.
  • Concentrate on figuring out why some schools where you had to adjust the staffing were high or low. Ask your planner for an after-action report after the dust settles. You will want to concentrate on those schools in which the projected enrollment was one staffing ratio above or below the actuals. The goal would be to not repeat that scenario at that school next year.
  • Accurate projections are one of the tools of leadership. If you can’t trust the numbers, change the way they are developed.

Innovation from the Middle

Like the majority of government organizations, many school districts operate as Theory X companies – hierarchical, highly supervised, and compliance oriented. If your educational institution is not one of these, consider yourself fortunate. It is very likely do to your enlightened district leadership. Clayton Christensen believes that as an identity-laden industry, education will innovate very slowly. So far history has proven his theory.

In my experience, sustaining innovation (as opposed to disruptive innovation) comes from the middle. In their article in HBR on Stealth Innovation Paddy Miller and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg give some great examples and explanations as to why this happens. http://hbr.org/2013/03/the-case-for-stealth-innovation/ar/pr

The important takeaway for me is that although the innovation did not occur at the top of the hierarchy, the innovator upon being discovered was celebrated and not chastised for “working outside of his or her assigned purview”. You will be amazed at how much progress can be made, if only the middle has the autonomy to innovate.

Brand building and transparency

If Seth Godin is right and the success of a brand is proportional to the smoothness of the access, then some school districts will be very popular while others…not so much. Access for millennials in particular and even digital immigrants to some extent means a quick and easy way to e-mail. Many districts conceal this information from the public. With few exceptions (Houston, San Francisco, Portland, Montgomery County MD and Baltimore County MD), it seems the larger the district, the more sophisticated the e-mail cloaking. This is similar to having an unlisted phone number, and complaining that nobody calls!

The internet has changed the way the public expects to contact you. It has also shortened the appropriate response time. If you haven’t already and the volume of your e-mails is extensive, re-organize your staff for timely response to the constant flow of external and internal e-mails. (And, by the way, the robo-reply that says “I see all of my e-mails, but I get so many that I may not respond to yours”, is not sufficient either.) Designate someone on your staff that is trustworthy and authentic to handle your digital correspondence. Delegate that responsibility in whatever manner you choose from complete authority, to trust but verify, to full review prior to release. But above all, don’t hide.

If your contact information (digital and voice) is not readily accessible to the public, you will be criticized for a lack of transparency and your “brand” will suffer as a result. If superintendents as busy as Terry Grier in Houston and Dallas Dance in Baltimore County can respond promptly to all of their e-mails, clearly you can as well.

Pause… and think long-term

Within educational organizations this is the final countdown until the start of school. Everyone is leaning in. The adrenaline is high. But remember your career is a marathon, not a sprint to the middle of next year. Take a few minutes to think long-term about your career and what you are building.

In his recent HBR blog Nathaniel Koloc shared some great advice: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/08/build_a_career_worth_having.html

“1 Your career is a set of stepping stones, not a linear trajectory.

2 Seek legacy, mastery and freedom – in that order.

3 Treat your career like a grand experiment…

So if you’re one of the many who find themselves on the path to meaningful work — remember to enjoy the journey, don’t give up, and don’t settle.”

I hope everyone has a great year!

Creating value or reducing costs?

In a recent article in the Business Insider, Editor Henry Blodget says that business obsession with short-term profits has led to the view that employees are costs, rather than value creators. http://www.businessinsider.com/business-and-the-economy-2013-7 Many of us who have participated in the annual school district budget reduction discussions are surely guilty of the same sin. Aren’t the short-term profits in education the annual test results? Don’t we at least consider applying more of our resources to those “costs” that provide higher short-term profits (better results) in lieu of those that might provide better long-term value (student success)?

If your district vision and mission statements call for long-term success for your students (career and college readiness), shouldn’t your resources be applied to value creation and not short-term profits? How are you measuring long-term student success?