Chicken or the Egg

Extended Quote from Paul Bambrick-Santoyo in Leverage Leadership 2.0

One of the great debates of school leadership is what should take priority: student instruction or student culture.  In the culture camp some argue that without order, joy, and respect, academic success is impossible.  In their eyes, the game plan should be to “delay” instruction until culture is “right.”  On the other side, some argue that instruction creates culture, and that as teachers create engaging and rigorous lessons, student conduct and attitudes will naturally improve. Both views are badly flawed.  If instruction is strong but culture is weak, a school’s success is crippled: newer teachers face serious discipline challenges, students experience radical inconsistency between classes, and core values cannot be taught.  Yet at schools that decide to “wait” on improving instruction, the end result is often order without rigor, a “false positive” that looks like education but is anything but.  The truth is that both instruction and culture are vital, and both must be led simultaneously.  Without this, neither can succeed. (p. 7-8)



Fullan on finding and Implementing Good Ideas

I argue in this book that most good ideas come from first examining good practices of others, especially practices that are getting results in difficult circumstances. The second step is to try out the new ideas yourself. The third involved drawing conclusions from what you have learned, and then expanding on those conclusions. Deliberative doing is the core learning method for effective learners

Michael Fullan, Change Leader

What Fullan describes here is the concept of Positive Deviance. This is the idea that the best way to make improvements in any system is to study and apply the practices of the bright spots and successes. Google has made a science of studying their managers to uncover the different behaviors that produce the best and worst results. They then share and encourage implementation of those practices. This relentless focus on uncovering and highlighting these great ideas is the heart of Fullan’s strategy of the Change Leader.

Fullan on Motivation Through Passion or Accomplishment

It is being in the moment of a successful endeavor that fuels passion, not the dreaming of it. Thus, exhorting people to have greater moral commitment is often less effective than helping them get new experiences that activate their moral purpose. The establishment of new practices and experiences galvanizes passion. This is the essence of the change leader: the capacity to generate energy and passion in others through action.

Michael Fullan, Change Leader

In the opening chapter of Change Leader, Fullan continuously emphasizes the primacy if action over theory. Practice is the driver and learning is the outcome.

Silos vs. Networks

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Long Beach Unified School District with the purpose of learning about their  Linked Learning and College and Career pathways.  Their programs are truly inspirational and encouraging.  We heard from their Superintendent Chris Steinhauser and several members of his staff who described the history and nature of their work to develop career pathways in all of their high schools.

One of the statements that was repeated over and over again in their explanation was their insistence in not working in silos.  They were intentional about sharing information throughout their organization in order to develop plans that integrated the best thinking of everyone in their school community.  Their discussion about silos reminded me of Hugh Howey’s trilogy (Wool, Shift, and Dust) that describes a post apocalyptic world in which society is organized into individual silos (none of which has knowledge of the existence of the other).

Wool Omnibus Edition

This dystopian novel illustrates the many negatives for developing around the concept of silos, which traditionally, has been the organizing premise of most education institutions.  Why should we move beyond silos to a more networked and connected systems?

Silos do provide some superficial benefits.


Silos are organized

Silos are compact

Silos are manageable

Silos are comfortable (to an extent)

Silos produce predictability


And, how do silos accomplish these aims?


Silos thrive on secrecy

Silos thrive on darkness

Silos thrive on control

Silos thrive on specialization and separation


Networks on the other hand may appear to be a downgrade.


Networks are decentralized

Networks are messy

Networks are complicated

Networks lack control

Networks produce ambiguity


And what are the ingredients that produce healthy and growing networks?


Networks flourish in the light

Networks flourish with transparency

Networks flourish with sharing

Networks flourish with interdependence


The end result, as Long Beach Unified has demonstrated so clearly, is that improvement and innovation are much more likely to be produced in networks of connected educators than in silos of independent operators.  What will we do today to move from silos to networks?







Pressfield and Coyne on Sharing Your Gift

It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself.  You hurt your children.  You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor  It’s a gift to the world and every being in it.  Don’t cheat us of your contribution. give us what you’ve got.

Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne, The Art of War

Pressfield and Coyne on Professionalism

This quote made me think of the perfect response by the University of Virginia coach (having just been the first #1 seed of the NCAA tournament to lose to a #16 seed) who spoke eloquently about the preference of being in the arena and the risk all face when stepping into that action.

The professional keeps his eye on the doughnut and not on the hole.  He reminds himself it’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.

Steven Pressfield and Shawyn Coyne, The War of Art

Datawise: Male Dropout Rate Raises Many Important Questions

The power of a well designed data visualization is the quality of the questions that it raises.  This simple graph of the dropout rate since 2000 shows the gap between the dropout rate of black and white male students.  Statements by the author explore the concept of black teachers’ impact on black students’ dropout risk and college aspirations.

Link to Tableau Public

Gloria Ladson-Billings has a different take on the same topic advocating for the need for white students to have black teachers.  She describes the reaction of many of her university students to the first black teacher they had ever encountered.

They seemed amazed that I had both a wide and deep knowledge of a variety of subject areas and knew how to encourage and draw more out of them than they thought possible. My hope is that their experience with me makes them walk into classrooms filled with Black children and say, “there could be doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, inventors, and teachers in here,” rather than assume that their black skins limited their intellectual possibilities.

Gloria Ladson-Billings

Students can learn from teachers who look like them.

Students can learn from teachers who look nothing like them.

Any way that we can increase the diversity of the teaching force will positively impact every student in the school.  All of our students will benefit from that increased diversity and students who have historically been underrepresented will benefit even more.



The Wisdom of Whole School, Ongoing, Long-View, Always Learning, Never Ending, School Reform

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

But we love the overnight success story!

It’s so alluring.

It grabs the headlines.

And, it’s so wrong.

Lasting change rarely comes quickly.  The need to build a strong foundation should outweigh our appetite for immediate results.

John Wooden, who I have written about here, won 10 national championships at UCLA and yet, it took him 16 years to win his first.

We sometimes substitute a commitment to learn about our organization and the people with in it for a sense of urgency and quick fixes.  Short term results not only are difficult to sustain, but almost always come with unintended negative consequences.

We need to take the long view in school reform.  A proper foundation begins with instilling a professional learning culture.   Short cuts such as canned programs may provide an initial boost, but it can keep us from doing the harder work of questioning our practices and building new models of teaching and learning together.

One of psychologist Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life is,  “Don’t do what is expedient, do what is necessary.”

That should be our motto as we look towards a future of improved learning opportunities, we will need to make difficult decisions and engage in the hard work of improving practice one classroom and one staff room at a time.

So, let’s make our schools a little better today.  Let’s focus on what is necessary, not expedient to improve the culture for teaching and learning.






Laszlo Bock on Transparency

It will not surprise you that Google relies on data to make their organization hum.  They are transparent with their internal data measures on a variety of metrics.  In his book on the Google work place, Bock describes benefits of data sharing with this example:

One of the serendipitous benefits of transparency is that simply by sharing data, performance improves. Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, points to when New York State started requiring hospitals to post death rates from coronary artery bypass surgeries. Over the next four years, deaths from heart surgery fell 41 percent.  The simple act of making performance transparent was sufficient to transform patient outcomes.

-Laszlo Bock, Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead

Data that is hidden or unknown can have no impact on our actions.  When we reveal the state of our school performance, attention turns toward addressing any deficiencies that are not in alignment with the goals and aspirations of the organization.   Whether we are measuring attendance, suspension rates, academic achievement, or surveying culture and climate, nothing is better to kick-start improvement than shedding light on our performance, as this is often a catalyst for action.



Laszlo Bock on Leading with Mission

In Laszlo Bock’s book on the people management and leadership philosophy of Google, he discusses Google’s mission statement, which is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.  Bock says this mission statement has a profound impact on the motivation of Googlers (Yes, they actually seem to thrive on this moniker).

This kind of mission gives individuals’ work meaning, because it is a moral rather than a business goal. The most powerful movements in history have had moral motivations, whether they were quests for independence or equal rights. And while I don’t want to push this notion too far, it’s fair to say that there’s a reason that revolutions tend to be about ideas and not profits or market share.

-Laszlo Bock, Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How YOU Live and Lead

This is another reminder that one  of the first order jobs of the leader is to inspire.  And nothing inspires like a lofty ideal.  What is the impact of an educated life?   What barriers and obstacles can education help to overcome?   Consider well where you are leading your school or district and communicate clearly that desired future state in order to boost the motivation and energy of your team for the challenging work of educating our children.