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I had several news organizations call and/or email for a statement on the departure of Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.  I hastily put together my thoughts, and wrote:

“Professional Educators of Tennessee appreciates the contributions of Commissioner Candice McQueen.  Commissioner McQueen is one of the most visible members of the Haslam Administration.   She took over the Department during a dark period in public education, and she made a significant difference within the Department, particularly in the infrastructure.  Those changes are not readily noticeable, as they include systems, processes and human capital.  There are some exceptional people within the Department of Education working to make public education a success in our state.  It is unfortunate that online testing continues to be a point of contention, but the state is moving in a positive direction.  The next Commissioner of Education and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly will need to make adjustments in student assessment as we move forward.   We will always be grateful to Commissioner McQueen for her unwavering support of increasing teacher salaries and commitment to student literacy.  These are incredible legacies to leave as she departs her critical role serving the citizens of Tennessee, and we wish Commissioner McQueen much success in her new role.   We look forward to working with Governor-elect Bill Lee and offering input on a successor.”

That’s what professionals do.  We issue statements and offer public comments about people and issues.  There is a right way and a wrong way to do that task.  In an era where we seemingly delight in lack of civility and negative tone of politics, we must take the high road.   We are polarized as a country, not because we are afraid to discuss issues of substance, but rather we cannot talk to each other in a respectful manner.  It’s easier for some to just be what my mom used to classify as “rude, crude and uncalled for.”  In the end, we merely see who can be the loudest in the room, and end up talking over each other.

What does that have to do with a statement on the Departure of a Haslam Cabinet official?  Simple, it brings out the ugly.  And I have seen some mean-spirited people critical of Commissioner McQueen, as she moves into the next phase of her career.  Most of those being critical are clueless.  To paraphrase Shakespeare, “In a battle of wits, they are unarmed.”

Tupac Shakur said, “Behind every sweet smile, there is a bitter sadness that no one can ever see and feel.” I spent time with Commissioner McQueen as more than a casual observer. Her heart and passion were always for the children and teachers in Tennessee.  She fought battles which nobody knew about and which, despite the lofty title in front of her name, she had little control.  While we didn’t always agree on every issue, it was always a discussion she was willing to have with me, as well as others. She made it a priority to discuss teacher issues with me regularly, and as needed as frequently as possible.  That alone will always endear her to the teachers who were included in those discussions.

Candice McQueen is a woman of faith.  That is an element that we need more of in public service.  She didn’t wield her faith as a sword, but you knew that she was a believer in Jesus Christ.  She had a preference for ideas over politics.  She chose principle over popularity.  She took ownership of a testing debacle, that she had inherited and didn’t even pick the people who oversaw it.  She could have easily laid blame elsewhere.  She chose not to do that.  She wisely fired a failed testing company.   She was not a seasoned politician.  If you recall legislative hearings, she sat there and took valid criticism of a flawed system.  However, that critique often crossed the line personally.

Candice McQueen symbolized the hope for a more decent and gentler public servant, willing to acknowledge faults in a system—and personally owning them.  Whereas Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here,” McQueen also took ownership while at the same time working to correct the issues.  (Much like building an airplane while at the same time trying to fly it.)  She did this while remaining optimistic and energetic.  From first-hand knowledge, I know she frequently started her work day before 6:00 AM and often finished it after 9:00 PM, even though she was a mother and wife.  Commissioner McQueen will be missed.

As far as the next Commissioner of Education goes, I imagine it will be much harder to fill her shoes than most people realize.  The next Commissioner must make sure she/he has direct access to the new Governor, with complete authority to make changes as needed.  The Governor, not the Commissioner of Education, must fight the legislative battles.  We need a true public servant we can also work with, who understands Tennessee and our educators.

The beautiful thing about legacies is that time is a fair-minded judge.  I suspect that Candice McQueen, like Lana Seivers who served years before her, will be seen as a Commissioner who helped build a modern Department of Education which meets the needs of districts, educators, parents and children.  Tennessee is moving forward in education, and we all should be proud of our accomplishments.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Tennessee is the Volunteer State. It is called the Volunteer State because in the times of crisis that our nation found itself, whether a natural crisis or in defense of our country, our citizens were the first to respond.

Members of my family have fought, and some even died, for the defense of our country. I am proud to have served in the Marine Corps and appreciate my fellow veterans. Anyone who has served will tell you it was an honor to wear the uniform of our nation and take the vows to defend our citizens, our country and our Constitution. Military enlistment has no expiration date.

This Veterans Day, in the year 2018, we must do more than repeat the well-deserved praises of the bravery and patriotism that our veterans embody. That was established the day they put on the uniform. Rather, we should reflect on how we are treating our veterans.

We know that the average number of veterans who commit suicide remains at 20 a day. We know that younger veterans are among that number. Suicide is a complex issue, and veterans are not getting the help they need. Why is this not a national priority? It is good political rhetoric during campaign season.

A lot of veterans end up teaching in Tennessee classrooms across the state. For them teaching is an extension of their service to their state and nation. Our classrooms are full of children who are the sons and daughters of active duty military and veterans. Tennessee has more current and former military among our citizenry than most states. So, on this Veterans Day let us remember the service of our veterans. Let us keep our promises and obligations to our veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much so we can live freely.

Veterans who are in crisis or are having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Veteran in crisis, should call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/get-help/Chat, or send a text message to 838255.You can learn more about VA’s suicide-prevention resources and programs at www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention.

Our veterans have served America with the fervent belief that freedom and democracy are ideals to be upheld around the world. The late Virginia Senator John Warner reminded us: “Tragically, the effort to make America and the world safer and to defend freedom around the world is not without an enormous cost to this Nation in terms primarily of lost lives and those who bear the scars and the wounds of war, and their families who must bear these losses. “It is time we make those who serve our state and nation a higher priority.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

boss blaming an employee

In October, across the state, educators have an opportunity to decide if they wish to engage in a process called “Collaborative Conferencing.”  In other industries they may refer to it as an “Interest-Based Collaborative Problem Solving,” which is an increasingly popular method of multiparty consensus-building.  In education that concept may not work, if one side chooses not to engage in consensus building and the other side decides to file unnecessary lawsuits.  Professional Educators of Tennessee fervently supports the right of educators to discuss working conditions and salary with their employers.

In 2011, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act (Public Chapter 378). So, it is not surprising that we are frequently asked about our position on Collaborative Conferencing.  Currently Collaborative Conferencing, also known as PECCA, only occurs in about 12 districts around the state.   Only certain subjects can be discussed.  And some subjects are completely prohibited.

Subjects that can be discussed include:  Salaries or wages; Grievance procedures; Insurance; Fringe benefits (not to include pensions or retirement programs of the Tennessee consolidated retirement system or locally authorized early retirement incentives); Working conditions, except those working conditions that are prescribed by federal law, state law, private act, municipal charter or rules and regulations of the State Board of Education, the Department of Education or any other department or agency of state or local government; Leave; and, Payroll deductions (except with respect to those funds going to political activities).

Subjects that are prohibited include:  Differentiated pay plans and other incentive compensation programs, including stipends, and associated benefits that are based on professional employee performance that exceeds expectations, or that aid in hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers for hard-to-staff schools and subject areas;   Expenditure of grants or awards from federal, state or local governments and foundations or other private organizations that are expressly designed for specific purposes; Evaluation of professional employees pursuant to federal or state law or State Board of Education policy; Staffing decisions and State Board of Education or local board of education policies relating to innovative educational programs under § 49-1-207; innovative high school programs under Title 49, chapter 15; virtual education programs under Title 49, chapter 16; and other programs for innovative schools or school districts that may be enacted by the general assembly; All personnel decisions concerning assignment of professional employees, including, but not limited to, filling of vacancies, assignments to specific schools, positions, professional duties, transfers within the system, layoffs, reductions in force, and recall. No agreement shall include provisions that require personnel decisions to be determined on the basis of tenure, seniority or length of service; and, Payroll deductions for political activities.

In a modern world, it doesn’t seem that placing limits or prohibitions helps local districts, educators, students or stakeholders on emerging topics.  However, we have been disappointed by PECCA, and think that we may want to discuss items outside the scope of Collaborative Conferencing, such as differentiated pay plans, expenditure of grants or awards, evaluation and staffing decisions or other issues like school safety, curriculum/materials and/or other rapidly emerging issues.  Although we can probably agree that banning payroll deductions for political activities is probably a good thing for public education.

Just as we do, many teachers see the flaw in the system:  you can discuss salary but you cannot discuss, differentiated pay plans and other incentive compensation programs, including stipends, and associated benefits that are based on professional employee performance that exceeds expectations, or that aid in hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers for hard-to-staff schools and subject areas.  Then why do we even discuss salary at all?  That decision is already set in a formula and largely determined with small room for debate or discussion.   It is probably why so few districts and educators choose to engage in Collaborative Conferencing.

Currently any school board in the state has the authority to address any terms and conditions through board policy. In other words, while the board is required to participate in conferencing if the professional employees vote to participate, nothing in the PECCA requires the board to agree on terms or conditions or enter into a memorandum of understanding if agreement has not been reached.  Which is why we must keep lines of communication open.

Are there other options?  We believe so and toward that end, Professional Educators of Tennessee has begun to establish Education Leaders Councils in some districts to accomplish more for teachers.  It will help us cultivate true consensus building and address more critical issues.

We know that some of our members oppose Collaborative Conferencing, which leads to less than optimal turnout in some districts.  In fact, in many districts those voting for Collaborative Conferencing is barely over 50% and still excludes people from the process.  That is simply not fair.

We hope we can work to address critical issues for educators and our members through our Education Leaders Council.  This may require future legislation, but any district can choose to meet with their employees at any time.   Our desire and intent are simple:  if you vote for Collaborative Conferencing or if you vote against Collaborative Conferencing, always choose Professional Educators of Tennessee as your representative, and we will work with our local leaders to promote the interest of educators in the local district, not an agenda pushed by a national organization.   We must work together, and it is clear that Collaborative Conferencing limits educators.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

 

Reducing school violence is a national imperative. Yet, despite increasing instances of school violence, little progress has been made in creating safe places for students to learn and for their educators to instruct. What is needed are new ideas, informed conversations and a readiness to break through the rhetorical stalemate toward a new understanding of school safety.

To advance productive efforts, on October 24, 2018, the University of Southern California (USC) is presenting the National Safe Schools Digital Summit. This event is being offered exclusively online and is free to view. No advance registration is required.

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I hope you can join in….Thanks, JC Bowman

 

Heftiger Disput

“Impress upon children the truth that the exercise of the elective franchise is a social duty of as solemn a nature as man can be called to perform; that a man may not innocently trifle with his vote; that every elector is a trustee as well for others as himself and that every measure he supports has an important bearing on the interests of others as well as on his own.”Thomas Jefferson

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I have been captivated by the subject of unlearning recently.  We are bombarded by a world of information.  We are probably, and perhaps technically, smarter than our ancestors.  However, they had the ability to keep things simple.  Why?  It was all they knew.  I think we should apply this to our own discipline of education.  What are we focused on that perhaps we should not bother with any longer? 

What do we need to unlearn?  

The problem isn’t learning: it’s unlearning.

Mark Bonchek wrote perhaps the most informative article on the subject in the Harvard Business Review, I encourage you to check out his work there.  Mr. Bonacheck wrote:

Ever since the publication of Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, 25 years ago, companies have sought to become “learning organizations” that continually transform themselves. In our era of digital disruption, this goal is more important than ever. But even the best companies still struggle to make real progress in this area.

One problem is that they’ve been focused on the wrong thing. The problem isn’t learning: it’s unlearning. In every aspect of business, we are operating with mental models that have grown outdated or obsolete, from strategy to marketing to organization to leadership. To embrace the new logic of value creation, we have to unlearn the old one.

Unlearning is not about forgetting. It’s about the ability to choose an alternative mental model or paradigm. When we learn, we add new skills or knowledge to what we already know. When we unlearn, we step outside the mental model in order to choose a different one.

As an example, last summer I rented a car to travel around Great Britain. I had never driven this kind of car before, so I had to learn the placement of the various controls. I also had to learn how to drive on the left side of the road. All of that was relatively easy. The hard part was unlearning how to drive on the right. I had to keep telling myself to “stay left.” It’s the reason crosswalks in London have reminders for pedestrians to “look right.” It’s not easy to unlearn the mental habits that no longer serve us.

The same thing happens in business. Many of the paradigms we learned in school and built our careers on are either incomplete or ineffective.

In strategy, an entire generation grew up with Michael Porter’s five forces. In this model, competitive advantage is achieved by driving costs down, driving prices up, locking in customers, and locking out competitors and entrants. In Porter’s view, “the essence of strategy is that you must set limits on what you’re trying to accomplish.”

But in a networked economy, the nature of strategy, value creation, and competitive advantage change from incremental to exponential. Companies like Google, Uber, Airbnb, and Facebook focus on how to remove limits rather than set them. They look beyond controlling the pipe that delivers a product and instead build platforms that enable others to create value. They look to create network effects through ecosystems of customers, suppliers, and partners.

The Porter model of strategy isn’t obsolete. But it is decidedly incomplete. It takes unlearning to see the model as only one possibility rather than canonical truth. As the saying goes, “The map is not the territory.”

In the field of marketing, our thinking is permeated by the mental model of mass communication. The world has become many-to-many, but we still operate with a one-to-many mindset. Everything is linear and transactional. We segment into discrete buckets even though people are multidimensional. We treat customers as consumers even when they want to be cocreators. We target buyers and run campaigns that push messages through channels even though real engagement increasingly happens through shared experiences. We move people through a pipeline that goes in one direction even though the customer journey is nonlinear.

We need to unlearn the push model of marketing and explore alternative models. For example, instead of using relationships to drive transactions, we could be building brand orbits and embedding transactions in relationships. Instead of customers being consumers, we could have relationships with them in a variety of roles and social facets. Beyond delivering a value proposition, we could be fulfilling a shared purpose.

In the area of organizational design, we are seeing an evolution from formal hierarchies to fluid networks. But this requires a substantial amount of unlearning. Our instincts are to think of an organization as an org chart. We automatically escalate decisions to the boss. I often hear executives talk about being “more networked,” but what they really mean is collaborating across the silos. To truly become a networked organization, you need decision principles that create both alignment and autonomy. But this requires unlearning in the areas of management, leadership, and governance.

The process of unlearning has three parts.

  • First, you have to recognize that the old mental model is no longer relevant or effective. This is a challenge because we are usually unconscious of our mental models. They are the proverbial water to the fish. In addition, we might be afraid to admit that the existing model is growing outdated. We have built our reputations and careers on the mastery of these old models. Letting go can seem like starting over and losing our status, authority, or sense of self.
  • Second, you need to find or create a new model that can better achieve your goals. At first, you will probably see this new model through the lens of the old. Many companies are ineffective in their use of social media because they still think of it as a channel for distributing a message. They haven’t made the mental shift from one-to-many to many-to-many. Social is best thought of as a context rather than a channel.
  • Third, you need to ingrain the new mental habits. This process is no different from creating a new behavioral habit, like your diet or golf swing. The tendency will be to fall back into the old way of thinking and therefore the old way of doing. It’s useful to create triggers that alert you to which model you are working from. For example, when you are talking about your customers, catch yourself when you call them “consumers” — this corresponds to a transactional mindset. Find a word that reflects a more collaborative relationship. The shift in language helps to reinforce the shift in mindset.

The good news is that practicing unlearning will make it easier and quicker to make the shifts as your brain adapts. (It’s a process called neuroplasticity.) You can see this process at work in an experiment by Destin Sandler and his “backwards bicycle.” Toward the end of the video you can see the unlearning process at work. One thing to look for is how the process itself is exponential. One moment he can’t ride the bike, and then the next moment he can. So as you begin unlearning, be patient with yourself — it’s not a linear process. Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” In this time of transformative change, we need to be conscious of our mental models and ambidextrous in our thinking. Sometimes the incremental models of barriers to entry, linear campaigns, and hierarchical controls will be the right ones. But we need to unlearn these models and replace them with exponential models based on network effects, brand orbits, and distributed networks. The place to start is by unlearning how we think about learning.

Mark Bonchek is the Founder and CEO (Chief Epiphany Officer) of Shift Thinking. He works with leaders and organizations to update their thinking for a digital age. Sign up for the Shift newsletter and follow Mark on Twitter at @MarkBonchek.

I Am the Walrus” is a song by the Beatles released in November 1967. The walrus refers to Lewis Carroll‘s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (from the book Through the Looking-Glass).  

I wrote this in 2004…..

I  really liked the line in the Beatles song “I Am the Walrus”:  “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”  The song was inspired by the nonsensical Lewis Carroll poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”

Described by Ian MacDonald as “the most idiosyncratic protest song ever written.”  “I Am the Walrus” highlights some of John Lennon’s brilliant verbal efforts.  Some critics believe it may also have served as the Beatles’ greatest moment of musical triumph.  In one sense, “I Am the Walrus” seems completely devoid of meaning.  The angry outburst unapologetically tackles the prevailing social structures and creates the need for further contemplation.

The song, indisputably a rage against forces outside John Lennon’s control, took root after he read a letter from a student at his old school.  The same institution of learning whose headmaster commented: “This boy is bound to fail.”  Following the usual expressions of adulation, this young man revealed in the letter that his teacher was playing Beatles songs in class. After the students had their turns analyzing the lyrics, the teacher would weigh in with his own interpretation of what the Beatles were really talking about.

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A masterful stroke of finality concludes the song with a scene from a BBC radio production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, one of Shakespeare’s most depressing works. The reference to death, which the protagonist has feared along with his madness throughout the song turns into the inevitable nothingness, the last piece of pandemonium. After he wrote, “I Am the Walrus,” Lennon challenged the authority figures that he felt had tormented him to figure out the meaning.

Another great Beatles song “A Day in the Life” was another dramatic climax on an album where the Beatles practically changed the world and themselves.

Overflowing with vivid hues and an assortment of fascinating sound effects, the Beatles contrasted deceivingly upbeat insert with the effects of the workaday world with expressionless stories of disillusion and regret.  A Day in the Life’s radiant, open-ended refrain, “I’d love to turn you on,” represents the possibility of escape.  Yet the song suggests a hint of guilt and that our emotional release will always remain an unrealized dream. Sound familiar?  Like intellectual refuse, written by a perturbed woman with paranoiac anxiety aimed at an aging, political frustrated audience.  Someone you cannot turn off, and would never turn on.

Writers, actors and singers seem captivated by everything from the grotesque to the merely banal.  While film director and actor Mel Gibson gets brutalized for portraying the crucifixion of Christ in a vicious manner, Lennon took the existential harshness and emotional spectrum and placed it in a psychedelic prism carefully separating forms of anxiety, sadness and fatalism.

So, what can we discover in a meaningless morass of musings?  The boy did not fail.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Eight steps to building an education system that delivers on the promise of excellence and equity

October 20, 2014
Professor Paul Reville

To build the education system that the 21st century demands, says Professor Paul Reville, we have to look at what’s failed in our attempts to reform the 20th-century education system we’re still living with.

Speaking at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Bold Ideas & Critical Conversations event on September 19, Reville summarized the ways in which our current system is failing to meet the promise of excellence and equity in education. Despite more than 20 years of intense reform efforts, there is still “an iron-law correlation between socioeconomic status and educational achievement and attainment.”

Charting a new pathway toward “all means all,” Reville outlined eight broad ideas that both assess and take us beyond today’s shortcomings:

  • There is now a happy coincidence, Reville said, between what we ought to do and what is in our economic interest to do, which is to educate each and every one of our students to a high standard — to educate them for success in employment, citizenship, family life, and as lifelong learners.
  • Schooling alone is insufficient; it is too weak an intervention to overcome the disadvantages of poverty. “We want a society in which demographics are not destiny,” Reville said, noting that the work to meet that ideal has only just begun.
  • Our current system is outmoded, he continued, citing short school days and a one-size-fits-all approach. “We have a batch-processing, mass-production model of education that served us very well if we wanted to achieve a society in which we were sending a lot of people into low-skill, low-knowledge jobs,” Reville said. “But for high-skill, high-knowledge jobs in a post-industrial information age, we need a very different system.”
  • We need a new design — a new way to integrate systems of education and child development that delivers on the goal of preparing each and every student for success.
  • To get there, “we’re going to need to differentiate,” Reville said. We need a system that meets every child where he or she is, and gives them tools to be successful at each stage of their education.
  • We must become more intentional in mitigating the issues in children’s lives outside of school that get in the way of their success in school. He argues that we need to braid systems of health, mental health, and education, taking steps to build social and emotional learning and resiliency.
  • We have to increase access to out-of-school learning for all students. “Affluent families are doing more than ever before in the 80 percent of children’s lives [spent] outside of school to enrich their children’s education. Disadvantaged families can do less and less,” Reville said.
  • All of these needs and priorities are feeding into the creation of the Education Redesign Lab, a new initiative at HGSE that aims to spearhead a national conversation about how we will build a new system of education and child development that finally delivers on the promise of excellence and equity. Reville envisions a national design process that will bring together all of these elements of reform and create “a visionary blueprint for 21st-century education.”

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Credit to Usable Knowledge at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Website:  www.gse.harvard.edu/uk.

“Your strength doesn’t come from winning. It comes from struggles and hardship. Everything that you go through prepares you for the next level.” ― Germany Kent