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.