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Welcome Alice!

Alice in Wonderland

Possibly forgotten by many who only know Alice from her “Adventures in Wonderland” is that her learning adventures didn’t end there.

Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll in 1871 wrote a sequel — Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.

This time, instead of falling through a rabbit hole to find a world where many of the truths of the real world took on different forms, Carroll used a mirror as a portal through which he could present a different view of reality – one that also could expose truths that weren’t obvious before.

Carroll wasn’t the only one to recognize that the way we see profoundly influences the way we think because it directly shapes what we believe.  Others have addressed the same thinking problem… in the same way.

“To raise new questions, new possibilities,
to regard old problems from a new angle
… marks real advances in science.” –
Albert Einstein

“One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.” – Henry Miller

“Opportunities to do new exciting, rewarding things are all around us
… but if we don’t look for them we don’t see them
…and if we don’t see them then its as if they never existed.
They only come into being when we see them.”

– David Gurteen, Knowledge Educator

“…America already knows enough to fundamentally change the ways schools function.
The problem, instead, … is that our society needs to look at its schools through a different lens.  …Without a sense of the whole, we end up with what has become a familiar cycle of patchwork improvement and disappointmen
Using What We Have to Get the Schools We Need:
A Productivity Focus for American Education,
The Consortium on Productivity in the Schools, 1996.

“And today that “familiar cycle of patchwork improvement and disappointment” seems to have become part of the accepted culture.  Even President Obama’s principal education advisor, Linda Darling-Hammond,  sees it as

“a kind of Alice in Wonderland world in which people ultimately begin to nod blithely at the inevitability of incompatible events — a world in which educators cease to try to make sense of their environment for themselves as professionals or for their students.
They have to explain the procedures and policies that students encounter only in terms of what some faceless, external, and presumably non-rational “they” say we have to do.”

This is why this site is purposefully structured around a different portal or window (referred to here as a “lens”) that, like Alice’s Looking Glass, surfaces and reveals a level of system-connectedness that can raise different questions and then point to potential answers already “in the room.”

In particular, it will be used to observe a specific “room” – a 140,000-student school district – producing systemic “results” that researchers and foundations can “see”, and continue to label “unexpected” and “miracles.”  Through it you may see unfold a story of how the learning community that is today producing those results required first a way to deal with another reality — they already were a community of learners.  Individuals, at all levels, whose work had lacked ways to continually, feed and tap into that natural process.

The context, nature and scientific grounding of that lens can be found embedded beneath the “buttons” on the Home page. For shorthand purposes in future blog postings, the specific tool at– Making Sense Through a Systemic Leadership and Management Lens — we will just call “Alice’s Looking Glass.

As the Surgeon General’s Warning semi-humorously suggests, thinking about what we may not usually think about isn’t always easy… and may make one’s “head hurt.”  Because the nature of this website’s content may appear to challenge prevailing assumptions and beliefs, we’ve addressed that condition in two ways:  through use of metaphors and analogies, and application of the principle of “simplicity on the other side of complexity.” (See Making Sense through Metaphors)

Furthermore, the information included at this site is based on two beliefs:

(1) That it is at this level where we’ll find the already embedded roots of natural “dot-connecting” answers to the complex problems that schools face today.[2] and

(2) Our belief is that the “answers” that grow from those natural roots will be the products of asking different questions.

In structuring this website’s question-asking purpose and approach we’ve chosen a Blog format to support the mutual learning interactions required to make this a true thinking partnership.

…and we look forward to your participation.

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Einstein


[1]   Actually I had described it in a US Dept. of Education report – The Communication of Experience: A Guidebook for the Management of Information in the 1980’s and used it as part of training for the Teacher Corps.

[2] And while this may seem to be a helpful way to address a perceptual condition, its scientific base can be found in the biology of cognition as articulated by Humberto Maturana.  To better understand its value, see: “An Introduction to Maturana’s Biology” by Lloyd Fell and David Russell and “Maturana’s Biology and Some Possible Implications for Education” by Joy Murray. Both in Seized by Agreement, Swamped by Understanding, Lloyd Fell, David Russell & Alan Stewart (eds)


Comment from Leon Lessinger
Time March 20, 2009 at 10:00 am

I sure like what I see on your site! Topics are on target! I hope many in leadership positions especially, find what you are doing. My best to you. Leon

Comment from Mary Doherty
Time May 24, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Thanks so much for the insight and care you give your website, Lew. I find much of real value in what you have posted. Keep up the good work. Peace, Mary Doherty

Comment from admin
Time May 26, 2009 at 4:35 am

Mary – I appreciate your response and want to add the thought that “keeping up the good work” will depend upon you and others who find their thinking challenged and/or validated. I hope we can use the site’s central blog area to support dialogue that will further our mutual thinking and learning.

For example, I’d be interested in what you found of value and why? How it relates to your work?

And, what doesn’t make sense?


Comment from Ed Wade
Time June 11, 2009 at 9:01 pm

I am enjoying the site very much. It does make my head hurt. Similar to the feeling I get listening to the audio recording of your session on In2In.
I noticed a article today in WSJ about the school district you have studied/worked within. Any comments on the article with regards to the quantity of testing in the district ?
Thanks for all you are sharing.
Ed Wade

Comment from admin
Time July 11, 2009 at 10:51 am

Ed –
About a month ago you asked me to comment on a Wall Street Journal article about the school district whose experiences over the past 10 years have fed this site’s knowledge development. (“Data-Driven Schools See Rising Scores” by John Hechinger.

So why should it be taking me this long to respond to what seems like your simple request?

As I reflect on the lines I highlighted when I first read the article, and then my initial notes for my anticipated timely response, I realize that I’m caught up in the very problem that caused me to develop the “head-hurting” In2In Thoughtpiece and then the website.

    Mental models framing organizational maps that don’t reflect the territory being navigated.

In fact, as I read Hechinger’s excellent article Copernicus’ complaint came to mind. In 1543 he wrote to Pope Paul III about the mental maps of the universe being used at the time:

“… it is as though an artist were to gather the hands, feet, head and other members for his images from diverse models, each part excellently drawn, but not related to a single body, and since they in no way match each other, the result would be a monster rather than a man.”

Because of Alice’s Looking Glass — the “lens” through which this site’s knowledge has been filtered — my perspective on the diverse views captured in Hechinger’s interviews kept them in the context of a school system’s unique role as the creator and exchange-facilitator of the information it and its workers require in order to make a difference for each child.

So as I read the comments of MCPS staff, parents, professors, government officials, etc. (all people who care about children, want schools to meet their needs, and personally want to make a difference in their lives) it seemed as if they were not looking at the same “elephant.”

Why is that important? Because, as the article points out, the new administration sees it as a national model.

“It received a huge boost from President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan….The Obama economic stimulus plan provides $100 billion for schools over the next two years, almost doubling the federal education budget. To qualify for much of the money, states will have to provide data showing progress in student achievement — giving the edge to districts such as Montgomery that already have systems in place.
Because of the new incentives, systems similar to Montgomery’s are expected to spread around the country.

And that means the question that must be asked is: Model of what?
If you are interested, read the article and see if there you find a coherent model there. That’s why I thought about its relevance to the pieces of Copernicus’ “monster.” As an example, for some this district’s story seemed to be about:
• Using Data Systems

— It’s title was: “Data-Driven Schools See Rising Scores”

“It is at the vanguard of what is known as the “data-driven” movement in U.S. education — an approach that builds on the heavy testing of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law.

— “Mr. Duncan says Montgomery is a model in using data to spur improvement. “They’re doing a tremendous amount right,” the education secretary says, noting that the system is one of only a handful in the nation that tracks the college completion rate of its graduates. Montgomery’s data system should be “the norm, not the exception,” he says”

— “A look at the district’s experience reveals the promise and potential pitfalls of the data-driven approach.”

• Technology

…a “high-tech strategy,”
…”$47 million a year on spent on technology”

…”Parents Coalition questions the millions of dollars spent on technology that shortchanged gifted students and those with disabilities. “

Testing (your original question)
— “The parents also complain that the frequent use of standardized tests, beginning in grade school, stifles creativity and is crowding out the arts.”

— “Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, …says school districts like Montgomery risk neglecting broader holistic measures of critical thinking that can’t easily be tracked on a database. ‘Education is narrowed to little more than a test,’ he says.”

— …” a visiting professor at the University of Maryland, says “the amount of testing is really excessive” in Montgomery schools. “And if teachers aren’t testing, they are preparing kids for testing.” She believes that elementary-school children in the district should spend more time on projects and creative work and less time drilling.”

    Minority achievement:

— “Attacking the Achievement Gap. Montgomery County has made progress in improving the lagging academic performance of African-American and Hispanic students”

• Or are Data-Driven Schools really about an information-Driven Schooling process that develops and make accessible the information people need when they need it so they can make a difference?

— “Using district-issued Palm Pilots, for instance, teachers can pull up detailed snapshots of each student’s progress on tests and other measures of proficiency.”

–…” uses intensified assessments and the real-time collection of test scores, grades and other data to identify problems and speed up interventions,”

— “ At the county school system’s Office of Shared Accountability, 40 employees generate reports on such indicators as how many students take algebra in middle school or the SAT in high school.
Principals, in turn, study schoolwide reports from the district’s databanks to detect patterns of failing grades. Alerts of flagging performance come from Edline and another data-tracking system modeled after one used by the New York City police.
The warnings, often sent via email, can spark immediate action, such as after-school tutoring, study sessions and meetings with families.”

— “Montgomery has also succeeded in pushing more students to take rigorous AP classes, an important factor in admissions at selective colleges. A computer system, using scores on Preliminary SAT admissions tests, flags students, often minorities, who have academic gifts but aren’t enrolled in challenging courses. Principals and teachers then encourage those children to sign up.”

So Ed, what’s kept me from responding sooner has been frustration caused by seeing a critical national need (Obama’s right), and at the same time, a way to address it (an approach unfolding in MCPS) that requires a different mental model in order to perceive it as the core infrastructure of a coherent effective system.

Maybe that’s something we might blog about here. I’ve found that the mental model offered by Alice’s Looking Glass makes it easier to understand the relational uses of technology as people-connectors. And data and information as the nutrients flowing through it to support individual and organizational success.
… but then again, it might just make your head hurt more 🙁

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