In my experience, schools can feel like two very different organizational extremes – The Quicksand or The Fertile Ground.
In The Quicksand, the general feeling is that more things are impossible than are possible. You frequently hear phrases like “I don’t know” or “oh… it’s always been that way”… or “good luck” when trying to solve a problem or massage an idea into reality. Often, cultural references are made about the host country that are supposed to be explanations about why things are, or are not, a particular way. The language disempowers and erodes.
In The Quicksand, problems that have been problems for a long time tend to remain as problems. Ideas – if they are still being generated – are not welcome, they suffocate and fade away. Buildings and spaces are neglected… becoming physical manifestations of the mindset that has taken control. Teaching practices congeal and the more congealed they become, the more expectations dwindle until the highest expectation becomes mediocrity… “good enough”. Great people come (maybe) and usually go… unless they get stuck!
Factors that create The Quicksand include:
- the absence or invisibility of any systems that enable things to get done
- overly bureaucratic systems that make getting anything done too difficult or impossible
- individuals who shut ideas or solutions down (this might be due to the fear of increased work, fear of change, feeling under threat or simply just having too much control)
- lack of exposure to schools that possess The Fertile Ground
- lack of vision
- departments and divisions (teaching and non-teaching) that are silos
- a lack of, or damaged, relationships
- privatized and even secretive practices
- a tall poppy syndrome culture – “when you do that, you make me look bad… so let’s all just not do that”
- a culture of fear, particularly of being judged
- cooperation purely because it’s an expectation
In The Fertile Ground, there is a general feeling of possibilities and that “where there’s a will there’s a way”. You frequently hear phrases like “”that’s easy” or “that’s a great idea” or “let’s figure it out” or “let me show you how”. there is a sense of empowerment that permeates throughout the community. This sense of empowerment liberates, enables, motivates, expands and stimulates.
In The Fertile Ground, problems are identified and solved rapidly, which means that more complex or fascinating problems begin to manifest themselves as challenges or opportunities. Ideas are treated with hospitality and even the most crazy ones are valued and explored! There is visible evidence of an all-round attention to detail – architecturally, organizationally, systematically, culturally and… most important… pedagogically.
In The Fertile Ground, people are poised and ready to do interesting work because it’s exciting, because it’s rewarding and… because it’s possible.
Factors that create The Fertile Ground include:
- strong, clear and empowering systems everyone is fluent in
- an emphasis on effectiveness over bureaucracy
- open-mindedness and a spirit of inquiry
- a clear, simple and motivating vision
- interconnected departments and divisions that communicate with each other
- healthy relationships
- a culture of permission
- a steady flow of people with new, different experiences and perspectives
- a culture of experimentation and inspiration – “I love what you’re doing, I’d like to try that”
- collaboration… because it makes sense
What might you add to those lists?