Friday, June 27, 2008


I have asked a true educator and dear friend of mine, Harold Mulholland, to weigh in on "teaching purposefully," an idea he brought up in a comment on another post. Harold is the Head of School at The Wellington School in Florida.

Thank you, Nathan, for providing me a forum through which I can more fully develop my thoughts first expressed in the posting “The Next Generation of Educational Leadership” (`. . . to paraphrase DuFour, teachers are independent contractors connected by a common parking lot.)

Allow me first to say that by nature I am not a collaborative person; rather, I am what Davenport refers to as a knowledge worker. Over the past couple decades, however, I’ve been able to work my way through those issues, concluding that “I” will never be as smart as “WE.” So, having couched and prefaced (in fact, everything but offered a disclaimer) this blog, let’s examine the issue at hand: How do administrators get teachers to honestly and openly engage in a collaborative process? The sad truth is that you won’t UNLESS you can show them “value,” which to an educator is generally expressed in time. I do that by making them all a simple promise: I’ll try VERY hard not to give you another thing to do unless a) I give you the time to do it, b) I take something away from you to balance this commitment out, OR c) I compensate them in some other fashion. Time, however, is the ultimate commodity in education, thus, the appropriate “carrot” to facilitate collaboration.

With that foreknowledge firmly in hand, I then focus on my vision (not necessarily the school’s) and the means by which it can be reached. My educational vision (create a finished product [student] for which it is impossible to find a suitable, worthy school of higher education) rests firmly on the pillars of several goals, the principal one – TEACH PURPOSEFULLY. To best convey this philosophy, and to use a very trite phrase, the twenty-first century administrator must be willing to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. In terms of conveying these ideas, Jonathon Saphier clearly delineates how best to talk the talk most effectively, until YOUR vision becomes THEIR language – albeit vaguely Joseph Goebbelsesk.

The “walk,” however, is a little more difficult. I met with each faculty member individually. During these meetings, I told each of them I would be asking them why they were doing what they were doing from time to time, not in an accusatory fashion but out of genuine academic interest. I also promised them that I would not judge them negatively for taking appropriate academic risks (aka thinking outside the box). This accomplishes two primary objectives: the teacher constantly thinks about what he or she is doing and why, and it creates the foundation for further professional dialogues. These dialogues are imperative, if one hope to attain the resulting vision.

As a last thought regarding this process, collaboration depends to a large degree on the various areas in education. That is to say that elementary teachers appear to be more naturally collaborative than middle school, middle school more so than high school and high school more than college instructors, following the old adage: elementary teachers fall in love with their students, secondary teachers fall in love with their discipline, and college professors fall in love with themselves. Therefore, I would recommend that you originate the process at the highest grades in the school (10-12 in a K-12 school, 7-9 in a K-9 model, etc.). While this may seem counter-intuitive, it offers the advantage of establishing the process in the most potentially hostile environment first and it co-opts members from that area of the school in which one often finds faculty leadership. A good (but certainly not a definitive) vehicle to do this is through Nunley’s work, Layered Curriculum.” Commitment to the best practices described in Nunley’s work will act as the common catalyst ensuring true collaboration, instead of merely compliance. In this way, twenty-first century administrators can thwart the tragedy of academic mediocrity and achieve the pillar of teaching purposefully.

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