Built to Last
You know the slogan and the company: “Ford: built to last.”
You also know the acronym: Found On Road Dead.
Which is right?
According to Forbes magazine, Ford has dramatically improved and redesigned their cars and trucks, making them built to last 250,000 miles or more. If this is true, then the days of foreign car dealerships talking about American made cars built for the balance of their lease, versus the lasting of an owner’s lifetime, is no longer valid. And if that’s true, then Ford has learned something we in education haven’t yet: accountability as an overall approach to education doesn’t work. Sustainability does.
Wait, a minute, you say. Don’t Boards of Education need to be accountable to their stakeholders? Don’t central office administrators need to be accountable to their Board of Education? Aren’t teachers accountable to their students?
Yes. Yes. And, yes.
But, accountability models, in their current state, do not allow for long-term growth. Let’s look at it on a grassroots level: the classroom.
When teachers create classroom rules with their students, and set group norms for the way students will interact with each other, they don’t expect instantaneous mastery. Learning doesn’t work that way. Learning takes time, allows for mistakes, and expects refinement over time. Many teachers know that students will learn at their developmental pace, and that the best thing a teacher can do is to create the best conditions for learning. If that is done, then there is a better chance for good learning to occur more often during the course of the year.
But, nothing’s perfect, and educators know that, too. So, teachers get the fact that many of the concepts and approaches to learning they try to cultivate in their learners may not take shape in them for many years after student educational experiences are over. The problem with that, is how do you account for that?
How do you use grades, standardized test scores, and other measurables of this ilk as evidence of learning outcomes when they are something that really shouldn’t be measured in the short-term? How about flipping the narrative, so the education system districts put into place are built to last, like the Ford motto states?
What I’m asking people to do is to think long-term, and that’s hard to do. I get it. Board of Education positions are one, two, or three year terms. There’s a reason people who run for positions don’t use slogans like “If I do my job right, we should see growth during my second three-year term.”
Superintendent and assistant superintendent contracts run three years, but they will know after two years whether they’re getting extended or not. The impetus is clear to them, too: results now. How can central office administrators, many with families of their own, be expected to put their job on the line and preach patience, when stakeholders clamor for immediate change and evidence of growth. There are no bootleg videos on YouTube of stakeholders and constituencies giving the slow clap to a superintendent who says, “We’ll get there. Give me ten years. Let me build something that’s foundationally solid, research-based, and good for kids. We’ll see a dip for a few years while we’re retraining our staff and reframing how we connect with our students, but in the end, everyone will be better. Trust me.”
Thing is, if we’re ever going to win in education everywhere, we need to change in order to grow. Our accountability models can’t look for quick wins. Institutional change, with adults within, and involved with the system, takes time. We need to account for all when flipping our narrative. And, when things get hard, because they will, we need to stick with our script. Backbones aren’t built overnight. But, they can be easily stripped away if we allow others to operate on us.
How do we change from a short-term accountability driven model to a long-term sustainable environment so our new and recent initiatives aren’t Found on Road Dead with our other recent and new initiatives:
1. The Eitner Rule: I can’t take credit for this, so I’m not going to. Jay Eitner, who puts the super in superintendent, once stated: “Growth and change takes time. It’s like cooking food in the crockpot. You need to go low and slow.” For change to work, we need to follow the analogy Super Jay aptly said. Take time, evaluate often, revise as needed, and get it right.
2. Focus on the Whole Child: in a recent webinar I did for Education Week on social-emotional-learning, I stated “We don’t test drive cars and only make right turns. If we buy a car with all the options, we use them, otherwise we’re not getting the most out of what we purchased.” With students it’s the same thing. If our primary focus is only on delivering the academic content to students, we’ve lost the entire battle. Students are entire people, with an entire set of needs. We need to understand each one on our class roster and let them know we care about them as people first, and learners second. When students believe that message, they will achieve for you.
3. Focus on the Whole Teacher: successful business models cited in The Chronicle of Higher Education focus their hiring practice on always looking to add value to their organization. What can a potential new employee bring to us that we don’t already have? How can they make us as an organization better? When we look to not only add people who can move our entire organization forward, but leverage the strengths of the people we already have to do the same, we are building for long-term success. There’s a reason (besides videotaping sidelines and deflating footballs) the New England Patriots win so much. They look to add value to all areas of their organization, and leverage those strengths week after week, year after year.
4. Remember Rule #1: in the movie Fight Club, the first two rules are the same: “You Do Not Talk About Fight Club.” The rules repeats to emphasize the importance of the first two rules. I don’t want you to hit anybody. I do want you to remember: change is a process, personally investing in people will be challenging but worthwhile, and remembering we’re in it for kids will prove helpful when something doesn’t go right and you feel you’ve been punched in the gut.
We aim as educators to create students who will be successful in a society that doesn’t exist yet. We do this through teaching students and communicating to families the importance of communication, collaboration, working as a member of a group, being a problem solver, being willing to fail and learn from it, and more. As educators, we need to model and live what we tell others. And, we need to do it when it’s uncomfortable to do. Many can talk this talk and walk this walk when it’s easy. There are fewer that will stick to this mindset when the work gets hard. That’s what makes you special. And, built to last.