Sunday, December 7, 2008

School or Balloon Factory?

In Seth Godin's Tribes, he talks about people who work in balloon factories as being timid and afraid of sharp objects and sudden changes in temperature. Balloon factories provide steady work in a not so scary environment. Except, as Godin states, when the unicorns show up. At first the workers try to scare the unicorn away but he often ignores them and wanders into the factory anyway. That's when everyone runs for cover.

Schools are for the most part much like balloon factories. As long as stability and status quo rule, schools are safe places to work. Occassionally, however, a principal or teacher leaders wanders into the school and upsets the applecart. These are leaders who, in Godin's words, are more productive than leaders who seek to get because they are there to give, and in doing so, upset the status quo.

What contributes to making schools more like balloon factories?

1. An American tradition of graded schools whose culture is embedded in our grandparents, parents, staff and students. We learned most of what we think school should be by sitting in a student desk for more than thirteen years.

2. A tradition of attracting college students into the teaching profession based primarily on their desire to "play school" as they learned growing up. Few aspiring students go off to college to learn how to upset the balloon factory.

3. The practice of promoting teachers into leadership positions based on years of experience in the classroom versus their leadership ability.

4. Constant external pressure to produce different results without providing the resources to change the way those results are produced. Politicians and the media want schools to leave no child behind despite the fact the child may begin his schooling already behind, but don't want to provide the financial or political support to change schools to year-round. Keep the balloon factory producing quality balloons despite poorer quality raw materials.

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