What is the pace of change needed to bring about significant reform? Our profession is fond of saying that leaders need to “go slow to go fast.” In many cases, where districts are looking for minor and continuous improvement, this strategy makes sense. As a blanket rule, however, the strategy is very problematic. I believe districts ought to go at the speed they must.
For districts seeking transformational impact, decision-makers should determine the pace of change based on these variables:
- The urgency of the situation
- The capacity of the staff and current leadership team
- The maturity of the processes already in place
- The degree to which the culture is high performing
The most important of those variables is the urgency of the situation in which the District finds itself. Most districts with large numbers of students challenged by poverty or language barriers need to approach reform with a clear sense of urgency, and our leaders not only need to understand and believe that the situation is urgent, but must also convince the staff and community of that.
There are 50 million students currently in America’s schools. At our current pace of improvement more than half of those students will reach the Year 2035 unable to read or do math at the proficient level.
And as I have written about elsewhere, the growing strength of artificial intelligence and technological advances will most likely worsen the traditional achievement gap or create a new gap – a Year 2035 competencies gap. This will be so unless we have the courage to do something drastically different.
A district can transform its educational system in fundamental ways in a relatively short period of time if it:
- Makes a case for urgency and inspires people with a vision to meet the challenge.
- Works systemically, understanding how the key system components fit together and addressing the leverage points in each area first.
- Drafts effective reform plans that are challenging, make sense, and have a strong chance of success if implemented well.
- Develops a high-performance culture that can implement effectively and holds itself accountable for challenging performance outcomes.