When the Sex Pistols penned their punk masterpiece God Save the Queen they did more than deliver a sonic cacophony. They set the world of music on its ear and off. When front man Johnny Rotten (Lydon) screamed No FUTURE over and over I was hooked from the first listen of those raw notes and complete contempt for a system that neither considered nor prepared to deal with its youth. I was young and I was pissed…
Fast forward 40 years. I’m reading Fullan’s System Thinkers in Action and being asked to pull 2 to 3 keys from this also masterfully crafted document that in its own way says…no future. As a breakout thinker from the 70s it seems as no coincidence that Fullan’s work warns of the same futureless void in education if the status quo remained in tact. (I can just imagine him humming this tune as he wrote the text.)
Below are few segments plucked from the text and some of my comments as it relates to the future of educational leadership and literacy(reading).
“It is clear that we have to unleash, develop, and cultivate the intellectual and moral resources and commitment of those at local and community levels across the system.” p.4/5
It is our moral imperative to allow students to learn on their terms in their time. Education gets it, Literacy is important. Yet, it is no longer good enough to merely pronounce the words correctly with a measure of fluency. Reading must now be critical, diverse, in use of a variety of texts and above all connected. I think of reading and the brain, not in the way that Stanislas Dehaene does (although a guy can wish), but in the way that the brain connects strings of thoughts in its neurons, dendrites and axons. When we plug our readers into the 21st Century our ultimate goal is to equip them to be connectors of ideas, knowledge in order to be collaborators and creators.
Homer-Dixon argues in The Ingenuity Gap that “the complexity, unpredictability, and pace of events in our world…are soaring”, and that “if our societies are to manage their affairs and improve well-being they will need more ingenuity, that is, more ideas for solving their technical and social problems”. As a result, he says, we face an “ingenuity gap” – “a shortfall between [the] rapidly rising need for ingenuity and [its] inadequate supply”. p. 6/7
In my opinion we are failing students in this area. We are so consumed by documents, rigour and procedure that we forget that there are futures at stake in the balance of state mandates and our calling to educate. As instructional leaders we are obligated by law to instruct “the curriculum” but we should never be limited to it and or by it. Sometimes this means teaching the parents of family the value of reading first. Suddenly, whenever I share my graphic correlating daily reading with percentile success every head in the room breaks into affirmative nods.
“If a system is to be transformed, leadership at all levels must be the primary engine. The main work of leaders is to help put in place all eight elements of sustainability including this one – fostering leadership in others.” p. 12/13
There was a song from the 80s by The Danse Society with the lyrics “Heaven is Waiting, but waiting is Hell, but Heaven is waiting.” You can sense another connection from Fullan to this poignant paradox as he wrote the sentence quoted above. I argue that there is a problem in “the system” which has created a problem by inertia, and is content to do nothing while resisting outside forces trying to move it forward.
We need leaders at all levels of education. Moreover we need to empower educators at all levels with our confidence and support. If we value our learners, we need to extend this value to a child’s best resource in the classroom…his/her teacher. Fullan is no fool. He gets it. I get it and I know you do too. Now what are we doing about it?
““never send a changed individual back into an unchanged environment”. What we need are cultures which are established on the premise that current and future leaders learn in context.” p. 14/15
Perhaps my favourite quote from this piece. It harkens to Einstein’s definition of insanity in a large way, and as such, should serve as a caveat to all. System change was, is and will be a struggle as long as past and present compete/collide to determine the future.
What I wonder is whether we will have the confidence and courage to change a system that consumes, contradicts and castigates all who challenge it?