Take Time To Think

The bad news:  Coronavirus.  One possible positive side effect: time to think, reflect, and create. Watching the news is a drain on my energy and emotional state.  Since I am home and not on the road I have time to talk to friends, catch up on reading, and create new models that might help others learn. Time has allowed me to get my next book on learning cultures closer to reality.

Instead of watching the news all the time, I spend some time viewing the History Channel, CNBC at night, and the Food Channel.  As I reflect on the Food Channel and one other program, here are my thoughts ‘for what it’s worth’ (FWIW).

I keep thinking about the levels of intervention and change.  The Food Channel has pathways for me.  There is one other program that I will refer to at the end.

Level One

First, Guy’s Grocery Games.  Contestants are in a grocery store. There are makeshift kitchens set up in the store for the people to cook. Guy Fieri gives them a couple of ingredients they must use making a dish that will be judged by outside experts.  They have a limited time to run through the store, grab food, and run back to the preparation area.  They produce their product.

In schools, we have the technology, rooms, supplies, colleagues, etc.  The judges are the students and parents.  I think the most important judges are the professionals who work in the school and evaluate the strategies.  How did the strategies work?

Level Two

Second, Chopped.  Four participants show up in well-equipped kitchens with unlimited access to food, spices, etc.  The difference from Level One is the show determines four items that must be incorporated into the contestant’s dishes.  Each round someone is eliminated, sent home based on the evaluation of three judges.  It seems like authentic assessment to me.

In schools, even though we have buildings and supplies, the curriculum and standards are usually determined outside the control of the professional staff.  External judges are constantly giving feedback, usually in the form of test scores, to the educators.  Unfortunately, there are some disconnects between what business and life need to be successful and those making the curriculum decisions.

If the goal is content acquisition, technology is probably the answer.  However, schools teach a meta curriculum that we rarely talk about.  By the term meta curriculum I mean,  collaboration, creativity, embracing diversity, dealing with change, managing conflict, ongoing learning, etc.  Costa and Kallick’s Habits of Mind, Dweck’s Mindset, Duckworth’s Grit, Seligman’s Learned Optimism, and Jon Saphier’s The Skillful Teacher and High Expectations Teaching are great places to start.  All of the aforementioned have a research base and are abilities that Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc. are looking for in their employees (learning partners).

Level Three

Third, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.  These are sites all over the country of successful restaurants.  They are examples of strong vision by either a cook or owner, the result of a team of people committed to serving customers quality food and building a welcoming environment.  People are attracted to these sites.  Rarely have I ever heard of one of the featured restaurants spending lots of money on advertising.  They aren’t flashy but are focused on what they do and what they don’t do.  They survive and thrive on repeat customers.  Customers come there for the food and experience.

In schools, see Ted Dintersmith’s book What School Could Be.  Ted traveled to every state and found schools that were attracting, retaining, and teaching students by building a community while offering a relevant curriculum.  Tony Wagner’s work has provided many models for what a school could be starting with How Schools Change, Creating Innovators, Global Achievement Gap, and co-authored, with Ted Dintersmith, Most Likely to Succeed.  I can’t wait to read his newest book coming out in April, Learning by Heart.

In addition, Hargreaves and O’Connor’s book Collaborative Professionalism is a must-read to build the communities of learners we need in our schools. Hargreaves has been a leader for many years on how to help the professionals create energizing places for staff which in turn creates positive environments for students.  We can build schools for the future.  As I have quoted in the past, Angeles Arrien said, “If your job is waking up the dead, GET UP, TODAY IS A WORKDAY.”

Level Four

Fourth, Restaurant Impossible. Robert Irvine is called by restaurants that are failing.  Some are very close to closing their doors and the owners losing everything.  In some cases, owner-operators may be good cooks but do not have the management skills to put structures in place. Some just wanted to be in the restaurant business and had no idea at all of the knowledge and skills needed or how to implement them.  Many times the failing restaurants have a negative effect on personal relationships.  Most call Robert Irvine because they literally don’t know what to do. Robert can be hard and confrontational.  He is also committed to making the restaurant successful and continually says, “I’m here to help you.”  (He was more confrontational in the earlier years)

In schools, it is heartbreaking to see teachers, leaders, and support staff working their hardest and not seeing results. Yes, outside consultants can be helpful.  Here is a caveat: the adults in the building, the leaders in the district, and the students HAVE TO BE INVOLVED to make necessary changes.  In all the turnaround projects I have been part of, it takes an effort on everyone’s part.  It takes leadership.  It takes teacher leadership. It takes student leadership. And it takes community leadership.  There is no ‘silver bullet.’  This is hard work and not for the faint of heart.

I will now share what I have learned in over forty years in education:  If it isn’t working, try something else.  I honestly don’t know what else to say.  That is why it is important to have a wide repertoire of possibilities.  I never know what will be needed.  The book I am currently working on is how to create and sustain cultures of learning in schools by accelerating adult learning.

If nothing else works

Bar Rescue is on another channel.  John Taffer goes into bars and restaurants which are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, will probably close quickly, and the operation does not have the structures and leadership in place to change the direction of the business.  He uses abrasive language, is unyielding in his philosophy, and is more than direct.  I would not want to be on the other end of his conversations.  And, by the time he arrives, there are inappropriate behaviors on the part of the staff, the owner, and not much business left.  Families of the owners are also in shambles.  It is not a pretty sight and demands decisive actions.  Taffer is not afraid of putting everything on the line.

In schools, we have done reconstitution.  Although it is an option, I have not seen this work in districts where I have been.  Usually, the school has the same kids, the same parents, and the same location.  I have seen districts rename schools, try magnets, and other restructuring ideas.  What I have seen work is finally accepting the situation is unacceptable, finding out who will sign on to changing the situation, and moving toward implementation.  If that is not possible, create alternative schools with leaders and staff who can commit to another way of doing things.  Again, not easy work. Deep knowledge and skills are required.  School Rescue will not be easy but might be necessary. Kids’ lives are at stake.  Staff lives are at stake.  Our communities are at stake. GET UP, TODAY IS A WORKDAY