Spotlighting Assumptions In School Strategic Planning
January 18, 2004
Our schools are a most important component in our community and in the life of most of us. In fact, they are essential community institutions and we respect their heavy burden of responsibility. Indeed, schools are a part of the furniture of most every local community and they are historically rooted therein.
There are some that may take our schools for granted as the highways we travel, the stores in which shop or the restaurants that in which we gather to have a meal. Yet the fundamental features of schooling, the methods of instruction, the rewards system, the testing practices, the school's aims and its culture-all have an influential impact. They impact is felt as to how youth come to think about knowledge and work, how they regard success, what they consider important, and how they see their place in society. In fact, the institution we have come to know as "school" teaches by ITS very nature and that is just the way it is.
Given the impact that schools have on the youth of today, it seems appropriate to examine several essential questionable assumptions.... two of which we speak of in this column (we will write on the others later). These assumptions have often been taken for granted about schooling. In fact, they are the very key assumptions we often use to guide the major development of education public policy. The first assumption in question is: The aim of schooling is to get all students academically to the same place at about the same time. And the second: Artistry in teaching is basically the absence of scientifically grounded knowledge about teaching.
Often it is assumed that the aim of schooling is to get all students of the same age to the same place at about the same time. Schools are sometimes likened to the public transposition system. Students are to get aboard as 5-or-6 year-olds and, when teaching and learning go well, to arrive at a relatively common destination by the time they're 18. Good schools, in our view, do not expect all students to arrive at the same destination at the same time; indeed, it provides conditions in which variability among students is recognized and nurtured. What we ought to be doing in schools is increasing the variance in student performance while escalating the mean. The virtue of recognizing the variability among students is that it promotes self-actualization by enabling students to play to their strengths while at the same time strengthening their areas of need.
We believe that any practice at its best is an artistically crafted affair. Artistry in teaching represents the highest level of teaching performance. Good teachers apply artistically the fruits of researched-based education as well as the scientific principles of learning. Teachers as artists are sensitive to the tempo of the classroom, to matters of timing and to the quality of their own performance, which can be shaped to be appropriate for the occasion and for each individual student. And therein are the main tenants of the artistry of teaching.
Schools have demonstrated themselves to be robust institution, something like giant gyroscopes that, when pushed, accommodate the push and come back to their upright position. We believe that institutional planning works best when one thinks big but starts small. We believe that comprehensive planning or strategic planning can result in undertaking incremental efforts toward the realization of a plan with realistic productive options. Strategic planning addresses the problematic assumptions that may very well be less then reliable. Too many planning efforts at school reform are short lived and lead to no real reform at all. By analyzing and researching questionable assumptions and planning accordingly, we put ourselves in a position to create a far more reliable vision of what school might very well become. And that is, indeed, a productively realistic outcome of strategic planning. As consultants in strategic planning with schools, we have seen some of the best of creative possibilities for our students. And that is the way we see it FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE.