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How Do We Build a Culture of Improvement Across the School System?
April 21, 2015 | Comments
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 Hope may be a virtue, but it is not a strategy. – Fullan & DuFour
 
by Cathy Gassenheimer

Research and best practice tell us that consistently high performing schools are places where both adults and students are committed to continuous learning and where everyone values collaboration, reflection, and growth. But, how does a school “get there?”
 
Michael Fullan and Rick DuFour suggest a strategy for becoming that type of school, district (or even region) in their compact, thought-provoking book, Cultures Built to Last: Systemic PLCs at Work.
 
Cultures Built to Last represents the best thinking of both educational leaders: Fullan’s perspectives on whole system reform, moral purpose, and coherence, and DuFour's insights about growing effective professional learning communities.
 
Fullan and DuFour suggest that building the type of sustainable culture that results in continuous improvement is “absolutely doable, but is also undeniably difficult” (p. 2).
 
And they challenge us even further by suggesting that having isolated high performing schools is not sufficient: We must create high performing districts where the work of improvement is continuous and embedded deeply in the system's professional culture; where success is documented and transparent and therefore able to inspire other districts to commit to culture-building.
 
The Three Premises
 
DuFour and Fullan organize their shared vision around three major premises (pp. 3-4):
 
1. “If the PLC process is going to impact education beyond the individual school or isolated district, the process must be the driving force of the entire system. It is time for PLCs to go big!"
 
2. “The PLC process is just that—a process, not a program. Educators don’t ‘do PLC’ one year and then move on to something else the following year. They will not get the lasting benefits from PLCs until they learn to implement the process deeply and widely as fundamental change in the culture of schools and school systems…”
 
3. “Every person in the system has an obligation to be an instrument for cultural change—rather than waiting for others to make the necessary changes.”
 
After reading these three premises, I was hooked and intrigued, because change on this scale requires us to think big and be bold. The premises set forth by Fullan and DuFour imply creating the type of interdependent culture of learning that many of us dream about.
 
Where do we start?
 
So, how does one begin? Fullan brings forward his deep belief in coherence and clarity, suggesting that we must first establish a “solid foundation of common purpose, shared vision, collective commitments, and goals” to shape the culture of schools and districts (p. 16). DuFour lends his considerable insights about PLCs, including lessons learned and common misconceptions.
 
Specifically, DuFour notes four “big barriers” to enduring PLCs:
  1. People’s desire for “quick fixes.” A vibrant PLC requires hard work, commitment, and constant attention.
  2. A failure to understand how to operate PLCs on a “deep operational level;”
  3. Absence of the necessary infrastructure changes to support a PLC. Those changes include rethinking current assumptions, creating new ways of working together, and seeding next-action thinking.
  4. PLCs being treated as a program rather than a process that needs to engage every person in the building in identifying, creating, and pursuing key goals and structures.
"Programs are often viewed as a way to compensate for the deficiencies of educators," DuFour and Fullan write. Processes, not programs, engage minds and spark professional growth. The authors remind us of Covey's truism: without involvement there is no commitment. "The deepest and most profound learning comes through doing."
 
Systemness in action
 
My understanding of Fullan’s “systemness” was also deepened as I read the book. Systemness is a powerful concept:
 
“Systemness—the degree to which people identify and are committed to an entity larger than themselves—is not about letting others work to get the system right so that you will be better off. It is about everyone doing their part in two aspects: being as good as one can be during individual and collaborative work, and being aware that everyone needs to make a contribution to improving the larger system” (p. 18).
 
Fullan and DuFour then paint a picture of what “systemness” looks like in a school, district, or region that wholly embraces PLCs. In addition to clarity and coherence, they point to actions like building shared knowledge and collective capacity, creating a living action plan, embracing a “tight-loose” culture, building trust, ensuring transparency, fostering self-efficacy, and celebrating small wins (p. 19).
 
Systemness also requires reciprocal accountability, where everyone is committed, and where everyone shares the responsibility for success or failure. The authors explain reciprocal accountability in this powerful way:
 
“Building the capacity of educators to meet the challenges they face requires a servant-leader mindset. A sink-or-swim philosophy does not build capacity; too many people drown. A ‘we hope people will figure it out’ approach does not build capacity. Hope may be a virtue, but it is not a strategy. A fundamental task of leadership at all levels in system reform is to create the conditions that allow people to be successful at what they are being asked to do” (p. 51).
 
Cultures Built to Last, while very short (less than 100 pages), is a powerful read and is well worth your time. Every page is full of ideas, challenges, and suggestions. This short video highlights the book. Additionally, the authors have also created a study guide that can be downloaded from the Solution Tree website. [permalink for this post]
 
 
Leaders & Teachers: Are you a Multiplier or a Depleter?
April 17, 2015 | Categories: Welcome Slideshow | Comments
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by Cathy Gassenheimer  I hope everyone who is reading this blog responded to its title in one of the following ways: Gosh, I hope Im a multiplier! Hmmmwhat is a multiplier? Im intrigued! I dont like the sound of depleter. Hope Im not one of those! Ive never been good at math! Actually, my initial reaction to an article titled Multiplying is More than MathIts Also Good Management, was closer to the last bullet. I was in my high North mode and scanning the latest issue of the Kappan Magazine w... [continue reading]
 
 
Leaders & Teachers: Are you a Multiplier or a Depleter?
April 17, 2015 | Comments
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by Cathy Gassenheimer  I hope everyone who is reading this blog responded to its title in one of the following ways: Gosh, I hope Im a multiplier! Hmmmwhat is a multiplier? Im intrigued! I dont like the sound of depleter. Hope Im not one of those! Ive never been good at math! Actually, my initial reaction to an article titled Multiplying is More than MathIts Also Good Management, was closer to the last bullet. I was in my high North mode and scanning the latest issue of the Kappan Magazine w... [continue reading]
 
 
What is Improvement Science and How Can It Support Our Work?
April 6, 2015 | Comments
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by Cathy Gassenheimer   I love The Marshall Memo a regular email from educator Kim Marshall summarizing some of the most interesting new education material published in a large collection of magazines, journals and websites that he follows. Books, too. He calls it "a weekly roundup of important ideas and research in K12 education."  It's not free (a single subscriber pays $50 a year or about $1 per issue; less for groups) but considering the amount of time and effort it takes to produce each we... [continue reading]
 
 
Humility and Exceptional Leadership: Excerpts from an Interview with Good to Great Author, Jim Collins
March 27, 2015 | Comments
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Well known for his work on recognizing and fostering transformational leadership for organizations, Jim Collins (author of Good to Great, among other titles) turns his attention to school leadership in his next project. Collins wanted to learn from exceptional school leaders who have had success in all types of different school environments and communities. In a recently published interview for Independent Schools magazine, Collins refers to education as the most compelling of the social sectors... [continue reading]
 
 
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