Back in 1994, Peter Drucker, the educator and management consultant, wrote an article for The Atlantic Monthly titled The Age of Social Transformation in which he outlined how work, the work force, and society had transformed throughout the 20th Century and how we were beginning to enter a new age: the “knowledge society.”
Even though his article preceded the iPhone by over a decade, many of his insights and predictions have proven to be amazingly accurate, particularly as they relate to education.
While I urge anyone with a career in education to read and contemplate Drucker’s full article, there are three of his ideas that seem particularly relevant to administrators and how they can interact with and support their staff as we enter the new decade.
1) Do your job. Delegation is okay. Dumping is not.
Throughout his article, Drucker uses surgeons as an analogy to make various points about knowledge societies. In one example, he states:
“By itself, specialized knowledge does not yield performance. The surgeon is not effective unless there is a diagnosis---which, by and large is not the surgeon’s task and not even within the surgeon’s competence.”
As you enter the new year, make a list of every task you expect your teachers and staff to complete on a daily and/or weekly basis. Bring teachers in to make sure your list is complete.
Attendance, lesson planning, lesson posting, data analysis, data folders, PLCs, parent contact logs, before-school duty, after-school duty, tutorials, intervention…
Review your list. If there are tasks that you can remove from your teachers so that they can be more effective at their actual job---teaching students---then it may be worth reviewing who those tasks need to be assigned to going forward. (And big shocker...that assignment may need to fall to administrators.)
2) Your teachers are your most important resource. Use your time in a way that acknowledges that fact.
Drucker continues his surgeon analogy:
“The surgeon needs the operating room of the hospital and all its expensive capital equipment. But the surgeon’s true capital investment is twelve or fifteen years of training and the resulting knowledge, which the surgeon takes from one hospital to the next. Without that knowledge, the hospital’s expensive operating rooms are so much waste and scrap...In the knowledge society the most probable assumption for organizations is that they need knowledge workers far more than knowledge workers need them.”
Imagine the perfect classroom environment. Flexible seating. Projectors for every wall. Maybe one-to-one Chromebooks (or iPads, if you’re still stuck on Apple). Possibly an attached collaboration space with multiple smart boards and a closet filled with every curricular resource and manipulative imaginable.
None of that stuff---and that is all it is...stuff---can teach a class of children. It may entertain a class of children, and yes, there is a place for self-directed learning, but at the end of the day, the best curriculum, the best technology, and all the wobble stools in the world will never be utilized to their full potential without a trained educator at the helm.
While there could always be an argument that a room full of students would inevitably learn something if placed in a well-stocked classroom and given a little bit of guidance, the learning that happens at the hands of a well-trained, well-supported teacher is exponentially more productive.
If you find yourself spending more time on the “stuff” rather than your teachers, there is no better time than a new year to reverse your situation.
3) Everyone serves an important role. Not just core areas. Not just tested areas. Everyone.
One more quote from Drucker:
“There is no higher or lower knowledge. When the patient’s complaint is an ingrown toenail, the podiatrist’s knowledge, not that of the brain surgeon, controls---even though the brain surgeon has received many years of training and commands a much larger fee.”
Let’s not kid ourselves: in our current educational environment, testing drives the spring semester. We create intervention calendars and rotations. We crunch numbers. For better or worse, we direct our attention to where our accountability system leads us.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Nor should it.
Yes, accountability matters. It’s the system we live in, and we have to take the right steps to ensure we’re doing what is best for our schools, our districts, and in most cases, our towns and cities.
However, that should not come at the expense of teachers.
ALL teachers deserve attention and support. ALL year.
You never know if a student needs the attention and support of a “podiatrist” or a “surgeon.” If the surgeon is the only one who has the tools, time, resources, and support they need to be successful, where does that leave the student who needs a podiatrist?
“In a knowledge society, for the first time in history, the possibility of leadership will be open to all. Also, the possibility of acquiring knowledge will no longer depend on obtaining a prescribed education at a given age. Learning will become the tool of the individual---available to him or her at any age.”
Enjoy the new year, educators. Be what you need to be for your kids.