Thursday, January 9, 2014

Geese And Ganders

For the last year or so, I've read enough articles at Harvard Business Review that I finally splurged and ordered a comprehensive online subscription. The articles are most certainly focused around more traditional notions of business rather than education. Having read plenty of thought leaders in both fields, however, I'm astonished at how similar the two have become, and not in a bad way.

Many HBR articles are about leadership and management, and while these might not always have clear relevance to your average middle or high school teacher, the advice would (and probably, for some, does) most certainly benefit people in the middle and upper ranks of administration.

But the similarities don't stop at leadership and management. It goes deeper. Here are just a few examples from the current HBR "front page" of my iPad app:

From HBR: "Reward Efforts, Not Just Outcomes"
From NYTimes' Education Issue: "What if the Secret to Success is Failure?"

From HBR: "Build a 'Quick and Nimble' Culture"
From The Chronicle of Higher Education: "Adapt or Die"

From HBR: "The Link Between Anxiety and Performance"
From Huffington Post Education: "Anxiety: The Hidden Disability..."
and "6 Healthy Habits to Teach Kids Who Worry Too Much"

Businesses are trying to adapt to a new generation of college graduates just as schools constantly discuss adjusting to new generations of students. Businesses are intensely interested in innovation, teaching old dogs new tricks, filling in knowledge gaps to make workers more adaptable. Nothing about these concepts and catch phrases are new to those of us who read Education Week or follow education news outlets on Twitter.

But here's what I find funny.

In 2014, at the highest levels of public education, leaders are fighting and pushing and legislating for schools and education to follow the very kinds of business models that Harvard Business Review and business thought-leaders are decrying as outmoded and dangerous to long-term sustainability.

Businesses are banking left and re-calibrating to a changing world, and education is getting caught in the jet wash of outmoded ideas. Politicians and big-time education attention-grabbers are talking about parachute pants and grunge as the next big thing while the real thought-leaders in both fields are trying to figure out how to engineer a Delorean to go back in time and drag these people into the 21st Century.

Nothing is ever simple, so of course you couldn't reform a failing school based on a 1-year subscription of HBR overnight, or possibly ever. Further, I can understand why educational institutions might lag a bit behind businesses in matters of innovation and adaptation. The fight for money is far more vicious and motivational in the for-profit world, whereas schools must be ever mindful that too many risks and failures will lose ever more of the already-tenuous faith the general public has in them.

But I can't help but wonder why so many of us are currently so comfortable with matters of assessment as some magic elixir in school systems when most successful business leaders have regularly decried so many forms of assessment as superficial and counterproductive.

Not all schools should jump aggressively to the newest, biggest and flashiest fads, but some schools in lots of places should be making lots of jumps in lots of different directions. Already we're seeing substantial blowback on things that were championed as educational game-changers just a year or two ago: "iPad schools," "MOOCs that would render the schoolhouse obsolete," "homework-free schools" and "schools without grades."

None of these can universally succeed in all settings, because what's true in schools is true in the business world described by Adam Bryant in the HBR article about business culture:
Managers focus on results, but I think culture drives results.
And, regarding the biggest problem in how companies build culture:
It’s the creation of silos. As one CEO put it to me, “Silos are what topple great companies.” As human beings, we like to operate in small tribes. If there’s not someone creating and communicating an overarching, simple plan for the larger organization and getting everyone to pitch in, people start breaking down into small tribes and pursuing their own goals and agendas.
Business and Education are not identical, nor are they night and day. They are inextricably tied and closely related and capable of learning from one another. What the biggest thinkers in both fields look to when they want meaningful and lasting change isn't a new gadget or a new schedule, but rather changes in personnel structure, adjustments to culture, improvements to interpersonal relationships.

The important changes must always happen in and between people. Improve that, and the assessment problem practically solves itself. In any field.


Daisy said...

Fantastic post.

stowstepp said...

Thank you for making me aware of these articles. I now have a long list of "to reads".