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Leadership is More Than Inspirational Talk

It must be the start of a new school year here in the overly-large school district because we spent last Wednesday at a local college for the Leadership Conference, an annual event for all school administrators and the rest of us above a certain pay grade.

The day is sort of a kick-off pep rally at which we get inspirational talks and are told more than a few times by the Superintendent and others how we are the “premiere school system” in this country and possibly the world. The format hasn’t changed much over the years I’ve been attended and neither has the message.

Our keynote this year was delivered by Sir Ken Robinson and he was the latest in a series of high profile speakers (Daniel Pink, Tony Wagner, Alan November…) who try to explain to the crowd that the world has changed and we also need to alter the way we educate our kids.  Unfortunately, Robinson didn’t hit those points as hard as I would have liked.

Don’t get me wrong, Sir Ken gave an excellent talk, full of humor mixed with the message that we need to make education more individualized and personal, rather than standardized and generic. If you’ve ever seen either of his TED Talks or his other often-viewed presentations online, then you know many of the themes he blended for his keynote talk to our leadership.

However, one of the difficulties faced by Robinson or anyone else addressing the crowd at these events is that we are far too complacent about past successes, and far too confident that we are doing a good job of educating our students going forward. After all, we’re the “premiere school system”. How can an outsider possibly dispute that?

Although in the morning there was lots of talk about alternative learning opportunities and examples of graduates excelling in fields that don’t require a college degree (like the Superintendent’s son who is a helicopter pilot), after lunch we reverted back to the usual breakout discussions about the usual processes.  A message of change flows into the standardized, data-driven, homogenized education process we’ve become so comfortable with.

As I said, little changes from year to year at this event, including lots of talk about the need to change that directly conflicts with policies and actions that never seems to change.  In the end, it will take far more than a few hours of inspirational speeches and slides with clichés about “the 4 C’s” and “21st century skills”.

It’s going to take leadership willing to tell us that unless we are willing to make big changes very soon, we won’t be that “premiere” district much longer. Combined with the guts to actually work towards implementing the necessary alterations.

1 Comment

  1. Gerry

    Great post. It sounds similar to the teachers I came into contact with the last several years. We needed more 21st century and less of the 20th century techniques but they resisted because they believed we were already doing a great job. Their rationale was a few students came back each year after graduation and told them how prepared they were for college. Unfortunately those were, for the most part ,were the top 10% that could have educated themselves, and probably did. What about the other 90%. Resting on our past successes and not enough concern for the future.

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