Monday, October 17, 2016

Are we building walls or cathedrals?

In his book “Start with Why”, Simon Sinek shares the following story of two stonemasons.

“You walk up to the first stonemason and ask, “Do you like your job?” He looks up at you and replies “I’ve been building this wall for as long as I can remember. The work is monotonous. I work in the scorching hot sun all day. The stones are heavy and lifting them day after day can be backbreaking. I’m not even sure if this project will be completed in my lifetime. But it’s a job. It pays the bills.” You thank him for his time and walk on.

About thirty feet away, you walk up to a second stonemason. You ask him the same question , “Do you like your job?” He looks up and replies, “I love my job. I’m building a cathedral. Sure, I’ve been working on this wall for as long as I can remember, and yes, the work is sometimes monotonous. I work in the scorching hot sun all day. The stones are heavy and lifting them day after day can be backbreaking. I’m not even sure if this project will be completed in my lifetime. But I’m building a cathedral.”

WHAT these two stonemasons are doing is exactly the same; the difference is, one has a sense of purpose. He feels he belongs. He comes to work to be a part of something bigger than the job he’s doing. Simply having a sense of WHY changes his entire view of his job. It makes him more productive and certainly more loyal. “ (p 94-95)

In all of the rhetoric surrounding the successes and failures in public education today, a lack of true purpose or vision is the thread that ties and connects us all. Successful schools and successful school systems put the WHY first. And rarely is that WHY an external measure of success.
In the state of Pennsylvania, all schools receive an SPP score. That score is supposed to be an indicator of the success of that school. It is used as an accountability measure.  It can either be a point of shame or a point of pride. But what if it were neither?   What if it were just a number?
As educators, we often rail against “business” mindsets creeping into our language and cultures because we do not create products or widgets, we help others to learn and grow. Yet a book like Sinek’s remind us that success always comes from a focus on people and vision, not on the bottom line. If the bottom line in education is test scores, focusing on them may yield short term results with long term consequences. Evidence of that is clear in the hypocrisy of principals and teachers who hold up standardized test scores as evidence of their success when they meet or exceed the goal, while minimizing and dismissing them when they fall short. This type of thinking requires no one to change or consider how to grow themselves. And it’s pervasive these days.
Test scores are a byproduct of learning. They can not and should not be the goal. This is true of accountability as well, as it is a byproduct of responsibility. When we are responsible to the people in our classrooms and schools, the accountability will take care of itself because all members of the community believe in the WHY and are then responsible for the HOW's and WHAT's being taken care of. Ask yourself this: do test scores and accountability get you out of bed in the morning? No teacher goes into teaching as a profession for these purposes and they sure don't jump out of bed ready for their days with these goals in mind either.
In order for this to change, anyone who considers themselves a leader has to take a hard look in the mirror and determine if their district, school, and/or classroom has a true “WHY”. Has the WHY been communicated well? Do members of the organization and/or classroom believe in the WHY? Do they support the WHY? Do they trust the WHY? Do we filter all of the HOW’s and WHAT’s through that WHY?
And it's at this point where most of us will make some broad assumptions. We are clear on our WHY and we will assume that others are too. Are we willing to ask our stakeholders directly? Are we willing to use data/ metrics (that aren't test scores) to verify that our WHY is driving the work we ALL do? Are we willing to be faithfully reflective by comparing the culture we hope to have with one we actually have?
Whether we will admit it or not, all of us want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We all want to have a purpose. We all want to have value. And we all want to be proud. Yet our actions often fall short of these desires. It would be easy for each member of an organization to lay blame elsewhere. In fact, many of us do. Blame is laid at the hands of colleagues, principals, parents, district offices, legislatures, and sometimes sadly, kids themselves. Whether we like it or not, being a leader means being responsible for motivating and  inspiring those within the community/ organization to be passionate about the WHY.  This is as true in the (school) board room as it is in the classroom.
Yet if we all view ourselves as leaders in some capacity (and we should) , we have to question which stonemason we wish to be, and which one we are right now.   There is little argument that teaching is more difficult and complicated than it has ever been. Yet each of us have the power to think differently about those challenges. Are we in it for the job or are we in it because it’s a vocation (our one true calling)?  Are we teaching math or Matthew (Thanks Baruti Kafele)? Are we teaching stuff or designing learning experiences? Are we creating test takers or  growing learners?  Are we creating compliance or critical citizens? Are we creating consumers or producers? Are we creating apathy or hope?   Are we creating barriers or removing them? Are we building walls or are we building cathedrals?


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