As is my wont, I’ve been having a (figurative) conversation with Jim Knight as I work my way through his Unmistakable Impact. Like many before him, Knight has narrowed down the qualities of the best schools to a list of 5:
The professional learning occurring in Impact Schools is built around the following five concepts: humanity, focus, leverage, simplicity, and precision.
Five is an interesting number. It avoids the vague simplicity of 3 without taking on the complexity of a list of 7, 11, or some other prime number.
And I don’t disagree with him. In that list of 5, there’s not a concept with which I disagree, and I’d imagine that’s by design. Keeping the list safe keeps the book marketable.
Not long after we’ve encountered the 5 concepts behind impact schools, though, Knight introduces the 7 principles of the “partnership approach”:
(1) equality, (2) choice, (3) voice, (4) reflection, (5) dialogue, (6) praxis, and (7) reciprocity.
He goes on to say, “These principles represent the theory that underlies professional learning in Impact Schools.”
This brings the list to an almost unwieldy 12. Twelve! Here Knight runs the risk of losing the leaders of education organizations. The book is no longer presenting a silver bullet like so many that have come before it. Knight begins to present a more complex picture of what must be done to create quality learning spaces and teams functioning in such a way that supports that quality.
This is, beyond all of the citations of other sources and vignettes, what I am appreciating as I work through Knight’s book. As he attempts to offer guidance and strategies for improving schools, he adds to the complexity of the work.
It isn’t just five or seven things that need be done to improve the lives and learning of students and teachers. The list is potentially infinite.
As I come to each list of qualities schools must have to make an unmistakable impact, I picture the principal or district leader who’s picked this up as the tome to lead their organization for the next year angrily crossing out the list from the last chapter and saying to themselves, “OH! These are the things we should be doing. Got it.”
If anything, I’d say Knight doesn’t go far enough in highlighting the importance of paying attention to all of the qualities he’s listed. At. The. Same. Time.
As I consider the systems and procedures he lays out, I realize they create a balance and that each is important (if fairly innocuous on the ground-breaking scale of ideas).
From that initial list of five, it is not difficult to imagine the type of leader who decides to make focus, leverage, and precision the watch words of their school while leaving out or downplaying humanity and simplicity. The opposite is true as well. I’ve met many school and district leaders who are all about the people and streamlining.
If we are to improve teaching and learning, we cannot cherry pick the pieces of the system we wish to improve. We cannot simply change the things that are cheapest, easiest, or most urgent.
We must see the whole board. We must lean in to the hard work, and we must accept the complexity of meeting the needs of a system composed of people who walk into our buildings with equally complex lives.
If doing that takes a list of 5, 7 or 12, then so be it. Let us make sure that we honor each one and not only those that fit our style or our comfort zones.
Image via intrepid teacher on flickr