Empowering Organizational Change
If you’ve ever tried to improve things in CPSD, you know it’s sometimes like running into a brick wall. That’s a broad organizational problem. The role of the School Committee and the administration ought to be to facilitate, encourage, support, and streamline rather than to dictate. Organizations can improve very quickly when management moves from control to empowerment, especially when combined with mechanisms to spread best practices.
CPSD has had this problem for a long time. As I’ve learned about the history of CPSD, what struck me was how many good ideas came from the wrong places. The Innovation Agenda was a terrific set of ideas. It fell on its face because it was forced top-down on teachers and parents, missing many of the realities on the ground. At the same time, it seems to be an open secret that the school administration retaliates against teachers who speak up publicly or try to change things.
I would like to flip CPSD around to behave like a modern organization where our teachers are empowered to do a great job. I would like to:
- Enable parents, students, researchers, and teachers to become change agents. If you would like to make a change in your child’s classroom, the school administration should help you make it happen, not to find policies to block you.
- Dramatically increase the resources for innovation. Did you know teachers have a discretionary budget of just $400 for instructional materials? For a classroom of 20 students, that’s $20 per student. To have progress, we need to not just empower teachers but give them enough resources. Students and teachers do better, even if just by the Hawthorne Effect.
- Widely promote the changes which work. We should be yelling about good things happening in the district from the rooftops! I would like to build more connections with Cambridge Day, Cambridge Chronicle, Cambridge Civic Journal to publicize many of the great things that happen in the district and to encourage more people to get involved. One of the key roles of the school committee ought to be identifying what works – whether in schools, individual classrooms, or even individual students – and promoting it. Cheerleading successes both helps build culture of excellence, and helps such successes spread.
- Provide much greater transparency into our schools and into our classrooms. If a teacher is doing something which works, we should know about it! If an HGSE researcher wants to improve our schools, they should know enough to get started.
- Build communication channels so that when something is working in one classroom, it can spread to other classrooms around the district and beyond.
- Convert most of the rules and requirements that the school committee has burdened everyone with into guidelines. Between federal, state, and district regulations, teachers are tightly boxed in. This list is just a start of what teachers, parents, and students must deal with. Most of these individually are carefully thought out and very reasonable, and would make ideal guidelines.
- Parents are perhaps the most important part of student outcomes. We need for the schools to engage all parents early and bring them into working in collaboration with the school. Before we have universal pre-K, we can do a lot more to get parents involved, even in fairly lightweight ways. The school should offer parenting classes, volunteer opportunities, and build a social engagement. Each parent should have a point of contact – be that a school employee or a classroom parent – to walk them through the school lottery and application processes, services the city provides, and any other parenting support they might need from the time a child is born.