Shaking Up the School House:  How to Support and Sustain Educational Innovation by Phillip C. Schlechty

This book says a lot that makes sense to me.  Schlechty's primary argument, here and in Inventing Better Schools, is that the product of schools is work, the customers are students, and the "sale" is a success if students engage in the work, persist through difficulties, get enough satisfaction or even enjoyment from it to enable a subsequent sale of more work, and gain from the work the knowledge and skills that the community wants students to have!  (That last phrase is crucial for those who think talk of student satisfaction and enjoyment leads to engaging, fun activities with zero academic content.)

Schlechty makes these fundamental points in Inventing Better Schools.  In Shaking Up the Schoolhouse, however, he looks at why it is difficult for schools, and, indeed, school systems to CHANGE in ways that allow this to happen.  He notes that school systems are not "change adept" and suggests that educational leaders (superintendents and school boards) often mistake "change projects" or "change programs" for "change-adept organizations". (Citing Rosabeth Moss Kanter at p. 41.)  Change projects are short-term, specific, and aimed at a particular problem.  Change programs are interrelated sets of change projects designed to have a major cumulative impact on the organization.  Change adept organizations: 

  • are capable of continuous innovation, 
  • embrace change as an internally desired opportunity before it becomes an externally driven threat, and
  • mobilize many people in the organization to contribute.

What's really interesting to me is to compare Schlechty's "change adept organizations" to the examples in Surfing the Edge of Chaos of organizations successfully "surfing" the demands of adaptive change.

Schlechty proposes that by "Working on the Work", teachers can create and sell work that will help students achieve at the levels new "standards-based" systems are seeking.  And it is ONLY when teachers are "working on the work" that this can happen.  Schelchty notes that this requires a change in teachers' conception of their roles:

"At present, too few teachers view themselves as inventors of work for children, and too many see themselves as implementers of programs. . . .  The understanding that is needed is that in the end it is not what the teacher does that counts.  What matters is what the teacher is able to get the students to do with enthusiasm, commitment and persistence."

p. 91.

Schlechty outlines a framework for WOW (Working On the Work).  To me, this whole approach fits very well with both the techniques for surfing the edge of chaos outlined above and the concept of Lesson Study.  WOW would provide an approach for teachers struggling to improve lessons in their Lesson Study sessions.  It helps teachers move into the role of instructional leaders.  Schlechty writes:

"The WOW framework clearly requires new thinking.  It requires teachers to think of themselves as leaders and inventors rather than performers and clinicians.  It requires teachers to view students as volunteers and customers... .  It requires teachers to renounce the notion that most of what affects the performance of children is beyond the control of teachers and schools and to embrace the idea that most failures in learning arise because the schools have yet to invent work that will motivate the student to expend the energy to do what needs to be done to learn what needs to be learned.  Indeed the WOW framework requires teachers, parents and others to renounce the idea that individual ability is the chief source of variance in performance and to embrace the notion that effort and persistence are the primary source of variance."

p. 154

Dr. Schlechty is President of the Center for Leadership in School Reform, www.clsr.org