Jim Collins's Good to Great reiterates ideas I have read about elsewhere. One such idea is passion. Fish! is a now classic business text that focuses on passion. Burgess' Teach Like a Pirate book uses passion as his first element. Collins puts passion in his hedgehog trilogy: what you are deeply passionate about, what drives your economic engine, and what can you be the best in the world at. While the other two authors do look at trying to develop passion, Collins leaves that to the individual. It makes so much sense that passion is essential- if you are going to put hundreds of hours into something you will be far more likely to be at the top of your game if you care deeply than if it is just a job. Your outside life benefits when your job feeds your soul as well. Conversely if your job consistently sucks you dry, if you dread going to work, if you could switch jobs at a moments notice, you will not give your job the best and your home life will suffer.
When I walk around the halls of schools and see teachers drag, constantly frown and reluctantly head to their classrooms, they have no passion. They will not bring their A game on a regular basis and their students will suffer. When administrators see their staff behave like this, they cannot be satisfied, they need to help the teacher find his passion again. That could mean recommending a sabbatical, offering to change course loads- or keeping it consistent in the face of change. It could be a sit down to talk about the great things that are going on in a student's life, the teacher's classroom, or the school. It could be about recommending a long weekend to recharge and/or deal with pressing issues. It might mean counseling or therapy to deal with personal issues holding a person back. It might mean counseling a change in job. Teachers who lack passion are a drag on the school and on students themselves. Schools cannot be great if their teachers lack passion. I am not just talking pep rally, loud enthusiasm. Some will have that. Others will have a quiet passion. Both are valid. We cannot force one on the other.
Debate is seen as important to team building (for example see Five Dysfunctions of a Team). This is another cornerstone of great organizations and teams. It also is the arena that can result in hamstringing professionals. A healthy organization not only tolerates debate, it demands it. When people are not free to speak up because of ego issues or trust issues, the organization will falter. This is true in schools as well. If the administrator cannot accept a teacher, even a very junior teacher, questioning a plan, then the administrator is promoting mediocrity. If a teacher cannot accept a criticism from a student about a class being boring, then the rest of the classes will be boring. If a teacher cannot accept a criticism from an administrator, then the teacher cannot develop. If a school cannot accept criticism from a parent then it nullifies a piece of the educational puzzle and will not provide a first class education. Debate improves us. yes, it can be quite uncomfortable and people need to learn to debate and question well, but it is essential to our becoming and then staying great.
"...build their bureaucratic rules to manage a small percentage of wrong people on the bus..." p. 121. Perhaps this truism is the most insightful of the book. Why do I need to punch in and out of work to verify my time in office- because a couple of people, in an organization of over 1000, struggled with getting in on time. All this strategy makes me want to do is figure out how to game the system. Why did I need to sign off with 5 secretaries as having completed my job at the end of a school year? Because some people failed to follow the rules. The challenge is that it is difficult to discipline, no less fire, an employee in teaching. If the bureaucracy infuriates you, follow the rules professionally, encourage ways of applying pressure to follow the rules for people who fail to do so. We cannot be professional if we will not police ourselves. Constrictive bureaucracy leads to a loss of the best people. Can schools really afford that?
One of Collins' key points is getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. Schools are especially reluctant to do this. Cost of disciplining, no less firing, a teacher who does not fit the current organization is prohibitive. While teachers need some protections against frivolous firing, the current system intimidates administration. To compound the problem, teaching, unlike other professions is not a transferable job. If you leave a position, you start again at the bottom and last in first out principles limit employability. The best teachers should be a premium- districts should fight over them and protect them. Collins admits this is a challenge, but see patience as a critical feature in creating a staff with the correct people in the right places.
Schools can be become great, but they need to figure out how to establish an adequately-sized, great staff in the correct positions. They need to celebrate debate and minimize bureaucracy. They need to be places of great passion for learning. We can make our schools great, but it cannot be following tradition. We need to be intrepid innovators, not stoic survivors.