Friday, January 11, 2008

Stratification in School

by Ed Latham

Professional sports have constantly adjusted to ensure that new and existing talent is spread out among all of the teams in the sport. There have been some swings in different sports where one team seems really stacked or one team looks like it has some high school kids playing in the pros. These variances do not stay in place for long because each league runs directly from the money revenues from all of its teams and not just the best one. Another philosophy at work is to keep fan interest in every team by having a few star players on each team to give the fan a reason to watch the product. It is too bad that professional sports can not look to the education system to learn about how to spread things out.

I get to work with many wonderful staff. In every discussion about teacher composition, discussions come up about this personality or that personality. The level of consistency has allowed some to even make up education simulation games that include personalities and attitudes that are present in every system. How is this possible? We have little schools, big schools, ethnically diverse schools, economically advantaged systems, as well as poor systems and yet with all of the variables that differentiate schools from each other we can point to personalties or habits that seem to exist in every staff.

I was recently in a wonderful Math Leadership (AML) meeting in Bangor. The session was centered around the concept of how change happens in school and what strategies are most effective. One new concept for me was the idea that every group of people has 5 types of Adopter Types. When a change is presented, people will adopt that change at different rates.

Innovators will jump right in and play while learning. Leaders will be excited about the ideas but show a bit more restraint and thought before jumping on board. Early Majority types will be keen on the idea, but they must see some level of success in others before they will jump on board. Late Majority people sit back and wait until they "have to" try it out before they start on the path. Then we have our Resisters that feel the change is a total waste of time and not worth their attention.

I knew about these divisions to some extent, but I was shocked to hear about how all 5 parties show up in almost any organization of people when a change is started. This includes business, governments and other parties. This brings to mind many questions. I would love to hear people's response or ideas concerning the following...

1). Is it possible to assemble a staff of Innovators or maybe Innovators and Leaders to make up a school? This staff would be very open to changes and shifts. Is that a good thing? Would there be a constant state of change? Most importantly, over time would this group stratify to form the 5 groups (Innovators, Leaders, Early Majority, Late Majority, Resisters)?

2). Do the Adopter types shift depending on the nature of the Change? It seems logical that we all may be more open to some changes and more resistant to other changes, but how do those thoughts and feelings drive our professional efforts in the field? In our roles do we actively shift our Adopter role depending on the nature of the change at hand?

3). Education has been criticized by many for being particularly slow to change over any number of years. Education seems to always be "behind the curve", "way off balance", or "not on track". Listening to more experienced teachers, they all can point to the cyclic nature of Education trends. Why is it that Businesses can adapt to changes and move on but the perception is that Education is constantly chasing it's tail?

We always plan things in Education, we may even start out on a path, but then things die out and resume to some "norm" only to wait until the wave starts up again. Some have claimed that if the Leviathan that is Education can not become a more flexible and adaptive system, our culture and quality of life will suffer in just a few generations. With 4 teenagers at home, I am already afraid of the signs I see from today's younger generation.

Our kids will be competing on a more global level than any proceeding generation. Data has been collected over the last few decades demonstrated some dramatic educational differences between countries. Do those systems have the same inability to change? If they do, how do they deal with change? Our team, (USA ED System), seems to be loosing something and falling behind in the league. Is it a manager's job to change it? Does the responsibility fall to the coaching staff? How about the players? What role do they have? Do the fans have any part in helping things get better? In sports, the answer to all of these questions is at least a partial yes! Sadly our Educational team continually stratifies into differing factions and the energy out there waxes and wanes as innovations burn out trying to light a fire made up of a wide variety of flammable and inflammable materials.

by Ed Latham

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