Friday, July 25, 2014

Working ON the System

Today, I have been going through past notes and materials from workshops and books over the years. It brings back memories of so many good people that I have learned from along the way. It is impossible to put into words the gratitude for the wisdom and guidance others have shared with me.

One of the items I found was an article written by David Langford entitled "Working on the System." One of his main contentions in the article is that "administrators must spend an increasing percentage of time working on the system, not in the system." This statement, in one sentence, is essentially the reason I desired to become an administrator. I saw an opportunity to work on the bigger processes that drive much of the work teachers do, and in turn much of what students experience on a daily basis.

I am reminded often to think systems. I am also reminded that the results we are getting are exactly what our systems are designed to produce. More importantly, I am reminded that these systems I talk about are made up of people. 

There are some simple facts about us. About people.

We have feelings. We have dreams. We have beliefs. We have perceptions. We have needs.

So, I want to take a minute to be clear that I wholeheartedly believe that we absolutely must address the systems within which we work. That is a critical point!


I would like to be equally as clear that I do not intend to insult individuals within the system by pointing out concerns or outcomes of the system. To do so would miss the purpose of raising the concerns in the first place because it might fix blame on outliers rather than improve the process as a whole. Generally speaking, my blog is not about outliers. I feel like that would be a waste of most people's time, including mine.

I do intentionally use provocative language at times to stress the magnitude of some of the issues I write about. I will continue to do so. There has to be a sense of urgency and seriousness about our business of improving how we teach and raise and disciple the next generation, lest we fall prey to what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the "tranquilizing drug of gradualism." Some improvements require more than minor tweaks here and there to the system. I make no apologies for beating that drum.

I do, however, apologize for anything that I have said or written that gives the impression that I do not respect and admire teachers. Most teachers I know work very hard and care very much. I trust that those educators I have had the privilege to work with most directly know my heart. They know that there is, simultaneously, joy and dissatisfaction in my work at all times. 

Joy, because it is a sacred honor to be called to this kind of work. 
Dissatisfaction, because we can always do better. (Dissatisfaction, by the way, is the prerequisite to any great change that takes place, so there is no need to be scared of it.)

Our school district aims to think students first. A mentoring principal once told the audience at a leadership academy, "I tell my faculty that if there ever comes a time when there is a conflict between doing what is best for teachers and doing what is best for kids, then I will do what is best for kids."

What is best for kids is for all of us in education to continuously reflect on our practices and challenge ourselves to grow. I am the perfect example of why this is necessary. I still have a long way to go, but I am thankful that I am not the educator I was five or ten years ago. There have been countless changes to my practices over the years because of the encouragement and wisdom and honesty of those people that surround me, both those who agree and those who disagree with me. 

Thanks for helping me grow!