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Leading to Reform: January 20

This Week’s letter highlights A+ leaders who lead and manage, celebrity leadership, valuing teachers, and hiring practices that lead to success or failure. As always, we link to an array of columns and pieces spanning the ideological spectrum on leadership and reform -- most of those links now come from reader suggestions.

Making the Grade in Leadership and Management
Leadership and management skills are important traits to guide schools, especially during these challenging times. Sadly, these traits are often in short supply and most CEO’s, principals or superintendents struggle balancing management and leadership. Here’s how it generally breaks down:
  • Grade A are leaders are both.
  • Grade B leaders are usually one or the other.
  • Grade C leaders aren’t either.
High-performing schools are understaffed and need “Grade A” players. Great schools have leaders and managers in the same person. Strong leaders welcome people whom question and even work against one – within limits. They know that these A players can be pushed.

Weak, unsure leaders punish and plot against a staff that question, work independently, and get results. Grade A players can’t tolerate C players. They work to get them replaced. A leader who is spending time looking over their shoulders thinking they are leading when they take pride in being disciplinarians are instead relying on their declining power and authority.

Great school leaders manage and lead. Average lead or manage. Weak ones lurch from crisis to crisis, usually of their own making trying to save their jobs and creating a culture of discipline rather than high expectations and student learning. Who is running your school? An Grade A player, a Grade B player or worse?
Learn More...

Celebrity Leadership Accelerates Education Reform
The Washington Post recently published quite an article on Michelle Rhee. It is clear her work is gathering momentum because it is taking fire. As I always like to say, if you aren’t taking fire in leadership, you aren’t doing your job.

Rhee has created a political organization,
StudentsFirst, which gives her a national platform. In just six years, she has rocketed from obscurity to the kind of fame that turns heads at the airport.

“There is no one else in this space who can command attention like she can,” said Andrew J. Rotherham, a former Clinton administration official who now runs Bellwether Education, a nonprofit group that works to improve education for low-income students. “She has star power. People in the business call it a Q score. . . . For an issue like education, definitely a second-tier issue, that’s no small thing.”

Rhee embodies one extreme in the debate over public education. She believes that every child can achieve, regardless of conditions such as poverty, broken homes, underfunded schools. In her view, the main obstacles are weak teachers, bloated bureaucracies, and union contracts. She is driven by data, convinced that learning and teaching can be measured with as much certainty as a dieter tracks progress on a bathroom scale.

Her agenda has provoked aggressive pushback from teachers unions and many progressives, who say that social factors have a profound impact on children and that Rhee’s policies unfairly scapegoat teachers. What is important is that she is raising the questions, taking the heat and bringing it for children and the future.

Without Teachers, The Classroom is Just a Space
Melinda Gates recently posted on how important teachers are and the relationships they can establish with youth. The best thinking in education strategy in recent years has centered on helping teachers do their best work.

Gates starts with a basic question: What does great teaching look like? Gates worked with 3,000 teachers from across the country that volunteered to be part of a research project. The results from that work, Gates is calling
Measures of Effective Teaching (MET). It found that effective teaching could be measured using multiple measures that teachers can trust. Watch the video below or click here to learn more…

What Do We Do Now with Teacher Contracts?
Milwaukee Magazine writes about the recent changes and challenges in Wisconsin’s Education. Reforms continue with teacher unions and school leaders struggling to make sense of what to do with collective bargaining. Most districts are pleading they have empty pockets. However, it is clear that unions have bargaining chips and can win some concessions – just like in the old days.

The ink was barely dry on a state judge’s decision to strike down much of Wisconsin’s new collective bargaining law. This was on the heels of a federal court decision that also struck down some of the same provisions. Peter Davis, chief legal counsel for the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC), took the microphone at the Wisconsin School Law Seminar in October and looked out at the perplexed school board members and administrators.

What did the decisions by Federal Judge Conley and State Judge Colas mean for collective bargaining? Were school officials to follow the original intent of Act 10, which struck down most of collective bargaining? Was the federal court decision more important than the state court decision? Was Act 10 totally dead?

In fact, if you read this article, school leaders and union leaders can find opportunity – if they have the courage to lead and put the needs of kids first. Most districts will say, we just don’t have the money and look for a way to blame the state or the law, or the uncertainty, when in fact they do have the authority and the responsibility.

What is your District doing with ACT TEN two years later? Is there any leadership happening in your school?

Do You Hire Who You Like?
Finding a successful employee is not an exact science, but it’s one of the key arts of management. Hiring the wrong person is an expensive mistake. And, yes, many of the candidates who apply for the elite jobs have had superior educations and worked really hard; that’s what gets them into the room. So what’s the secret sauce?

As Rivera puts it in the study, “Employers sought candidates who were not only competent but also culturally similar to themselves.”

This is not so surprising; a school’s culture is important. Its how one organization differentiates itself from another, how it goes about its mission and determines who will be its leaders. But sometimes, Rivera argues, this was more important than ability. “Concerns about shared culture …often outweighed concerns about productivity alone,” she writes in the study. This was not necessarily a race thing or a gender thing, both cultural categorizations that have been extensively studied. This is more about an elusive quality known as fit. Too often inexperienced people hiring professionals hire someone that mirrors them, their strengths and their insecurities.

And that is where they botch it all up…. then wonder, how in the heck did we get in this mess. Learn More...

Articles for the Week:

"Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't." -- Margaret Thatcher

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