Note: This continues my series of take-aways from Philip Schlechty's work, Leading for Learning. Chapter 4 is about "Bureaucratic Images of Schools."
|Source: Schlechty Center Tools for Change Images of School (free download)|
- This chapter employs some guiding metaphors--best represented in the informative chart above--for what schools look like, including the following:
- The school as factory
- The school as professional service delivery organization
- The school as warehouse
- The school as prison
- The school as learning organization
- For the school as learning organization, the superordinate goal is to provide students with engaging tasks that result in their learning those things of most value to themselves, their parents and the larger society. The core business is designing engaging work for students that calls on them to complete intellectually demanding tasks and leading students in the successful completion of these tasks so that they learn those things it is intended that they learn.
- In bureaucratic accountability systems in which schools must often participate, the leaders of even very good schools sometimes feel compelled to focus on test scores to prove that their autonomy from the bureaucratic structures is deserved.
A quick reflection: In my experiences, most school systems share that their primary goals are those of a learning organization. However, that's not usually the case in practice. I'm reminded of Chris Argryis' "espoused theory" vs "theory in use." It reminds me of a fancy way of asking, "Do you walk your talk?"
- Espoused Theory: The words we use to convey what we do, or what we would like others to think we do is called espoused theory. The espoused theory of action for that situation is the answer he usually gives when someone is asked how he would behave under certain circumstances. This is the theory of action to which he gives allegiance, and which, upon request, he communicates to others.
Theory-in-use: The theory that actually governs his actions is his theory-in-use. They govern actual behaviour and tend to be tacit structures. Their relation to action, 'is like the relation of grammar-in-use to speech'; they contain assumptions about self, others, and environment - these assumptions constitute a microcosm of science in everyday life.
Source: Theory of Action
What's ironic is that elements of the various ways schools are organized find their way into school systems, perhaps, no matter how they are organized. Simply, in one school system I worked in, I saw the school being espoused as being organized as a learning organization with elements from school as factory in how principals and teachers are supervised (e.g. checklists), as well as school as professional service delivery organization where students are clients or customers.
An interesting insight is that my experience at a regional education service center (ESC) set me up for the professional service delivery organization where a central organization treats those it serves as clients. In the case of the ESC, school districts and private/charter schools ARE clients, paying for the services rendered and expertise they can't afford to have. In a school district setting, the campuses don't pay for services rendered but they can be treated as clients/customers who have needs that can be met by the District. The problem with this approach is emphasized by PS when he writes the following:
In the factory model much of the power of the bureaucracy will likely have been delegated to central office staff, and the occupants of these offices will enjoy considerable prestige as a result of exercising this power. Organizing the central office in a way that would be congruent with a service delivery model requires a fundamental shift of power and authority away from the central office and down to the school level.
It requires central office staff to see themselves more as technicians and support staff, persons with limited power and authority, whose primary worth to the system is found in the work they do for teachers, principals, or the superintendent.
The problem is what happens when staff authority, power and perceived worth is diminished in the eyes of any ONE group (e.g. superintendent)? As a professional, I don't believe that we should accept this vision of limited power and authority. And, sure enough PS describes the conflict that results between bureaucracy and professionals:
Tensions between bureaucratic authority and professional authority will exist, and the impersonal ethos of the bureaucracy will be likely to prevail...The fundamental problem has its root in the fact that members of professions are expected to submit to the norms of their professional group as well as to the norms of the bureaucracy in which they are employed.
When I first became aware of this tension, which often escalated to conflict in some organizations I worked with, I was shocked because I thought the organizational bureaucracy in schools SHOULD be oriented towards providing high-level service. For example, our goal is to integrate technology in a variety of settings. Let's say that using a web-based service (e.g. Skype) provides a service that is low-cost, and widely used by others. In truth, Skype may very well be the best solution to use in a teaching and learning situation. However, the rules of the organization may prevent VOIP technologies being available to classroom teachers or campus-based staff. "Why can't we use this? It makes the most sense and addresses the unique situation (e.g. home-based student)?"
"We can expect that curriculum staff will come up with a solution that violates our network security protocols," shared one network administrator in conversation a few years ago. My response was a simple, "Yes, and since the expectation is that all solutions that address teaching and learning issues be considered, technology has to support those. Isn't that a good problem to have?"
Over time, though, as communication breaks down in an organization, more of a disconnect happens. There's less and less dialogue about AND solutions, more sucker's choices.