August 2010

In preparation for a presentation on school change that I was doing recently I was going back through my material and came across the work, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading by Marty Linsky and Ron Heifetz.

Their work is really good stuff, and if you haven’t read it I would highly recommend it. Their work has always been pertinent and right on target, but I think it is especially relevant at this point in time. The most important point for me is a quote that they used about technical solutions versus adaptive challenges.

Technical solutions are the things that we  already know how to do. We apply those solutions when there is disequilibrium  (their term) in the system. For those of us in education we would call those solutions best practice. Those are the things we have been working really hard on for the last 15 years. And we’re really good at them now. In fact were probably doing the best job of what we’ve always done, that we’ve ever done.

The problem arises when doing what you’ve always done, regardless of how well you’re doing it, either isn’t good enough, or isn’t the right thing to be doing. Linsky and Heifetz call them “adaptive challenges.” Adaptive challenges require that we learn new ways, not simply get better at the old ways.

I believe that we are absolutely facing adaptive challenges. That we are going to have to change what we have kids know and do, change the educational experiences where they learn them, and change how we organize for those learning experiences.  Their quote about the mistakes leaders make applies to us today in education.

“Indeed, the single most common source of leadership failure we’ve been able to identify … is that people, especially those in positions of authority, treat adaptive challenges like technical problems.” – Heifetz and Linskey

I think that we  our treating adaptive challenges like technical problems. That is why, in spite of all of our efforts and success, society still not satisfied with the education our students are receiving. Rural school change will mean figuring out those adaptive challenges in finding new ways to meet them. – Steve Wyckoff

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When we talk about school change there is always a discussion about preparing students for college. There is no doubt that in the 21st century those people who are the most successful tend to be those with the highest level of education. But not all college degrees are highly correlated with being successful in the 21st century.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought and in fact later this week I’m going to be visiting with my friend Dr. Jackie Vietti, at Butler Community College to help me make sense of the whole question of college ready. You see, I can give you a whole pile of evidence that we are doing poorly when it comes to preparing kids for college, and that even many of those who make it through college, don’t get jobs that are high paying enough to pay off their college loans. So I am suffering from cognitive dissonance on this issue.

So I’ll tell you what I think I believe up to this point. I’m looking at college degrees from two perspectives. One, is the degree in high demand in society today; and two, is it a high skill degree? I’m still compiling a list of college degrees that I believe are high demand and high skill degrees. In this category I would put engineering degrees, many health science related degrees such as nursing, and some IT degrees. But I also put many two year technical degree, and even some industry certification programs. I’m sure there are others, so if you have some examples send them to me.

So that begs the question, are there some high skill low demand degrees? I think that some degrees in the sciences may fit this category; physics, biology, and chemistry. But I’m not completely sure of this.

And as I was thinking further about these categories I started to wonder if there are high demand and low skill degrees. I think there used to be, but I don’t think there are anymore. I think that liberal arts degrees used to be high demand and low skill. I think now liberal arts degrees are low skill and low demand.

when I graduated from college almost 40 years ago a liberal arts degree, like all college degrees, was the ticket to a good job. Today, that just isn’t true. Graduates with liberal arts degrees are perfectly prepared to go on to graduate school, but the jobs available for most of these degrees are for the most part low skill and sadly, low pay.

And therein lies one of our big problems. All of our K-12 core curriculum, and all of our gen ed courses in post secondary institutions are liberal arts courses. Which means we are spending huge amounts of our time, our most precious educational resource, preparing kids in low skill low demand areas, which the students see as boring and irrelevant. Perhaps it’s time as we talk about school change to begin to deal with the sacred cow of education … the liberal arts degree. – Steve Wyckoff

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School change: If we reach our goals will society be satisfied?

August 20, 2010

With the opening of schools I’ve had the opportunity to speak to several faculties about school change. I especially enjoy the dialogue that I get to have with the teachers even though we never have enough time to really dig in to the most important topics. One of the questions that I ask of any […]

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School change: The core curriculum/gen ed fiasco

August 18, 2010

Is a great deal of discussion around school change is focusing on the dropout problem. In Kansas, the governor has formed a commission to study dropouts because it has become such an economic issue. As the demand for high skill workers increases dropouts are increasingly a burden on society. I think one of the positive […]

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