Growing Lilies in the Desert

“There I said it again,” is a song lyric that some of us mature (ok old) people know. That lyric resonated with me as I read Jon Saphier’s article, “Growing Lilies in the Desert”. In two previous posts Saphier is explicit and committed to a vision of what is possible. I hope some politicians and the public listen, understand and take action.

Over 20 years ago I heard Jon say he doesn’t work with schools/districts that won’t commit to the long term. I thought he was being mean. He was being honest, as most of us know from the money and time spent on staff development that have yielded minimal results. John’s comment about getting the culture right is important because leaders leave organizations and new ones come aboard. The schools and districts still have to produce for the community. If good processes aren’t embedded in the culture of the school, the tendency is to wait for the next messiah, wasting valuable time and accomplishing nothing.

This reminds me of Pfeffer and Sutton’s work, (2000) The Knowing-Doing Gap. We know lots of stuff about how to teach and the fact is we are not doing it. Saphier asserts (and I absolutely agree) we need processes in place which he believes can lead to learning, not credentialing.

Teacher and administrator preparation is one of the eight elements that sustains learning in schools. There are several critics out there about our preparation, induction, and development processes that lead to the skills necessary to promote staff and student learning. Yet, we tend to check off the list of courses needed to get the credential.   How about actual skill development and feedback from direct reports. (See Marshall Goldsmith’s work at for a process that works.)

A theme that is evident in Jon’s piece is culture. His previous piece here on “Good Seeds Grow in Strong Cultures” is excellent. There are many sources out there and learning doesn’t grow in toxic cultures. My friend and mentor Art Costa asked me 30 years ago, after we conducted a training, “Bill, as a principal, how are you creating a mentally stimulating environment for your teachers?” I responded, “I have to do that too?” Art went on to say, if you don’t create it for the staff, why do you think they will create it for the students. He was right. Enough said.

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