Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Change in Communication for School Leaders

This is my second installment in a series of blog posts on the changing nature of school administration and school leadership. This post speaks to how expectations for communication have changed.

As I write this, we are approaching the two-year anniversary since the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013. Our nation was anxious for the apprehension of those responsible. As the manhunt built to its crescendo, I followed along simultaneously on television, news apps, and Twitter. On Twitter, I witnessed the emotions shared by individuals from far away and right in Boston. Our combined energies surged as our brave law officers closed the net, and we collectively cheered the outcome.

Afterward, it struck me that this was a new moment in our culture where we not only witnessed the news instantaneously but also, in some very small way, participated in it.

Much has changed in the last 100 years in the public's expectations for news and information. A century ago, news sometimes took weeks to reach its audience. In the 1930's, radio set a new standard for the immediacy of news. Television later competed and hastened the pace. But it was the modern Internet that made news instantaneous.

For years schools were largely oblivious of the need to communicate openly with their public. As the competition for students opened up between districts, schools polished their game. The usual result was a monthly newsletter. Later schools added web pages, but even this has not yet been fully supported.

However, our public is not waiting for us to catch up with modern standards for sharing information. They expect modern web sites with up-to-date news and the ability to find the information they seek. They want instant text messaging for important issues, and they want school information to come through multiple sources.

Most importantly they expect to hear the most important news immediately. Moreover, they want the news explained to them in a way that refers to them personally.

We were all shocked and saddened by the tragic news from Newtown, Connecticut, in December of 2012. But what surprised me afterwards was the way our public wanted our local school to respond to them in some way with assurances of what we were doing to keep their children safe.

This is the modern world. News is instant, and people can interact with it. If a school truly seeks to reach its public, it must share news the way the public expects it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Change and School Leadership

This is my first installment in a series of blog posts on the changing nature of school administration and school leadership.

Conformity was the job of schools when I started as a school administrator. It was not all that long ago, but it was long enough that much has changed from the work I was trained to do to the work of school administration I now perform. Conformity was what society wanted for our graduates so they could fit into the workforce and society. Conformity was the expectation for schools, that they would fit our public vision for what a school should look like.

I remember my first job as an assistant principal in a large suburban middle school. I was in charge of writing our building's annual accreditation report for the North Central Association. One of my tasks was to count the number of chairs in the school library. Schools were expected to conform with the standard that in a quality school a certain percentage of the student population had to be accommodated within the school library at any given time. Accommodation was defined by the number of chairs in the room. We did not have enough chairs, so I was instructed to find more chairs and count again before I deposited the report in the U.S. mail.

The paradigm of the time was such that a school should look, feel, and act in a certain way, and much of that was quantifiable.

That same year, I succeeded in persuading my head principal that I needed a desktop computer to help me do my job. He was very skeptical but finally relented, and I was one of the first principals in the district to use a computer in the performance of my duties.

That was just one of the many changes to come in the field of school administration.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt once warned our nation that our only real fear should be fear itself.

As I reflect on the changing nature of schools, administration, and leadership, it strikes me that the greatest change of all is change itself. We must recognize change when it is occurring. We must explain why schools must change to meet the challenges of a new world. We must be prepared to manage change, and we must be change leaders. Change has replaced conformity as the model for education.

We can no longer seek a conformity model for a school, one that can be measured and quantified. In  fact, it is one of the things holding us back now from providing quality instruction to our students when we look at models from the past rather than seeking a vision for the future.

Change is the world in which we now reside. It is how we adapt to that change that determines how successful we will be.