In too many schools, educator voice is missing from important decisions that affect students. The voices of students, family members, other staff and community members are often missing in this equation too. When stakeholders' voice, choice and leadership are missing from important decisions, the decisions do not represent or support the potential possible.
How can systems work to remedy the situation of missing stakeholder voice, choice and leadership when it comes to schools and learning communities?
Dissect and Analyze Decision Making Processes
First it is essential for school communities to dissect their current systems of decision making and implementation. They need to look at and analyze the life of ideas and decisions to see how those decisions are made, communicated, and embedded into the teaching/learning community.
As I think of a recent situation I'm aware of, the decision began at the top with considerable discussion amongst administration. Then the decision began to include other administrators with considerable time and discussion. It wasn't until the very end of the decision that teachers were informed of the situation, a decision where teachers were given little to no voice. I don't think that parents, students, or community members were ever involved in the decision. Hence, a decision has been made which in my opinion doesn't reflect what teachers would choose, a decision that costs considerable dollars and has little teacher support. Similar decisions have been made in the past, and typically those decisions are quickly retired never gaining any real traction, meaning or impact because many stakeholders were left out of the decisions from the start. This is a costly process--it costs dollars of significant administrator time, dollars for purchase of supplies, dollars for communication and what implementation occurs, and dollars for potentially replacing the ineffective effort in short time.
Embed New or Revised, Effective Systems of Decision Making
Next, new systems of decision making, communication, and implementation need to be created, used, assessed and revised as needed. We can't continue to choose efficiency over efficacy--effective decision-making processes will positively impact learning communities, and these effective systems need to be architected with the context of a specific school or school system in mind. This is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor--schools throughout the country and world represent differing contexts, problems, and opportunities, and this reality will affect the types of decision making processes chosen and embedded to create inclusive, transparent, and successful effect.
Administer by Facilitating and Modeling Effective Decision Making Work
The role of administrators in schools should not be one of telling educators what to do, but instead a role of helping educators to maximize their individual and collective practice with regard to optimal educational service to students and their families. Like counselors, mentors, guides, and consultants, administrators should place their time and energy into fostering good process so that there's inclusive, transparent, collaborative, and evolving development and implementation of extraordinary efforts to teach children well. All resources including time, money, materials, and people should be considered as everyone works to maximize promise and potential. Administrators as content/practice experts is ineffective whereas administrators as leaders of good process and result is an effective path of developing better schools and accomplished teaching.
I hope that administrators who desire to develop their learning/teaching communities in ways that matter will consider these points. I hope that they will take the time to read the NBPTS report, What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do, and then effectively work with educators to develop teacher leadership with distributive leadership models of decision making and practice. Utilizing greater servant leadership models in these learning/teaching communities will also work to eliminate the cliquish hierarchies that exist in many schools in favor of bottom-up models where educators first serve students and families and administrators serve educators--that kind of grass roots work, I believe, will serve schools and students best.
I continue to think a lot about systems and leadership in schools since I often feel that my work is hindered by ineffective systems of learning/teaching and leadership. Often my efforts are compromised by multiple tasks that serve the system and leadership rather than tasks that serve my students. I want to point educators' efforts more directly towards the children they teach, and revise leadership/system mandates that direct our time and energy elsewhere. I believe that better learning/teaching community structure utilizing greater distributive leadership will lead us in that direction. Do you agree? I'm open to your commentary, suggestions and ideas in this regard.