Monday, May 18, 2009

Degree of Agreement

One of the aspects of education that never ceases to amaze me is how difficult it is for good ideas to spread. Whether it is an entirely new approach to curriculum, pedagogy, or even a classroom management approach, new ideas seem to have a limited shelf-life and a surprisingly small sphere of influence. Years ago I thought Peter Senge and the Learning Organization was going to gain meaningful momentum and be the focal point or point of leverage for educational reform. The movement, if you can call it that, fell short, but it did leave some of us thinking about visions for educations. In particular, it was "shared visions" that seemed to be the target at the end of the scope.

In this book, the authors look at "vision" in Chapter 8 by constructing shared vision through a matrix of "the extent to which people agree on what they want" versus "the extent to which people agree on cause and effect". The authors conclude that there is no "best" situation within this model. What is important to recognize is how an organization might change its position within this framework. They suggest that there are two means to moving - success and communication. Success breeds consensus, just as everyone wants to be a winner. Of course, failure produces the polar response. The second tool is communication through a common language and a common model for identifying a problem. They offer the story of Andy Grove and Intel to illustrate this point.

This reminded me of the importance of communication in Senge's model. He wrote that too often we have "discussions", a word with the same root as concussion and percussion. His point - discussion is advocacy-based - one states a position and then pounds it into the heads of whoever is listening. Too often meetings, in an effort to be "efficient", evolve into such forums. We need to open a dialogue through the organization by opening the many channels of communication. Dialogue, literally "speaking through to understanding", needs input, cultivation, reflection, and ultimately, action. In education, such discussions of change frequently revolve about scarce resources being committed to one approach over another. Notice the ever-present advocacy of such an approach. For me, two questions keep nagging me:
(1) Do we struggle with direction (consensus) because our mission is unclear or ambiguous? (2) Are there scarce resources and if so, what are they?

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