Do our systems support our goals?

In their book Innovation, Curtis Carlson and William Wilmot talk about the difficulty many organizations have with adapting to change.

They point out, “A fundamental reason for this failure…to keep up is that they are, by definition, built to fight the last war. . . . They have well-defined organizations and processes designed to achieve those earlier objectives, but these very organizations and processes now resist the changes needed to exploit the new opportunities.” (p. 36)

One of the important components for innovation that they define is the importance of collaborative teams working together on key problems.   Collaboration is a skill we spend a lot of time talking about in education.   We work on identifying collaborative opportunities both offline and online, learn how to design more collaborative lessons and develop rubrics to evaluate collaborative efforts of our students.

And more and more, we talk about the importance of professional learning communities in our schools and the powerful learning that can take place when teachers work together.

Yet, as Carlson and Wilmot illustrate in their book, are our “systems” aligned with the goal of teacher collaboration?

They share an anecdote about an attempt by a university dean to create a center for joint research.  The center ultimately fails, because the professionals can’t seem to work together on a common problem.  The authors point out:

“. . .The university was not aligned with his goal.  The reward systems in his university, such as getting tenure and salary increases, recognized individual contributions, not team performance.”

As we ask teachers to work towards learning in professional communities, are we doing anything as a system to recognize or reward teachers for “team” work?   Is there any compensation, professional evaluation or reward system related at all to group efforts?  Certainly, the intrinsic rewards of learning are important, but what are ways we can support that sort of team effort systematically? 

If we are expecting to change the way teachers work together, then how do we align our systems to support our goals for professional development?

3 thoughts on “Do our systems support our goals?

  1. I am a fan of decreasing the school day for children… Cutting down the school day from 7 hours to 5 hours is not too much ask. Imagine what teachers could do with this extra 2.5 hours in our day. This time could be used for teacher collaboration and we wouldn’t have so many students falling asleep at the end of the day. Why do students need to be in school for 7 hours?

    This collaboration time could be used for a multitude of sharing sessions. This is what we need… Sharing, not Telling.

  2. Hi Carolyn,

    This type of writing has dominated my thinking lately, and your post speaks to a conversation I had on Thursday with a relative stranger. Organizations often neglect to share with their employees, or in our case, teachers, the reasons we do things. I am not talking about making changes to increase test scores or to increase student engagement–those are all outcomes. But each school must define itself via an ideal, rather than be defined by the outcomes it seeks.

    We are not, as Carlson and Wilmot suggest, equipped for the next change. To do that, we must define who we are as a school/district.

  3. As I prepared my students for the workplace, I went out to talk to employers in many different fields. All of them wanted me to teach my students how to work as a team. They felt that was more important than perfecting an actual skill because they felt the employee could learn that on the job better than I could ever train them in the classroom. But employers did not have the time to teach someone how to be a team player. As I looked around at my colleagues, I realized that some of them needed to learn these skills also so now when I teach my college level courses, this is one of the things that I stress to teachers, that they make sure this is a skill that they learn and perfect.

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