Why school leadership and student critical thinking need a desperate overhaul

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GRANT LICHTMAN: The need that we have recognized for at least two or three decades is rooted in a fundamental problem. The world is changing rapidly around us and the education system has not. This concept that the world is changing rapidly around us was largely a theoretical construct for most people around the world until about eight weeks ago. Suddenly, many people around the world understand the concept of exponential change. It’s not just about the exponential changes in technology, but there is a lot in the world around us in our economic, social, political and environmental systems that are experiencing this exponential rate of change. And now, with this pandemic, we know what that means. So what has driven education to change is this need to address different challenges in the world around us. Many complex systems in the past, when the world wasn’t moving so quickly, have had great success with kinds of traditional organizational structures that are largely vertical and largely hierarchical where a leader, a leader’s role is to say to the next group, the next hierarchy layer down what to do. They tell the next layer of the hierarchy what to do, et cetera. And that was typical of big business, the military, political systems. It is certainly typical of schools. The superintendent informs the directors. The directors inform the division heads. The heads of division inform the heads of departments. Department heads inform their faculty and the faculty then directs the students.

In times of rapid change, we know the system is not working. It just isn’t changing fast enough. Decisions are not made quickly enough. By the time a decision is made, the world has changed beyond us and we are living it today with the pandemic crisis. What has started to replace that are much more distributed leadership systems, where a good manager says to his faculty, “I’m not going to tell you everything you need to do. I trust you. I believe you. Work together, collaborate, try things. If it works well, we will continue. If that does not work, we will recognize the failure, we will repeat, we will modify the practice based on this experience. And that’s what we’ve seen explode over the past couple of months because we can’t control everything that’s going on in education right now. We had to allow our teachers and our students to take much more ownership of the direction from where they are. So if there is one element around leadership that has certainly helped these schools that have been able to transform in recent years, it is that leaders become change managers, not change directors. Since I started teaching, educators have told me that changing schools is like transforming an aircraft carrier. This metaphor has been drilled into us for decades. It’s a complex system and you can’t change it quickly and it’s like spinning an aircraft carrier.

Well guess what? Six weeks ago, every educator I know turned this aircraft carrier into a week, so we no longer have the right to default back to “We can’t do it because it’s taking too long.” “. Yes, we can make change quickly if we know we have to, if we have courage, if we take ownership of what we can control, if we allow others to take ownership of what they can control, and we connect and share what works. Our nation and our world have become increasingly divided in a way that transcends or even makes civil discourse in civil organizations very difficult. As educators and as parents, we should put enormous effort into helping our students understand things like the nature of truth, objective reality, who to listen to, what is the difference between an expert and a person. who just has a great social media feed? How can we empathize more with people who are unlike us and think unlike us? If we don’t get these things right, if we don’t get things like empathy and civil discourse and recognition of one another or recognition of shared objective truths around which form the foundation of civil society, everything else does not matter. Learn mathematics and a foreign language and read literature. None of this matters if we don’t answer these big questions correctly, and we haven’t focused much on them. I see people from all political walks of life making the same argument.

So, these are the things I want us to focus on. The socio-emotional well-being of our students, of our adults, our ability to understand the points of view of others and to have these civil discussions with each other. These are the big issues around which we must fight to help all the rest of our education make sense.


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