Sunday, January 20, 2013

change the culture, change the game

My husband brought this book home from work and read it on a plane ride to the corporate roll out of the ideas encapsulated within it. When he arrived home he had positive things to say about the trainers and the book. Knowing my eclectic tastes in reading, he recommended that I would enjoy it also.

Change the Culture, Change the Game by Roger Connors and Tom Smith outlines their methodology for changing corporate culture in order to achieve radically different results. Businesses often desire to change results; be it anything from higher profit margins, better customer service to expanding into new markets. They target results, and often even though they have clearly identified their goal, fail to achieve it. In order to increase result achievement, the authors stress that the underlying experiences and beliefs of the employees must change so that they will engage in different actions and achieve different results. The quote that comes to mind is often attributed to both Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Education is currently on a precipice. Race to the Top set new goals- every child college and career ready and every teacher highly qualified. To achieve these goals they threw together a large pot of money- not enough to implement the changes it desired, but enough to entice cash strapped states- required the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and demanded new teacher accountability systems- the infamous APPR. We can radically change the culture of education in America or we can slide back to our comfortable mediocrity. Time and time again we have seen reform efforts come and go with little impact on the state of education in America. Will this time be different?

While I would love to say yes, the more grounded part of me says no. We are focused only on the top of the pyramid- results and actions, not on the underlying support structures: experiences and beliefs. My experience with education is that the first year of implementation of the tests will show a dismal lack of performance, after a few years of teachers figuring out how to teach to the test, the test performance will rise slightly and the test levels of difficulty will dip.

Do I think the culture of teaching is going to change? Yes. For the better? No. Teachers of tested areas will become harder to find, the curriculum will narrow, cheating on the tests will become more rampant, teachers will be demoralized.

Administrators need to be empowered to create experiences that will establish beliefs that this is doable and good for education, not just another fad. Threatening teachers with the risk of firing if their students do not do well will demoralize; teams identifying trouble spots and working to improve them will be empowering. Current value added systems are fraught with high measures of error and are viewed as poor tools by teachers; research driven, high quality measures of assessment will be more favorably received. Tests that best measure socioeconomic levels and if some learning goals have been achieved but are used to identify if quality teaching is going on will be embraced as well as tests of freshness of bread that center on the question, "Will deer eat it?"

Teachers try to tell students to be wary of jumping on the bandwagon, but the entire field has been forced to do so. How does this experience impact teachers? Not well.

There are far better ways to engage in change to achieve the desired goals. Shamefully, the legislators and executives have disregarded these tools in favor of imposed will. Reading this book saddened me, not just because we are going about this wrong, but because the information about how to achieve change has been out there and we continue to ignore it. Our government is treating us like a dictator, without the savage teeth of some authoritarian regimes, but with steel gloves. That does not mean that people will accept it. For all of Hitler's work to redefine the German culture, resistance was a strong element that persevered. Without engaging in productive experiences to shape a new culture of educational success across the nation, there will be pockets of change, but overall a lack of achievement.

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