Monday, November 23, 2015

Collective Identity In An Innovative Culture

Last week about 30 of us, including our superintendent and all principals, participated in professional learning with Carolyn McKanders and other Adaptive Schools facilitators. Just like classroom teachers, principals are loathe to be away from schools even when the professional learning is top-notch. However, we know that the greatest impact on student achievement occurs when we couple highly-effective teachers with a highly-effective school (Edmonds, 1979; Waters, et al., 2004; Marzano, 2007). I believe that our entire team found the learning to be valuable and immediately usable, and are looking forward to continuing the learning in a few weeks.

One of the many concepts and strategies that the Adaptive Schools learning focuses on is the concept of identity:
Human organizations and individuals can be adapted to a specific niche or can become adaptive, flexing to meet the challenges of a changing world. To be adaptive means to change form and clarify identity. Form can be the ways we structure our organizations and the ways in which we do our work. New challenges require new and increasingly flexible forms. Identity is about who we believe we are as an organization and as professionals.
This resonated with me. Not only does the 21st century education landscape require us to be more flexible, but it is a system within a larger "change-dependent economy and a culture that celebrates creativity and innovation" (Bridges, 2004, p. 79). Each of  us develops our own identity as an educator, but as we create flexible forms, who do we believe we are as our collective school district, and perhaps, who do we want to be?

Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn have written a new book entitled Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems, and if I had to pick two sentences out of it that sum up the frenetic pace of education today it would be these from page 20:
Even when the goals are the right ones, they may not be experienced as connected ideas by the users. People see them as discrete demands with little or no connection to each other or their daily work; scrambling to implement too many directions and lacking a coherent sense of how they connect results in paralysis and frustration.
Fullan & Quinn call this "fragmentation." I would argue that fragmentation does not lend itself to a clear identity for an organization. We need to first ground ourselves in connecting the dots through our core beliefs as expressed in our vision, mission, and guiding principles. And we need to keep connecting the dots over and over again to crystallize our collective identity.

What might be seen as discrete demands in our district? I'll just throw a few possibilities out there: school improvement, the instructional framework, professional learning communities, positive behavioral interventions and supports, response to instruction, and differentiation. What do these pieces have in common that binds them and us together? Here is my thinking:

  • they establish a norm of learning for all, regardless of age, position, or title
  • they guide us to make thoughtful, research-based decisions centered around students
  • they challenge us to change and adopt practices that help all students learn
  • they inspire us to partner with our community to build strong, supportive relationships
  • they encourage us to be creative and to benchmark our work against the best models in the world

In their book, Fullan & Quinn reference social psychologist Kurt Lewin's somewhat wry, but certainly famous quote: "If you want truly to understand something, try to change it." We have to be sure that we understand our collective identity as part of any innovation that we embark upon. Lewin reminds us that "motivation for change has to be generated before change can occur." We have to know who we are in order to decide where to go.

Join the conversation...
For how many of us might the concept of "fragmentation" resonate? How might we pull together a coherent message of who we are as part of articulating a coherent message of where we want to go? How might you describe our collective identity as a school district?

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