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An “old dog” plans “new tricks”…

based on…

A New Year always offers an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve been doing and, if not satisfied, resolve to do better. That’s why I’m applying that learning process here to the continuing development of this Sabusense website … I’m frustrated.  This cartoon captures one reason why.

…I’m an “old dog” trying to learn “new tricks.” And my “nagging thought” is how am I doing?  So I asked myself:

  • How far along are we in terms of its fundamental purposes?
  • What is different now than when we launched it?
  • And what, if anything, can we do about it now?

… this posting captures my “answers.”

The purposes haven’t changed…

Sabusense is intended as a response to an almost universally-felt – but seldom acknowledged — problem today. A glance at today’s news headlines reveals a common characteristic underlying the nature of the most critical economic, social, political, international problems that challenge the problem-solving abilities of policymakers, pundits and practitioners – they can’t make sense of the seemingly-disconnected events swirling around them.  They must respond to conditions that were unthinkable in the past, yet often lack a capacity to think about the unthinkable.

Some folks, when they call for “paradigm shifts” and ways to “get-out-of-the-box,” recognize that development of solutions that can respond to the actual complex nature of today’s problems requires thinking that can escape the paradigm prisons that keep us focused on what we believe is “possible.”

As the statement at the top of the Home page declares, supporting them is this site’s mission.  By:

(1) Helping people make sense of what they see and hear happening in today’s schools by offering then a different way-of-thinking about it; and then to offer ways

(2) To use that way-of-thinking.  Specifically,

–      to “connect-all-the-dots” — so they can make sense of a way-of-working together to develop the learning capacities of each and every child in a school system.

–      to tell the case-story of how the Montgomery County, MD Public Schools (MCPS) has actually been doing that …but in a way that challenges the prevailing beliefs that being able to “connect all the dots” to systemically address the learning needs of all children is an “impossible dream.”  That shows how its not just an idealistic visionary “hope” requiring time and resources schools do not have, and which will shift the focus of available resources from the urgency of the problems some children face today.

–      and to present that story in ways that focus on the body of systemic practices developed by MCPS  which demonstrate that the scale and nature of this systemic transformation is not only “possible” …but can be “probable” in any district setting.

…but their context has…

Several significant changes in the world we’re trying to influence require rethinking how to proceed to achieve those purposes. Both differences in the world “out there,” and differences in the world “in here” (I’ve changed — more about that later.)

Most relevant is that the school district that serves as the reality check on the ways-of-thinking embedded in this site, now can be formally “outed.”  We’ve purposefully downplayed its name until now to not lose the attention of those who might discount their efforts because of their demographics, the quality of the personnel they attract, or the belief that their success can be explained by the “Great Man/Woman” theory of leadership.

•      The  “outed” school system is the Montgomery County MD Public Schools (MCPS).  Until recently, it’s accomplishments – termed “miraculous” by some because they were unexpected in a district of that size, complexity and diversity — had been the subject of separate research by foundations and reform groups trying to understand and promote systemic change (among them – Panasonic, Annenberg, Stupski, Harvard Business School, American Productivity & Quality Center). Yet, their attempts to benchmark MCPS’ “What’s” and “How’s” have thus far not proven useful for the wider transfer of knowledge they had hoped for.  The otherwise-excellent content of their studies and reports (several are included in this site’s Resources section) seemed to lack a needed coherence that could connect all their “dots” and “results” to the common “Why” underlying the purposes of all schools.   One common reason: their Theories of Change lacked a “theory” that could explain the scope and nature of what was changing.

(See “In the Tangled Jungle of School Reform Harvard… and Sabu find a “Classroom” Teaching Different Lessons”)

But several months ago the means and the ends came together when MCPS received national acknowledgment for the ways they have been systemically achieving those unexpected results.  As a recipient of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the district was recognized for “performance excellence through innovation, improvement, and visionary leadership.” And as a finalist for the Broad Prize for Urban Education, they were identified as one of the five best large districts in the nation and honored for improving student performance while narrowing academic achievement gaps. No district had ever received both honors.

…Creating new problems … that raise new questions

Now the systemic nature of their success raises new problems and new questions in which urgency becomes a critical factor.

  • Questions for those on the national level who recognize the need for systemic reform that can start now, but still can’t find a way to do it.
  • Then questions for the MCPS itself… if their success is to be sustained after the current superintendent retires this year.
  • And finally new questions for me, because I need thinking partners interesting in engaging in a dialogue about ways to help mine the collective wisdom currently accessible in this district and community, and then how best to communicate it in ways that make sense.

New problem #1:  The MCPS example moves the oft-hoped for goal of “systemic change” from a someday possibility to body of knowledge that offers today’s leaders the greater certainty of probability — a belief in the likeliness that something can occur.

This is more than semantics. Few leaders of “whole systems” are willing to bet children’s survival on statistics and research about some effective “parts” of the system. That may be why the “What Works“ research on new “possibilities” is seldom sufficient to initiate systemic changes that in the process could put the “whole” at risk.

The MCPS experience, however, suggests that there are effective ways to develop the confidence and capacity needed for a community to support and sustain that risk-taking.

…New Questions:

Right now, there’s a unique body of critical knowledge in Montgomery County about the actual nature of systemic governance, leadership and management that I think of as their collective wisdom. Its value derives from its vertical depth from the classroom to the boardroom, its horizontal breadth across all professional and non-professional roles, and its practical base of experience-tested knowledge.

  • How can the collective wisdom developed in the system and community be tapped before it erodes?
  • How can this knowledge be generated and made understandable to those in government and foundations who today are putting major thought, effort and funding into more immediate systemic change and have no sense of how MCPS’ approach (a strategy that used the Baldrige process as a catalyst to change thinking) actually relates to their most pressing concerns?
  • How can the MCPS Baldrige award’s “significance” be leveraged when despite increasing pressures on schools for “change” … (1) there’s been a lack of interest by national reform leaders in Baldrige as a tool for re-forming school systems on-the-go. (2) Many education professionals who claim their concern is for the “kids” think of it as a “business” practice?

Ironically, Montgomery County demonstrates how Baldrige’s “power” actually lies in its capacity to make the work of child-focused teaching the school systems’ “business.” Clues to this nature were evident back in 2002 when an MCPS elementary principal and I attended the Baldrige annual Quest conference where the first school district got the award. Yet she found more to relate to with the “business” sector winners than education’s.  The latter, she thought, didn’t really “get” the nature of using Baldrige as a “way-of-thinking” for systemic change that was beginning to take hold in Montgomery County.

  • (3) And over the past several years there’s been a continuing decrease in superintendent and Board participation in this annual Quest conference which offers a valuable and unique learning experience where current and past awardees share their knowledge.

But not all school systems lost interest. Two years ago, like MCPS, the Iredell-Statesville NC Schools award winner also used the Baldrige process as a catalyst to develop a common way-of-thinking about the work of learning and teaching.

One of the products of that way-of-thinking in both districts was a development strategy that focused on structures that affect all students, and used the needs of some students as the initial focal point for the district’s continual learning/improving cycle.

In both cases that development created an aligned collaborative management structure that could support the sustainable growth in effectiveness of those across the system whose work impacts the processes of student learning. And that may be the reason, I believe, that both districts subsequently received federal Race-to-the-Top I-3 grants to nurture it.

  • And when (4) Proposed 2012 budget cutbacks are forcing the Baldrige program itself to rethink alternative strategies for support. Getting out of the “box” of their present view of Baldrige as a way to improve organizational performance (which it is) might be easier with an understanding of MCPS’ use of the process as a way to improve organizational thinking – the critical context required for creating and sustaining that organizational performance.
  • Who needs to hear these stories, and in ways that can help them learn from it?   What, if anything, can this site do to facilitate it?  Please share your thoughts…

New problem #2: The Montgomery County superintendent’s pre-announced retirement after 12 years, comes at a time of diminishing state and local resources. How can the community’s selection of a replacement be informed by an understanding of the nature of the connected system that must be sustained to continue holding it all together regardless of the quantity of resources?

Traditionally, superintendent turnover results in a “Throwing out the Babies with the Bathtub” condition. The neighboring Washington DC schools offer a continuing example. Every time they throw out a superintendent (seven of the “best and brightest” in the last decade) they also throw out the “bathtub” in which the community’s children (and their teachers) “swim” everyday.  That “bathtub” — the school district —  is the holding space that serves as the container of supportive processes and practices that keep people throughout the system “afloat” as they perform their daily work.

…New Questions:

  • How can the MCPS story serve to raise questions about the school district as “Bathtub” – the necessary systemic container created for a single purpose:  to develop and support the learning capacities of all the kids whose lives it touches

–and which, as a single connected system must hold everybody (the children and adults) and everything (what they do alone and together in managing learning and teaching) needed to achieve that purpose…

–and within which trust is the “water” that supports them – the medium that makes it possible to create and sustain over time the supportive relationships required to achieve their individual and collective purposes.

  • How can this collective wisdom be tapped before it drains out of the “bathtub?” Who needs to understand MCPS’ answers to those questions and how it relates to the requirements for the next superintendent? As Alice’s Cheshire Cat might point out: “If you don’t know what you Need… then any superintendent can get you there!”

What, if anything, can this site do to facilitate it? Please share your thoughts…

The internal context …. I’ve changed:

I’m one year older…  and as that cartoon suggested… an “old dog” trying to learn “new tricks.”  What were my old tricks, what did I learn from them, and what “new tricks” might help others also learn them?

My “old tricks” involved an learning-generating “process,” and two tools: Alice’s Looking Glass and The 20,000 ft. Memo

The process:  As described in more detail on the site at “Catching Them Doing Something Right,” my embedded “Worker/Lurker” role in the MCPS enabled me to

(1) generate information by continually seeking answers to two questions: What’s happening here? …and why? And then

(2) process that information by filtering the answers through a “different lens” that had the capacity to focus on how people function at a common biological level where the brain acts much like an “information pump” that, like a computer’s OS (Operating System), takes in information through the senses and delivers it to the mind’s “software.” (Serving a basic function similar to ways the lungs and the heart are the biological engines that “pump” two other nutrients a body needs for survival – air and blood.)

On this site we metaphorically call the lens Alice’s Looking Glass.  (It’s discussed “in depth” in several other places on the site, including  –  “Welcome Alice,” “Beam Me Up, Seymour and “Making Sense Through a Systemic Leadership and Management Lens)

The resulting “map” of MCPS’ common natural “territory” then served as one way to understand the common  why of what I was seeing, hearing and trying to make systemic sense of.

As a diagnostic tool it was like a CTscan or MRI of a “whole elephant” that showed not just the outer skin and all its visible external “parts,”  but at the same time the networks of (information-exchanging) connections beneath the surface that, by interconnecting all the “parts” (that the “Blind Men” are held individually accountable for) enable it to function, develop and survive as a whole.

The 20,000 ft. Memo has been one vehicle for “packaging” and sharing the systemic implications of the simple core principles the lens portrayed.  (Many of these can be found under “20,000 ft. Memos in this site’s Resources section, along with related articles and reports)

Over 12 years these “old tricks” generated significant take-away insights along the way about the processes of schooling and how to transform them.  But now as I review their possible significance I find myself dissatisfied and wondering whether there are some “new tricks” I might use to make them more accessible?

Why do I need “New Tricks” now?”

I’m frustrated. Especially after this year-end reflection on how far along we are in terms of Sabusense’s fundamental purpose to support re-thinking.

I suppose I should be satisfied just playing Copernicus by offering a different mental “map” so that “someday” there will be a paradigm shift based on a different belief about the scope and nature of a “system” …that had been there all along.  Or Galileo who offered a way of seeing the truth of Copernicus’ map without having to wait.

But I’m not. Missed opportunities for action “today” are at the roots of the frustration. On an almost daily basis I read or hear about current struggles between well-meaning adults who originally entered education to make a difference for children …and still believe that in their efforts they have children’s interest at heart.

Now, however, the major energy, time, and resources they devote to their often well-researched and even sensible approaches unfortunately can’t produce the systemic “answers” they hope for because of a flaw in their assumptions about the fundamental “question.” I used to find solace in humorist Josh Billing’s 19th Century observation about that flaw:

“It’s not people’s ignorance you need to fear…
it’s what they know which darn well ain’t true
…that causes all the problems

At least this wasn’t a “new” problem. Unfortunately that recognition didn’t help me deal with the reality that much of today’s passionate dialogue is ultimately meaningless because its based on assumptions that also …“ain’t true.”

And, in fact, is much like the condition Copernicus faced, when the “ain’t true” knowledge dealt with a core truth about the center or aligning point for “connecting all the dots” among the parts of the “system” people at the time tried to make sense of.

How could that still be a thinking problem?  Well recently, centuries after both Billings and Copernicus, a physicist raised the question of whether “truth” really matters if, by accident, it sometimes works?

(Ah-ha! Can this be one of the reasons why Einstein noted the insanity of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?)

The scientist had noted that the computer programs used by aeronautics engineers are all based on the Bernoulli principle of fluid mechanics – a theory that can’t explain why or how planes can do what they do.  (…with my underlining)

“Now here’s the significance. The computer programs used by aeronautics engineers all work… by accident. They do not describe what actually takes place in terms of the aerodynamics of flight.

Simply put, they are based on a relationship that is congruent with reality, but that isn’t what really allows this 757 that I am riding in as I write this to stay in the air.  The programs will continue to be used for the design of aircraft in the future because they work.  They’re just not true.”

….In principle, all of this is pretty simple. How many times have all of us thought we understood what was going on in a particular social situation? We observed from a distance, fabricating a framework of reason that made perfect sense, based upon a lifetime of experience. We KNEW why a certain person was doing what they were doing. It was internally consistent. Someone else had even suggested the same reason. We had lots of experience to back up our reasoning.

And then, we find out the truth. There was something we weren’t aware of or hadn’t thought of (someone was getting married the next day, had failed a test, was operating under the conventions of a different culture, etc.), that fundamentally changed your understanding of the whole rationale for the behavior.”

… Maybe significant chunks of what we believe, work… by accident. And if the external context changes, or we make new discoveries, we may have to quickly redesign our understanding of pieces of reality.

That may not be easy. Some people will find it hard to give up the old, familiar, comfortable paradigms. They’ll fight the change, defending the old ideas to the end.  Many will do it without even considering the possibility that they might be wrong.”

Now this seemed to capture one cause of my frustration. For the past five decades new educational approaches have been designed and implemented according to “Theories of Change” based upon assumptions about why things have worked in the past, without considering the possibility that they were “wrong.”

(Finding ways to challenge core beliefs and assumptions without making people feel “wrong” has always challenged me. — see THE TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES TEST: A Belief-changing Tool and Right Paradoxes, Wrong Paradigm: Thinking about Getting it ‘Right’ from now on)

But now there is new urgency to the challenge because at all levels of the society we seem caught up in a condition best characterized by the author Walker Percy as “an age of not knowing what to do.” And because the immediate conditions causing the major economic, international and social problems on the plates of leaders today were unthinkable less than a decade ago, “knowing what to do” today requires a capacity for thinking about the unthinkable.

•      Adding to this frustration have been some personal learnings the “old tricks” generated. In particular, since I’m still an “old dog” I’d like to focus my remaining energies on a role I seem do best – serve as a “thinking partner” to those have to respond to today’s urgencies.   But, on what should I focus, and who needs to be engaged?

Challenges requiring “new tricks”

•     Making the unthinkable thinkable

At first I figured that Steven Covey’s advice should help me here. He noted that since all the problems, challenges, and opportunities we face fall into two areas, that’s where we should focus our time and energy:  Our Circle of Concern (things over which we have little or no control) and our Circle of Influence (things we can do something about).

But for me that creates a tension rather than a simple “either/or” choice. For a “big picture” thinker it’s hard to shrink my 20,000 Ft. Circle of Concern since that serves as context for the specific factors in my Circle of Influence that I want to do something about.  That’s because when I focus my “big picture” lens on the on-the-ground needs of those dealing with every day’s “smaller picture,” it reveals that the fundamental problem limiting their daily effectiveness is a personal “big picture” deeply embedded in the thinking that shapes their actions.

This unquestioned “big picture,” which theorists and scientists call a paradigm or mental model, is formed by beliefs about what we think we see happening in schools that seem to work…  but which, as noted above, “ain’t true.” Practices often may be working for other reasons, not because they have at their core a fundamental natural ”truth.”

This condition is so deeply embedded that few people even notice it when truth-tellers such as Peter Senge and Larry Cuban think the “unthinkable” and note its consequences:

Many confronting the deeper nature of our problems cry out that the solution lies in ‘fixing education.’  But you cannot ‘fix’ a structure that was never designed for learning in the first place.” — Peter Senge

Schools not “designed for learning”… unthinkable.

“Teaching is impossible, yet teachers teach. Expected to give individual attention to EACH child, the teacher knows that it can’t be done.” — Larry Cuban (when he was superintendent of the Arlington VA schools in the 70’s.)

Teachers coming to work each day “knowing” that what is expected of them, and which they want to do, is “impossible” … unthinkable.

•      New tricks needed for a new medium.

I’ve often been criticized for the nature of the ways I’ve communicated over the years (and many times still do) – too abstract, too directive, all head/no heart, very few personal stories, and “keep it simple, stupid.”  Eventually, they force one to consider why.

Having spent a career “pushing out” information through print, film and video where “space” and “time” provide boundaries that force editing decisions, I’ve been trying to learn how to use this virtual medium that lacks “those” limits, but has a more important one.

With the old “push” media, I had to jam as much content as possible into each one because I might not have another chance. (You’ll find many of the documents in the site’s Resource area reflect that approach.)

But now, with a medium from which users control what they want to “pull,” the content first has to engage the reader’s mind. After that, the potential for subsequent interaction can provide the platform for offering additional, and more reader-relevant, “content.”

As I look now at this site’s 18 or so blog postings over the past 2 years, It seems evident that I still haven’t mastered that process. My “new tricks” must include ways to make them shorter, more frequent, and more timely. (Note: This posting isn’t one of those “short” ones.)

•       Bridges needed between Theory and Practice.

Moreover, as a “big picture” thinker I seem to suffer from a dual disability.  I noted in How was this site’s knowledge created? my work place has always been somewhere between theory and practice.  On one side, I engaged with on-the-ground practitioners who knew I lacked the credentials and experience to be one of them, and at the same time, I had relationships with many of the academics and thinkers about that “ground” who may have known I lacked the credentials or degrees to be one of them.

Nevertheless, over time, I was encouraged that some in both camps found the ideas meaningful regardless of my experience and “credentials.” In both workspaces I found that because my way-of-seeing and thinking had become my sense-making paradigm — my frame for understanding — I was perceived as a big picture person who primarily could add value to the thinking of those who had the time to think and re-think before they acted or urged others to act.

Unfortunately, because I’ve mostly worked for foundations, government agencies or practitioner associations that were trying to change current practice, I increasingly noted that I wasn’t always helping those on-the-line practitioners to whom we entrust our children every day.  Their frequent (and as I ultimately found, natural) response: “…but what do we do on Monday?” (see From Mental Models to Monday Morning)

It wasn’t until I had the opportunity over the past 12 years to be an embedded observer in the operational reality of a large school district– where every day is a Monday — that I could fully use this way of making sense to “see” and understand the continual interaction of theory and action, of method and mindset, and of will and way that most influences what happens to children every day.

And along with it, the critical need for “bridges” in the work to support the interactive nature of those “ands.” (Interestingly, the Sufi, whose Blind Men/Elephant parable serves as this site’s organizing metaphor, had another saying that goes to the nature of the “blindness” of those who can only see tangible “parts.”

You think you understand one.
You think you understand two, because one and one make two.
But, you must also understand “and.”

From that dual perspective I began to backmap  the district’s “bridge-building” process by using the lens to track actual changes in the ways people think about schools and the work of schooling, their roles in it, and their beliefs in their own capacities to make a difference for children. And as I did that, I could observe and track the key role of the system’s leaders in building that learning process into the work.

Most important, in terms of the needs of others who also manage Mondays and need to bridge that theory-practice gap, there was now a developing base of documented systemic results-producing processes and practices that create the dot-connecting “Ands” between a purposeful work organization and the purposeful people who do its work.

  • How can the story of MCPS’ experiences developing the important “What’s” and “How’s” of integrated practice be told in the context of the “Why”-answering  theories that served to align and make sense of their dot connecting?

My proposed “New Tricks”

My “old trick” involved serving as a clone of Seymour Sarason’s famous Martian (Beam Me Up, Seymour) hovering 20,000 feet above a school who couldn’t understand what the creatures below him were saying, and therefore tried to understand what was going on just by observing their regular actions. It’s purpose: to raise questions for the reader – not just about why people would do things like that… but then, without thinking, regularly continue to do them?

Now with this new medium I intend my new tricks to continue to support that role by using this site’s two capacities:

1) a central blog area intended to focus on current concerns and engage discussion about them, and

2) a homepage, that serves as a linked storehouse for much of the knowledge that can serve as supporting context for the discussions

…and in ways that give an “old’ dog” the personal and professional flexibility that the old “push” media didn’t – i.e., the freedom to rant and rave… with an immediate capacity to link it to reasons justifying them (without going through academic formalities like footnotes, etc.) In fact, for those who might question the validity of my future rantings and ravings, I’ll refer them to this posting to find the reasons.

Several of the “new tricks will use Alice’s Looking Glass to generate shorter, more frequent, and more timely blog postings. These will be linked to ”longer” “20,000 ft. Memos that capture the “big picture” consequences and will be in appropriate areas on the home page.  Some proposed examples.

•       “EdWeek” …through Alice’e Looking Glass , The “Answer Sheet” …through Alice’e Looking Glass,  “Class Struggle”through Alice’e Looking Glass

I’m a big fan and occasional contributor to the weekly national publication, Education Week. (In fact they included something I wrote in their 25th anniversary publication “The Last Word:” The Best Commentary and Controversy in American Education.”)  I’m also a fan of the Washington Post’s two education bloggers who struggle weekly to make sense many times of the same educational conditions, but from differing perspectives. (see Making Sense of “Nonsense”).

But each week, as a prisoner of my Alice’s Looking Glass way-of-thinking, one or more articles frustrate me.  Parts of the arguments “make sense” to me because the reflect core natural “truths,” and the parts that don’t make sense usually are based on “unquestioned” beliefs that “ain’t true.”

That’s why the problems being posed and the solutions being offered can’t in the end have their intended effects. And why over the past decades the problems ailing our schools and the ideas for fixing them haven’t really changed. The controversies go on… and whatever “works,” apparently doesn’t for long.

For my own immediate frustration-relieving psychological health therefore, I’m going to offer, via periodic postings, a different perspective on the current news in education as viewed through Alice’s Looking Glass… and use it to raise different questions that might stimulate re-thinking.

•      Barking Dogs… not being heard

A 2nd “new trick” — an occasional series of blog postings under the heading  – Barking Dogs… not being heard —  also will focus on asking different questions – but this time on the ones we strangely don’t ask.

This requires switching my favorite animal metaphor from an elephant to a dog to take advantage of how Sherlock Holmes dealt with dilemmas like ours today where none of the answers to what seems to be the problem make sense, and produce, as Diane Ravitch complains, feelings of “insanity.”

In one famous story Holmes noted something there all along that wasn’t being noticed — a “dog” that didn’t bark.” An “X-factor,” or as lawyers say, “facts not in evidence.” And he asked, “Why?”

Those who may have explored the Sabusense site know that our central hypothesis is that

1) there is a “fact not in evidence” — something missing in the way we understand the “problem”— that’s keeping us from making sense of it’s most critical factors.

2) we suggests what that “x-factor” is, and

3) offer examples of how the scope and nature of the problem changes when it is factored in.

The intention, as noted at the top of the home page, is to offer a different way-of-thinking based on that view to serve as an alternative “box” within which to “connect-the-dots.”  Then within it, raise the questions “not being asked,” and point to where the answers might be found in the experiences of MCPS and others .

Our major challenge in this series of postings differs from Holmes’ whose solution addressed only why a “dog” wasn’t barking. Today the “dogs” are, and have been barking for a long time… but are not heard …and few are asking why we don’t (or can’t) hear them.

These Barking Dog postings will use that understanding to focus on issues currently the subject of passionate debate. And at a time when public dialogue and personal conversations seem to create polarization by focusing on the ways things are different, we’ll try to provide a way to see how they are the same… and natural. And use that to align what we see to a different center point that offers another way to make sense similar to what Copernicus and Galileo could have used – a way to see the solar system as one would see it if it were possible to stand on the sun and notice the movement and relationships of the planets from that orientation.  (As an example, see “The One Thing! …a simple  proposal.”

One early posting in this series will  raise questions about Bill Gates current approach to “reform” by pointing out the “barking dog” that he isn’t hearing in his well-funded, well-intended, — but guaranteed to fail in its intended purpose —  approach to systemic improvement.

•      “YOU are HERE!” — 20,000 ft. Thought experiments

I always look for one of those “YOU are HERE!” signs with their red arrows when I’m in strange place because it at least gives me a better chance to see where I am in the context of where I want to go, and what my possibilities might be for getting there.

Similarly, while leaders often are judged by their visions of the future at the “end of the tunnel,” it’s the nature of their vision at the “here end of the tunnel” that is a more important factor in their getting to that other end.  They need “maps” that can encompass both “ends,” because as John Dewey pointed out:

We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future. This is the only preparation which in the long run amounts to anything.”

These thought experiments will offer ways to extract “full meanings” from the present territory “at this end of the tunnel” where each day’s journey must start.

“New Tricks” …needing Thinking Partners

•      Tapping and Distilling the Collective Wisdom

Many of the answers that researchers have been trying to capture, and which current policy makers need, are still embedded in the MCPS staff’s and community’s collective wisdom.

What role can this site play in surfacing that collective wisdom before it erodes?

How can it be used to raise the questions that will tap their unique experience-based knowledge of what’s involved in functioning systemically?

Among the examples of collective wisdom already there that needs to be surfaced and made functional are

—  new insights on the intertwined systemic roles of the CEO (superintendent), the CAO (chief academic officer), and the COO (chief operating officer) that have direct implications for leadership development and support strategies.  And

— how to develop a supporting scaffold over the district’s work that enables a community of learners to simultaneously function as a learning community.

One final 20,000 Ft. reflection… No pain… no gain!

Going through this rethinking process of my own reminds me that while thinking is a natural process, re-thinking isn’t…and in fact, as we stress on this Homepage’s Surgeon General’s Warning, it can “make your head hurt.”

And I realize now even more how much I owe my pain to two culture-busting organizations that have given me the supportive encouragement to initiate and continue to develop Sabusense.

One, the Plexus Institute, whose mission is to foster the health of individuals, families, communities, organizations, and our natural environment by helping people understand and use the common “simple rules” emerging from the new science of complexity.

And the other, the InThinking Network,
supported by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, that believes that “inthinking,” — thinking about thinking— can allow people to better perceive relationships and interdependencies in human endeavors, and consequently act to make those endeavors more valuable, more satisfying, and more joyful.

I guess it’s true: No pain… no gain!


Comment from Janet
Time March 9, 2011 at 11:36 am

The summary above helped me connect some dots that are part of the patterns in Sabusense, but that I somehow missed seeing so clearly before. I’m wondering if examination of a much smaller system in another sector (non-education) might be an interesting test-bed for you. Something of a thinking experiment to develop approaches that may work for the school system (?) If this may be of interest or may be helpful, let’s talk more! Regardless, I’m interested in collaborating with you on the effort you describe above.

Comment from Jay Mathews
Time March 23, 2011 at 11:10 am

Wow. Such depth and erudition. You must make sure the new MCPS super gets at copy. If he or she reads it, that is a good sign. If not, well, you tried, and the rest of us learned a lot.

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