« Professional Learning for Administrators | Main | Poll results - Which presidential candidate would be best for K-12 education? »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


*LOL* ... I like that ... we get a fair amount of that too ... but we also see some embracing new technology like I have never seen !
A teacher building a new type of lesson:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LN5JRl8_sU


Scott McLeod

Dave, shouldn't moving as quickly as possible to a 21st century educational model be worthy of a second-order change initiative in your district? Why is your district (and, of course, many, many others) using an incremental, evolutionary change model in an era of revolutionary change?

In other words:


Michael Shapiro

Dave, First of all, congratulations on being front page on LeaderTalk. Second, I want to address your final question: Are there areas that should never be changed?
Philosophically, I'm inclined to answer "no", but practically, we all must face the realities of any status quo. As a new leader in your district, I have seen things I can't wait to change and things I know I should probably never change. The bottom line is building relationships and demonstrating the need for change. This is not easy in such a high-performing district. As you and I have seen from time spent with Alan November and the like, the definition of success and the tools necessary to achieve success are changing, and we have to show our teacher colleagues how that impacts our students and how they have to respond to that change. It's second order change, alright. And what struck me about the Marzano, Chapter 5 was that we're going to have to temporarily sacrifice perceptions about the culture, communication, order, and input aspects of school leadership that are going to be negatively impacted by the 2nd order change.

Tracy Rosen

My understanding of 2nd order change is slightly different. I do not see it only as an immediate, quick change, such as in response to emergency situations, but rather as a change that calls upon new ways of thinking, that demonstrates a radical break from the way things are currently or traditionally thought or done. While this often does occur after an emergency, it doesn't always. And the process is not always rapid and quick.

2nd order change requires new ways of thinking, while 1st order change can happen within current thought, ideas, and actions.

I was involved in a 2nd order change initiative at a school last year.

The principal realized that her teachers were running in emergency mode, putting out fires in a panic, most of the time. Everyone was suffering - students were stressed, you could tell from the noise levels, same with teachers, you could tell from the sick days and the noise levels in the classrooms. and the complaining in the staffroom and the halls. She called me in as the consultant and said that things needed to change and that these problems could not be solved with the same level of thinking that they were created (thanks Einstein ;) - the school was in danger of closing within the next few years due to decreased enrollment.

The change was to move from an unhappy school to a happy one, where students and teachers enjoyed to be AND learned.

This school is still in the throes of this change and evidence of the change is apparent. So far this year there have been fewer teachers away on sick days than there were last year. What accounts for its success so far? Throughout it there has been constant and consistent check-ins and feedback with the teachers (as well as with the greater community).

As the initial consultant working on this project I was constantly shifting back and forth from consulting on content (differentiated instruction) to consulting on process (taking care of individual and group processes around change).

The principal made it her job to find money (in the form of government grants and creative redistribution of existing funds) to allow time for teachers to meet and talk about the changes - with a mandate to focus on success stories that were to be shared as the beginning of each staff meeting.

The bottom line, as Scott wrote, had to do with developing relationships to a point where individual and group fear of the change was lessened and trust in the process was increased. How did we do this? By scheduling in time to talk and think together - sometimes individually, sometimes in partners, sometimes in group.

It's not easy. It requires a high level of structure in terms of check-ins and other ongoing assessments so that change can be recorded and celebrated and/or adjustments made as you go.

In terms of the change, successful change for me has always occurred when we focused on one area to change - choose one thing, know it, and do it well.

Dave Sherman

As Tracy put it, "successful change for me has always occurred when we focused on one area to change - choose one thing, know it, and do it well." I agree. To answer Scott's question, as much as I want to "force" teachers to embrace the new read/write web and 21st century skills, I still need to focus on one major, 2nd order change at a time. For my school, there was a big need for teachers to improve in their assessment of student reading and writing, and then use the data to improve instruction and learning. I can only tackle one big change at a time. Otherwise, I run the risk of losing my staff. Plus, as much as I love the 21st century skills concepts, I still have not seen solid, longitudinal data to prove that these skills have a positive impact on reading, writing, and math achievement. In this day and age of high stakes testing and making AYP, the reality lies in the fact that we are under great pressure from our communities and boards of education to improve tests scores on state-mandated tests. This is life in the America under NCLB.

Scott McLeod

Dave, a few thoughts (and please remember that this is rhetorical, not an attack on you personally. I'm guessing you're a FABULOUS principal):

1. I COMPLETELY understand 'innovation fatigue' and am in 100% agreement with you there.

2. "Nobody will thank you [or any leader] for taking care of today if you have failed to take care of tomorrow" (Joel Barker). Your challenge is to comply with NCLB AND prepare students for the world in which they are going to live and work. It's not an issue of one or the other, right?

3. I'll also note that evaluating 21st century skills with 20th century standardized tests is almost always inappropriate. That said, we also are seeing that employment of 21st century learning frameworks and tools in schools not only tends to satisfy 21st century skills needs but also tends to improve achievement on those old NCLB skills, increase student engagement, reduce student dropout rates, etc. So we can have our cake and eat it too.

4. The problem is real and growing. Focusing on reading, math, and writing is necessary but insufficient in today's digital global economy. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills does a lot better job than I do of explaining all of this, but the evidence is pretty overwhelming right now that the current NCLB paradigm is not going to get us where we need to go. It's not a question of going back to what we did before NCLB; it's a matter of going well beyond what we've ever done.

Is This What Schools Have Come to...?

I assume you are talking about elementary school teachers in this blog, Dave, and I marvel at the idea that you can come in and just mandate that teachers change all their curriculum created over time at the drop of a hat.

As a high school literature teacher, I would almost tell my principal to go away if he deigned to tell me how I should teach writing. I wonder if this is not emblematic of a loss of confidence in elementary school teachers developing their own expert, custom lesson plans -- and so mandate they will use the same mediocre stuff developed by some stranger someplace else. If a lesson plan is really going to be any good, it has to come from that teacher, in my opinion.

Why do I have a feeling in stronger schools -- and in the private school system -- they go with strong teachers and don't mess with what has been built over time? I imagine strong schools and effective leaders propagate and facilitate good ideas that bubble up from strong staff members while gaining acceptance generally among peers -- rather than mandating stuff from the top, much of which will be resisted and never really embraced.

Is it just that I teach in high school and college that the change ordered from top to down seems almost insulting to teachers? Is the elementary "rely on the reading program" just that much different? Do your teachers really look to outside sources to give them better curriculum than they could create themselves?

Dave Sherman

It is important to differentiate curriculum from programs. The curriculum is what holds a school district together. It is what ensures that all of the students entering your high school have had equal educational opportunities. Individual teachers do not have the right to change the curriculum to serve their own needs (unless you teach in a one room schoolhouse.). That is what I think of when you use the term "custom lesson plans." Yes, teachers have the freedom to create their own lessons as long as they follow the district's stated curriculum. Like it or not, the principal's job is to ensure that teachers are following the curriculum. Expecting teachers to create lessons that are rigorous and then assessing students frequently is an appropriate part of my job. Expecting consistency from one classroom to another and from one school in a district to another is what high school teachers say they need. If elementary teachers all taught in a vacuum without some common threads, imagine what your job would be like trying to teach high school lit.

Scott McLeod

Research has shown that teachers can have as much as 6x the impact on student learning outcomes that role-alike peers do, even in the same school. In other words, the kids in Mrs. Smith's class down the hall may have 6x the learning gains of similar kids in Mrs. Brown's class.

Teachers can (and should) learn from each other and, in so doing, replicate highly effective instructional practices and reduce the 'luck of the draw' that depends on which teacher students get assigned. This is one key reason why high-functioning PLCs are so effective.

Tracy Rosen

A note on the effectiveness of top down change mandates:

Is this what schools have come to..? You are absolutely correct. If my educational leader came to me and said, drop what you are teaching and teach this better stuff instead I'd quickly lose confidence and trust in him or her. The change wouldn't work.

Saying that, an educational leader's job is to identify that change is needed and to guide an organization towards a better future. It is the process of change that is key - the how. Scroll up and read some previous comments - Scott, Michael, and I have already addressed that.

Roger Sweeny

If "Lock all doors, require all visitors, including parents, to sign in at the school office and wear a visitor's badge, and develop lock-down procedures which are practiced with all students and staff." is an example of successful second order change, then God help us all.

The heightened security procedures at most schools have bought no increase in protection from anyone who really means to do harm. At the same time, they are inconvenient and costly. Yet their very inconvenience gives a phony sense that we are "doing something" about the problem.

Too much in this business is like that.

Dave Sherman

I don't know what you do, Roger, but I can't imagine that you are a principal. Try telling the parents of the students that there is no need to secure the school better than in the past, before the recent tragedies that have taken place. Tell them that a little bit of inconvenience and the cost of some stick-on badges is not worth some peace of mind. Yes, if a bad guy really wanted to get in, he could, but we have made it a little bit more difficult. And, God forbid, if it did happen, at least the staff has practiced what to do. Second order change? Sure it is. Change can impact any and all aspects of a school, not just curriculum and instruction. Changing the way we secure a school must be second order. It can't take place over time with discussion and consensus.

Scott McLeod

Dave, Columbine scared the crap out of everybody, but the bottom line, as shown by lots of reports and research, is that schools are safer than ever. I understand being prepared in case of an event - and obviously no one wants to be unprepared in case of a shooting or other horrific incident - but are you worried at all that we're getting overly alarmist and letting ourselves be governed by fear rather than common sense? I admit this is a concern of mine. What are folks in your area saying regarding both sides of the issue?

This has been a great thought-provoking post and discussion! Thanks!

Roger Sweeny


I'm a high school teacher. If I were a principal, I would have done exactly what you did because people were scared and felt "something has to be done."

But I would have felt sad that it was all for show, like blood-letting two centuries ago or taking antibiotics for a viral infection today.

Roger Sweeny

"[A]ll for show" in my comment above should have been followed by ("some peace of mind").

Dave Sherman

I am glad schools are safer than ever as evidenced in the latest reports. It has to be that way. I am not worried that all of this safety talk and the actions we have had to take are overkill (no pun intended!). In schools, like most places, perception is reality. I hope our community perceives that our schools are safer. I truly think they are safer than pre-Columbine. I find it interesting to see how the discussion has changed from my original post. Obviously, school safety is just as important these days as teaching and learning.

Roger, I hope in your high school, the administrators have taken precautionary measures to make the learning environment safer. I am saddened as well that we are discussing this instead of the good stuff like the improvement of teaching and learning. Welcome to life in 2007. We need to accept it and not stick our heads in the sand.

Tracy Rosen

I feel the need to question the fact that you call the security crack down after 9/11 second order change.

Second order change requires new ways of thinking that break from tradition.

Traditionally, when there is a threat, people heighten security and go in to lock down mode.

How does the heightened security in schools since 9/11 represent a symbolic change from tradition?

Sure, security was heightened but it was still within the same way of thinking - we feel fear so we build a wall of security guards and rules to protect us.

Perhaps it was necessary, but not 2nd order.

Roger Sweeny

I am saddened as well that we are discussing this instead of the good stuff like the improvement of teaching and learning.

Perhaps we can make this a teachable moment ... You chose as an example of successful second order change, the security crackdown after 9/11. I pointed out that it hasn't really made it harder for a determined 9/11-type terrorist or a Columbine-type killer. Tracy Rosen pointed out that the response was certainly not a "new way of thinking that br[oke] with tradition."

So, to be deliberately intemperate, "why should teachers believe you when you say you know how they should change to create an 'improvement in teachng and learning'"?

I actually mean that as a respectful non-rhetorical question. Older teachers have seen educational fads come and go and they need a reason to believe that this year's "best practices" really are. Younger teachers remember their first years of teaching and most of them regret/are mad at the fact that their education courses weren't more help. With a few years experience, they also look back on a good deal of that coursework as unrealistic. They've heard "research shows" over and over but it must have been about somebody else's classroom.

Mark Twain said that a cat that tried to sleep on a hot stove wouldn't try that again. On the other hand, it wouldn't try to sleep on a cold stove, either. How can you convince teachers that your stove is really cool?


I have seen change in the schools many time. I am still in college, but I have been to many different schools, and in every school there is change. I think how the teachers and adminstrators react to the change is going to be the overall feel to the situation. We need to have a great team of adminstrators who are on board with the topic, but if they do not care the teachers are not going to care either.
I was at a school district where the state was building a new school for an elementary building, so the students had to placed in a building untilt the school was finished. In the end the state did not build a large enough building, so the teachers are trying to work together to house over 500 students in a building that should only hold around 300 students. The adminstrators are being positive, so that is helping the teachers be positive, and making the students feel comfortable in this building.

The comments to this entry are closed.

About this blog