School Leaders, Future Shock and the Maze of Mistrust

Gerland Shoot-023-Edit_largeAcross the country, nearly everywhere, an incredible transformation is underway in K12 education, and it’s occurring at a breakneck pace.

We’re in a constant state of what Alvin Toffler, in his 1970 book, called “future shock,” or the idea of “too much change in too short a period of time.”

The consequences of accelerated transformation are all around us. We’ve witnessed a steep decline in the number of people seeking to become classroom teachers; we’ve seen confused parents openly oppose higher standards of learning; we’ve watched politicians stretch the definition of absurdity by imploring our schools, and our local communities, to do more with less. Each of these changes has contributed to an environment in which burnout among school superintendents and building administrators has reached dangerous levels.

Fighting the good fight
I retired last year after serving 14 years as a school superintendent in two states. But I didn’t stay sidelined for long.

Over the past 15 months, I have traveled the country meeting with former colleagues and school administrators to devise strategies for improving communications and community engagement. During that time, I’ve witnessed the good fight still underway to give students access to the quality education they so richly deserve.

Change in any environment creates deep stress. In a system as complicated as the nation’s K12 schools, where decisions affect the well-being of children, it’s a wonder things haven’t gotten worse. Much of that is a credit to you and the good work that you do as school leaders to hold it all together. These efforts must continue.

Moving forward
Doubt and opposition are a reality from which there is no escape. As superintendents and school leaders, it is incumbent upon us to understand the core drivers of this opposition, and to develop a culture of understanding and responsiveness that can move the conversation forward, even when it stalls.

The Kettering Foundation tackles this dilemma with great eloquence in its must-read report, The Age of Mistrust: How District Politics and Cross Talk are Stalling Efforts to Improve Public Education. Download it. Read it. Then ask yourself:

As a school district leader, do you shrink from sight at the appearance of negative feedback and misinformation? Or, do you seek to change the narrative, redirect the conversation, and keep the momentum going?

If the latter, I’m willing to bet you’ve got what it takes to turn your vision, great as it is, into a reality for your school system.

Interested in talking more? Check out the brief articles on the blog this week—and click on the email address below to let me know how I can help. 

Dr. Gerald Dawkins
Senior Vice President for Superintendent and District Relations, K12Insight
(gdawkins@K12Insight.com)

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