The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts.
– Charles Darwin
I’m working to understand a framework for professional development and capacity building that disrupts traditional thinking and builds toward the type of risk-ready culture Richard Elmore describes and of which I was a part at SLA. In the simplest of terms, it’s a culture of responsible citizenship and stewardship for the educational community. Several different ideas have been influencing my thinking.
The first was the idea of the “Chinese restaurant” approach to “spreading” an educational model described by Charles Leadbeater in his TED talk. Not everything looks the same, but you know when you’re in one. For me, the idea of a coffee shop works best. They are places I seek out, that “pull” me as Leadbeater said, and invite me to stay longer than I intend. It’s got me thinking how one could design a space (physical or virtual) where this is the reaction of those students and teachers who are part of the community.
As my studies returned me to our thinking on “the instructional core,” I started to think about a recent Forbes interview with Don Tapscott. Describing the path to “Enterprise 2.0” and a looming crisis of patent expiration in the pharma market, Tapscott said, “You need to change the whole modus operandi of the industry and how you do research. They need to start sharing science and sharing clinical trial data… The current model is unsustainable, even if it didn’t happen to be coincidentally all coming together over a cliff.” I’ve started to wonder if pharma’s cliff is near education’s cliff.
In many ways, this strikes me as the path to the type of interaction and capacity building Richard Elmore writes about. It also seems a fair way for inspiring risk-taking he mentions. This is a similar idea to that of KIPP Open Book, a project of Philadelphia’s KIPP schools meant to make their data and practices more transparent. It’s an example of system-level transparency of practice, that could potentially influence the transparency of teachers and students, though it would likely require a substantial shift in pedagogy to allow for the agency required for teachers and students to feel more comfortable to take risks associated with such transparency.
This returns me to the question of how I would build a culture comfortable with risk-taking and responsible citizenship to increase capacity and align our practice with a goal toward improvement. To the extent possible, I’d hire the “right” people. At Science Leadership Academy (SLA), each interview committee included the principal, teachers from the department with the open position and at least one student and one parent. These committees were formed ad hoc. Though the principal maintained final say, I cannot recall an interview where the final decision differed from the consensus of the committee. This practice was built into the culture of the school. Oftentimes, students were the first to speak up in deliberations to point out that a particular candidate was a poor fit for the school. In my own practice, I would adopt a hiring approach similar to if not the same as SLA’s.
As to the question of professional development, I’m tempted to stray further from the norm and suggest a rotating position of Professional Coach. Each year a different teacher would assume a reduced course load to work with the school’s leadership team as the director of professional development. The role would entail observations, leading PD around the school’s improvement goals and helping to research particular issues of practice in the coach’s own classroom. The position would last a year, after which, that teacher would return to a full load. Other teachers would submit their names (and perhaps an application) for the following year and the leadership team, whole faculty, or principal would select the next year’s Professional Coach. Again, it’s an idea I’m toying with, and I’m still working to conceptualize the possible impact on school culture.
The thing I want to know is this, how can we prevent the standard testing accountability measures from being the tail that wags the dog of professional development and setting the definition of improvement?