Presentation at MIT for , October 8, 2016

I look forward to presenting at conferences with open source themes. My experience with Linux and open source software has greatly influenced my thinking as an educational leader. In education, “Open” refers to the larger historical narrative pertaining to enabling all people to become educated as a human right. This narrative begins with the idea of schooling. Public schooling was an important innovation in schooling, and now technology is letting us re-design the structure of schooling once again on behalf of opening or expanding educational opportunity. It is an exciting time to be a student of educational leadership!

Some Thoughts on Personalization vs. Customization

I draw the distinction between personalized learning which is a function of a student’s aspirations and customized learning which is an extension of differentiation, or finding ways to make a standardized curriculum more digestible to the individual learner.

Personalization is more consistent with Progressive educational ideals which place the student at the center of the learning process. In school, the learning process is based on a relationship between the student, the teacher, and his or her parents. Personalization puts a renewed emphasis on the student-parent elements of this relationship by asking, “what are your hopes and dreams” and having this conversation inform the learning process and the purpose of education over time. In this relationship, the teacher represents accumulated knowledge (e.g. standards), the wisdom of the human experience, and society’s interest in seeing students develop a commitment to civic ethics.

For the first time in history we have the tools and technology to manage, and put more emphasis on, personal student learning aspirations as a design element of the schooling experience. In the US, however, we continue to pursue education policies focused on customizing standardized learning experiences to meet narrow societal outcomes such as “college and career readiness.” Such a focus might or might not support student aspirations, whereas starting with student goals as the foundation of schooling will by definition support societal interests.

We want all of our students to be successful. The point is they will most likely be successful if we help them reach their full potential through education, which necessitates acknowledging who they are and who they want to be in the process of schooling itself.

Rightsizing Vermont’s School Governance System

I consider myself a reasonable person, so I knew at some point I would be weighing in on the proposed bill on school district governance reform in Vermont. I wasn’t exactly sure when I would do so, but I have been waiting for a sign that the time was right. I thought I was close when I observed progressive educator Bill Mathis and libertarian John McClaughry to be on the same side of the issue. The piece in the Rutland Herald entitled, “Attack on Democracy” almost had me there, but it was Marty Strange’s, “The Reality of Consolidation” which pushed me over the edge.

Mr. Strange compares Vermont to West Virginia, Nebraska, Maine, and Arkansas. Really? Nothing which has occurred in these other states is on the same scale to what is being proposed in Vermont. From a national perspective, what is being considered in Vermont could be characterized as taking micro school districts and forming them into small districts. I often correspond with other superintendents from around the country on school district governance. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Other Superintendent: “Dan, school district consolidation is bad.

Me: “My school system of 2,200 students is governed 12 boards and 54 school board members, and my smallest district has 29 students and does not operate a school.”

Other Superintendent: “Oh. That’s crazy. You guys have a problem.”

Mr. Strange cites research on West Virginia. “In West Virginia, thousands of kids spend over two hours on the bus each school day.” In Vermont, this would mean the kids in Canaan would have to be bused back and forth to Lyndonville every day. The frost heaves alone would make this impractical. On the other hand, school district consolidation might actually improve the efficiency of our school transportation since many of our students spend hours on half empty school buses each day driving through other districts and past other schools in order to attend a school in their own district. Mr. Strange also cites the economic impact of district consolidation. “West Virginia spends more of its education dollar on transportation than any other state.” If school district consolidation is related to cost, Mr. Strange should have mentioned West Virginia spends about $5,000 less per student than Vermont. Actually, all of the states mentioned by Mr. Strange spend considerably less per student than Vermont.

I admire Mr. Strange’s work and the work of the Rural School and Community Trust, but I question whether or not he read the outline of the proposed school governance bill before writing his op-ed. The proposed bill is not about school bus transportation, closing small schools, the end of school choice or even an “Attack on Democracy.” The bill is aimed at addressing a long standing issue in Vermont: the overly complex structure of our public education delivery system. Mr. Strange is correct in that research should be used to guide public policy since there are valuable lessons to be learned from other states, but in the end, we need to find a Vermont solution to a Vermont problem. And yes, I think we have a school district governance problem in Vermont – denial is not a river in Egypt.

The problem in Vermont is twofold: 1) unequal educational opportunity for Vermont students, and 2) our high costs. School district governance has to be part of the solution, but I think it is more about “rightsizing” our governance structure rather than “consolidating” it.

Rightsizing means:

  • Looking for regional solutions – what makes sense in Essex County is not necessarily going to make sense in Chittenden County. The proposed bill includes a “Design Team” to take into account these regional variations. More importantly, the bill would give locals the opportunity to articulate a governance solution themselves albeit with the understanding that the goal is a Pre-K to grade 12 cohesive system and that the state will act to form up newly configured districts if a local solution is not achieved in a given time frame;
  • Ensuring the new districts (larger yes, but “Mega” no) have a better chance to achieve greater efficiency. We know from research (Baker) that single districts between about 1,200 and 4,000 students are the most efficient;
  • Maintaining local input commensurate to the number of students in the district. Vermont’s ratio of school boards to students (1 board per 282 students) is the lowest in the country and unfortunately correlates well to our very high spending per student; and
  • Creating integrated systems of school improvement by modernizing curriculum development, professional development, and assessment systems to better leverage the networked expertise of our teachers across school district boundaries so student learning opportunities are not limited by a student’s town of residence or the walls of a single school building.

I applaud the House Education Committee and our other political leaders for taking on the issue of school district governance reform. I think the conversation around this issue is an important one and hopefully not coming too late. Vermonters should engage in the conversation objectively and be prepared to shape the process so a Vermont solution can be found to a Vermont problem.

NWEA MAP and the Assessment of Student Learning

After 18 months of pilot implementation, we have begun full implementation of the NWEA MAP assessment. The MAP assessment is a computer-based adaptive assessment which describes what students are ready to learn next in reading, writing, and mathematics. The MAP assessment is administered three times a year for all students in grades K-8. See the BRSU Local Assessment Plan for a description of the NWEA MAP as well as the other assessments administered to students.

Why Implement the NWEA MAP?
1) Transition to Personalized Learning
Our district, like many districts around the world, is attempting to reconcile the new ability to personalize learning for students with an industrial model of schooling. We felt it was necessary to have a valid external measure of student learning in place while we made this transition to a personalized learning system. We believe NWEA MAP supports personalized learning by measuring student growth on an equal increment scale irrespective of assigned student grade levels. It also provides data to students and teachers in a format which readily supports student goal setting, a key component for personalizing learning for students.

2) Support Continuous Organizational Improvement
We assess student learning to help answer the fundamental question from our Ends policies, “how are students doing,” and to then decide next steps in the learning process. Efficient and effective assessment data are able to function at three organizational levels: the instructional level, the administrative level, and the policy level. At the instructional level, assessment data provide teachers with formative data. Formative data give teachers immediate feedback on student learning in order for them to modify instructional approaches and to design programs for remediation or acceleration. At the administrative level, assessment data help evaluate instructional systems such as professional development and curriculum development. At the policy level, assessment data provide assurance to board members that district Ends for student learning are being met. The NWEA MAP assessment was selected because it is a single assessment which can satisfy the assessment data needs of the organization at all of these levels.

3) Increase the Validity, Reliability, and Efficiency of Assessment
Time is our most precious instructional resource. When instruction is interrupted for the purpose of assessment, we need to ensure the interruption is worth it. Unfortunately, we have developed several assessments in Vermont which are very time consuming but which do not necessarily provide us with results that can justify the loss in instructional time.

One such assessment is the PNOA, or Primary Number and Operation Assessment, which can take a classroom teacher up to 45 minutes to administer one-on-one to each student. Although the PNOA can provide a teacher with useful formative data, it takes considerable time away from regular instruction to administer. The PNOA is an example of an assessment which is “expensive” in terms of instructional time, relatively complex to administer (each teacher needs training to administer the assessment in order to obtain valid results), and relatively unreliable in terms of obtaining consistent data across a system due to its relatively low level of inter-rater reliability. The PNOA is representative of several assessment approaches in Vermont education which have become “best practice” due to their sophistication rather than their validity or reliability.

In the enclosed article by Tim Shanahan, the author discusses this phenomena where the most sophisticated tool can become to be considered the best tool in a profession. He makes the comparison between the medical profession and education. Following this analogy, the PNOA might considered to be a CAT scan and the NWEA MAP a chest x-ray because the PNOA is delivered in an artisanal manner, one student at a time, whereas the NWEA MAP is
administered to many students at the same time using computers. In fact, if one were to
compare the instructional-level data produced by these two assessments, it is clear the NWEA MAP is the CAT scan and the PNOA is the x-ray, and a relatively unreliable one at that since the PNOA can not compare to the superior validity and reliability of the NWEA MAP.

It is our expectation that some of our Vermont formative assessments such as the PNOA will be abandoned in favor of using NWEA MAP and thereby free up instructional time. These
decisions will need to be made through an understanding of the value of the assessment data relative to the impact on instructional time.

Another key aspect of NWEA MAP efficiency is the facile manner in which it allows for the
collection and organization of assessment data. Since it is a computer-based assessment,
MAP assessment results can obtained immediately after the test, and can be organized based on any number of building-level testing groups. Most of our Vermont local assessments require the manual collection and arrangement of data which further contributes to their delay in producing actionable results.

4) The Political Context of Assessment
The NECAP will be replaced by the SBAC assessment in the near future. This will create a gap in our external assessment data for several years. Like NWEA MAP, the SBAC assessment will be a computer-based adaptive assessment so it should produce results in a more timely
manner. The SBAC has not been finalized, however, and will take a few years to stabilize. This uncertain political context for assessment led us to conclude we needed an external
assessment to bridge the gap between NECAP and SBAC. NWEA MAP is a well established
assessment which should serve us well in this purpose.

Vermont Needs A World Class Public Education System

“Welcome to Vermont: Home of a World-Class Public Education System” is the title of the vision statement on a quality education commissioned by the Vermont Superintendents Association in 2010.  As the president of the Association at the time, I had a hand in organizing the two years of work which went into producing this vision statement and I helped author the above mentioned quote.  I think the phrase “World Class” resonated with our membership because it was aspirational – we desired to transform Vermont’s public education system into a world class system.

Lately, there has been more discussion over what is meant by a world class education system.  Last week the US Department of Education put out its white paper on international education strategy entitled, Succeeding Globally Through International Education and Engagement, and in 2012 several books on the topic were published (e.g. A World Class Education: Learning from International Models of Excellence and Innovation by Vivien Stewart, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students by Yong Zhao, and The Global Fourth Way: The Quest for Educational Excellence by Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley).  I thought I would synthesize the key concepts of these books in order to suggest policy design principles for Vermont as we begin to think about transforming our current educational system into a world class system.

  1. International Benchmarking – World class education systems benchmark themselves against other countries.  They search out best practices from around the world and try to make sense of them in their own policy and cultural context.  I think Vermont, like many US states, is too inward focused in terms of our educational standards and benchmarking.  We frequently use grade normalization data from among our own schools (or regional data in the case of NECAP) to measure success when we should be comparing our students’ performance against their international peers.
  2. Strong Moral Commitment to the Success of All Students – Countries with world class education systems make an overt commitment to the educational success of all students, and make the necessary social investments to ensure their success.  As compared to other developed countries, there is a higher degree of correlation between US performance on international benchmark exams and our relatively high rates of poverty.  This means most high performing countries do a better job of closing the achievement gap between rich and poor students.  Vermont needs to expand its focus on early education programs and seek stronger policy coordination and alignment between social and education systems.
  3. High Quality Teachers – There is consensus that one of the critical features of a world class education system is having high quality teachers.  This means not only creating high quality teacher education programs at the university level, but also having well developed systems for ensuring teachers continue to develop their professional skills once they enter the work force.  High quality teachers in world class systems have solid preparation in both content and pedagogy.  Another common feature of world class education systems is the empowerment of teachers and a shift from accountability systems to responsibility systems – teachers are empowered and responsible for the success of their students.  Interestingly, in Finland the best translation for “accountability” is “responsibility.”  Vermont has some excellent teacher preparation programs, but these programs are fairly disconnected from teacher inservice professional development programs and teacher re-licensing activities.
  4. High Quality Curricula – In many world class educational systems, teachers develop curricula from the ground up with strong connections to educational researchers at the university level.  Vermont should implement an instructional development platform which connects all teachers to educational researchers in the development of curricula.  Such a system should also provide opportunities for connections with other teachers and educators from around the US and the world.  Such a system would better ensure high quality curricula are provided throughout all regions of the state.
  5. Systems Thinking – World class education systems are the result of systems thinking on the part of policy makers.  In these systems, education policy is very intentional and closely linked to social and economic development, and in some cases national survival.  Vermont needs to have a clearer and more coherent approach to education policy, and needs to make a stronger connection between investments in education systems and social and economic development.

The better part of the argument for the need to create a world class education system comes from the economic perspective.  Globalization has accelerated increasing the number of educated workers entering the global work force, and technology has increased the need for higher skilled workers and decreased the need for lower skilled workers.  In short, our students will be competing for higher skilled jobs with students from all over the world not just with students from Vermont or from the US.

Yong Zhao makes a slightly different economic argument.  He believes a world class system is one which makes the shift from preparing students for employment to preparing students to be entrepreneurs.  His data suggest there is an inverse correlation between a country’s scores on international education exams such as PISA and a country’s entrepreneurial capabilities: aiming for standardization of curricula and better performance on high stakes international benchmark exams might diminish a country’s capacity for economic growth by discouraging the necessary capacity for innovation and creativity among its work force.

Another cautionary note pertains to the problems associated with trying to replicate education models found in different cultures.  Many of the successful education systems can be seen as a function of a country’s unique history and culture.  The fact that education in Singapore does not look like education in Finland points to the necessity for considering the uniqueness of the cultural context.

Nevertheless, I think Vermont needs to put more effort into understanding what works in education systems from around the world, and then trying to make sense of those system features from a Vermont perspective.  I think it would be especially helpful to consider successful systems in countries or states which have a similar respect for local control.  Alberta, for example, has an acknowledged world class education system which is highly decentralized.  I think Alberta’s Initiative for School Improvement is worthy of further review.

As we talk about improving our educational system in Vermont, I think it is important to frame the conversation around creating a world class system.  Vermont education has much to offer the world, but we would benefit greatly by learning from the educational approaches of other states and countries.

Some Thoughts on Math and Science Education in Vermont

In a recent article in the Rutland Herald, an IBM executive remarked that only 38% of Vermont’s juniors meet basic math competencies.  I am not sure where these numbers come from, but I take more issue with her cure rather than her diagnosis which she apparently prescribed to several university presidents: “You’ve got to immediately stop graduating teachers the way you are graduating them today – they don’t know math.”  Although I think the quality of teacher development programs at the college level is and will always be something we need to attend to, I think the larger problem is how teacher development relates to curriculum development.  Currently, there is a significant disconnect between the two.

We have some excellent teacher development resources in Vermont for math (e.g. VMI, and the Vermont Mathematics Partnership Ongoing Assessment Project – see OGAP on Marge Petit’s site) which prepare teachers very well.  There is a gap, however, between the quality of these programs and the quality of the curriculum materials these teachers end up using in their classrooms.  Teachers are frequently required to customize and augment the locally adopted curriculum, and they do much of this work in isolation from each other and from the training programs which supported them.

A more effective approach would be leverage a network of well trained teachers to design a curriculum from the ground up, and to use that curriculum as the basis of a training program for future teachers.  Such an approach would close the gap between training and implementation and thereby create both a faster development cycle and a better feedback loop for quality assurance.  I described the theory (“Lateral Networking”) behind such an approach in a previous blog post.  This type of approach is not just theory, however, but being used to great effect in other places such as New Jersey.


Lessons in Lateral Innovation from the Garden State: The New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning (NJCTL)

I ran into Dr. Bob Goodman of the NJCTL several years ago when he was presenting at Alan November’s BLC conference.  An MIT trained physicist and the former CEO of Harman Kardon and JBL Consumer Products, Bob is a physics teacher at a vocational high school in Bergen County, NJ and was New Jersey Teacher of the Year in 2006.  Bob is also the Executive Director of the NJCTL where he works on creating and implementing the Center’s Progressive Math Initiative and Progressive Science Initiative (see PSI-PMI for more information).  These initiatives have been very successful and are excellent examples of teachers working together to build a world class curriculum from the ground up.  I call these initiatives successful because they get results for students.  They are also designed around world class standards.  The PSI has won international awards, and Bob has been working extensively in Argentina and was recently hired by the World Bank to do some work in Africa.

In the early years of the PSI, Bob ran into a problem in that there were not enough physics teachers in New Jersey to teach AP Physics.  To solve this problem, he obtained authority to license physics teachers directly through his program.  His teacher development program utilized the same physics curriculum materials used to instruct students in high school.  Bob recruited good teachers from a variety of content area backgrounds and taught them physics.  Interestingly, Bob believes, “the physics is easy but the teaching is hard.”   See the attached whitepaper by Bob which describes his approach in more detail.  Bob’s program is well supported by both New Jersey NEA and Governor Christie.  Apparently PSI-PMI are one of the few things the union and the Governor both agree upon.

I noticed on the NJCTL website that the program has now spread to Colorado.  The question is why not Vermont?  Well, it is not for a lack of trying.  We brought Bob to Vermont on several occasions.  He was the keynote presenter at the VSA and VTFEST conferences where he wowed the audiences.  I have also had him present to my staff at the BRSU.

There is a lot to be learned from initiatives such as PSI-PMI.  I think it would be great if VMI and other exemplary Vermont teacher development programs partnered with similar programs in New Jersey, Colorado, and Argentina to develop a world class math and science curriculum which could also be used as the basis for a teacher development program.  This could be done fairly easily if we leveraged the Internet and networked teachers in a common development platform.  Such an approach has proven to get results in New Jersey and would likely be more effective than our current curriculum development systems which in my opinion rely too heavily on the delayed promulgation of top down standards and outdated organizational methods of curriculum alignment.

Our curriculum development systems are too disconnected from the high quality teacher development programs provided at the state level.  Our students would greatly benefit if we closed the gap between the two in a more systematic manner.

Rethinking the Social Studies aka World Ecology

I think we need to revisit the social studies as a content area.  I have been thinking about this for a while, but I was prompted to do so after hearing a presentation this summer by Bob Goodman of the Progressive Science Initiative in New Jersey.  Bob was describing how his work had led him to reorganize the science curriculum so it made better sense to students:

  1. Physics is taught in the freshman year and students learn the necessary math as an application of the science.  At the end of the freshman year, students study quantum mechanics and atomic structure which leads into
  2. Chemistry taught in the sophomore year.  At the end of the sophomore year, students study proteins which leads into
  3. Biology and the study of life in the junior year.

This is a simplification of Bob’s work, but it resonated with me.  Content curriculum should make sense to students as a narrative, and I believe this type of approach is needed for the social studies, which suffer from fragmentation.  At the same conference where I heard Bob speak, I asked the conference sponsor, Alan November, what he thought about the social studies.  He agreed that it was time revisit this content especially in light of new technologies.  He suggested a more appropriate title for the social studies could be World Ecology.

If World Ecology works as a new discipline, I think it needs some design questions.  The one I have come up with so far is, “Why is the world the way it is?”  Imagine having 10 years (my schools are preK-8) to explain the world to students in a way that made sense from a narrative perspective, and in a way that was both relevant and engaging.

I think the way to do this would be to adopt Geography as the overarching content structure.  Since Geography by definition covers everything about the Earth both in terms of its physical and human characteristics, I think it would be particularly well suited for making sense of things.  We could structure a curriculum around the 5 Themes and the Geography Standards.  We could also embellish units with foreign language study using products such as Rosetta Stone Classroom.

Transforming Vermont’s System of Public Education

The State Board of Education has embarked on an initiative to transform Vermont’s public schools. This initiative is focused on making our schools, and high schools in particular, more relevant to students. Although this is important and timely work, I believe the focus is off target. The quality of Vermont’s public education system is already very high. We should be directing our transformative energies towards a commonly accepted but rarely examined aspect of our public school system: it’s poor organization and inefficiency. The current economic situation makes this inefficiency especially intolerable, but I believe it is through the current economic crisis that we can finally find the necessary political will to transform these systemic deficiencies.

Vermont’s system of public education is actually not much of a system, but rather a very loose confederation of local districts that can choose to work together, or not, when they see fit. This semi-structure is rife with duplication of effort and wasted time and money. The chief cause of this inefficiency is the political nature of the system. Politics always makes systems more inefficient, and our educational system, from top to bottom, is overly political.

In Vermont, the political nature of our education system is frequently expressed in a blind allegiance towards “local control” even though there is truly not much local control, and some of the things that are controlled locally (hiring, purchasing, contracting, etc.) are the very things that make public education in Vermont at times inefficient, complex, and costly. From a mathematical perspective:


To become more efficient, we need to start thinking of our public education structure as a true system. At the heart of this effort will be the need to re-examine issues of local control vs. centralization. This will not mean abandoning local control altogether. We need to consider, however, what aspects of the system should remain within the purview of local decision making and what areas should be managed centrally in order to achieve a greater efficiency.

A compromise between local control and centralization would seem to be the creation of a regional school district system. A series of policy initiatives should be introduced that makes the regionalization of educational services more attractive or maintaining the status quo too expensive. Such strategically designed policy initiatives when considered within the context of our current economic crisis can provide the necessary energy to start transforming our current system into one that is more efficient. I suggest the following areas for policy consideration:

  • The small schools grant should be reduced to support only those small schools that meet newly created socio-economic and geographic guidelines. These guidelines would establish funding criteria based on the socio-economic status of a community and the relative distance of a small school from other schools.
  • Districts that do not operate schools should be forced to consolidate with other districts. Even if a district does not operate a school, it presents a cost liability to the system by being a corporate entity that can, and will be, sued. These districts are also required to meet the same regulatory, policy, and financial reporting requirements of districts that do operate schools. Eliminating these districts would reduce administrative costs.
  • The current configuration of school districts and supervisory unions should be reviewed for consolidation. A commission similar to a “base closing” commission should be formed to oversee this process.
  • New regional school districts should be formed with expanded authority over the major operational areas that affect cost:
  1. Hiring – These regional districts should be the only entities allowed to employ individuals. This would force the consolidation of union master agreements and allow staff to be shared among schools more efficiently.
  2. Business Services – All business services should be housed in these regional school districts in order to reduce duplication of effort and to provide better control and reporting systems.
  3. Purchasing and Contracting – These regional districts should be the only entities allowed to make purchases and to contract for services. This would promote more efficient purchasing and would allow services, including student transportation, to be better coordinated within a region.
  4. Charter Schools – These regional school districts should be given statutory authority to create innovative learning structures along the lines of charter schools. These structures would employ new technologies and provide greater flexibility for students and families at lower costs.
  5. Consolidated Grand Lists – The formation of regional school districts allows for the consolidation of education property tax grand lists within these regions. Such consolidation would likely reduce the statistical volatility of the Common Level of Appraisal, a major cause of property tax increases in recent years.
  • A state-wide student information system, special education management system, and financial accounting system should be implemented. We currently do not have a uniform approach to data systems. Public education is a very complex business; we need to have standardized data systems matched to uniform governance entities so we can better manage our programs and their related costs.

These are examples of the types of policies I would introduce to start transforming our public education system. We need to move beyond pedagogical debate, reactionary tinkering and political rhetoric to take advantage of this important moment in history to restructure our public education system so that it can become more efficient, manageable, and sustainable. This work will no doubt require significant political leadership, but if we do not act now we jeopardize the future social and economic well being of our state.

Learning Communities and Change

Public schools as institutions with a strong historical and institutional memory are by nature resistant to change. Public schools are also by definition humanistic enterprises – the business of teaching and learning is highly contextual and based on the interpersonal relationships among teachers and students, teachers and other school personnel, and teachers and the larger community. Leaders who attempt to change public schools need to be sensitive to the historical traditions that have given public schools their essential purpose in our society, but they also need to acknowledge that this essential purpose has been defined and redefined over the years in an emotional context where staff, students, and community members have struggled together to make common meaning and purpose.

We have come to understand that real school reform relies on having a school community make meaning for itself. This requires all school staff to become knowledgeable of research-based approaches so they can better articulate how these approaches will allow the school to meet the challenges of the future while at the same time preserving the learning community’s unique identity and purpose. Any reform, research-based or not, that does not give staff the room to make meaning for themselves is not likely to succeed because no organization, let alone a humanistic one such as a public school, will abandon or question its identity, purpose and meaning in order to implement an uncertain approach they do not own themselves.

The history of a school is a history of fundamental relationships that are built each day between teachers, students, and parents to spark learning and to foster a safe environment where students can grow. Schools belong to larger societal systems of education but these external systems are often viewed by school staff as not supporting these fundamental learning relationships. This sense of isolation and independence makes school staff very protective of these learning relationships – many teachers view them as sacred. Any change that might disrupt these relationships or that is not respectful of them is unlikely to succeed because it is precisely this relationship-building work that educators view as their true purpose or calling.

Evans points to the importance of understanding the context in which an organization makes meaning:

Our structure of meaning is rooted in feelings and experiences that have great emotional significance. Hence, our perceptions and purposes can rarely be altered by rational explanation alone; our investment in them is too personal (Evans, 1996).

Evans focuses our attention on the fact that any change is loss. A challenge for school leaders seeking to improve a school is to discover a way to assimilate all that we have learned about the science of teaching and learning into the core values of our school system so that these values are not lost. This is difficult work, but it is precisely this work that inspires people to become teachers and ultimately educational leaders.


Evans, R. (1996). The human side of change: reform resistance, and the real-life problems of innovation. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.