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Perspective Transformation and Action Research

The table below shows the correspondence between Perspective Transformation and Action Research as process and method frameworks for systemic school change.

Activity: Review the Phases of Perspective Transformation and the Steps of Action Research in the table. React to and discuss the correspondence between the two models and the feasibility of the information for use in school settings.

Phases of Transformation Steps of Action Research
1. Disorienting dilemma Realized Need To Change
2. Self-examination Step 1: Look – Build a picture.
3. Critical assessment of assumptions Step 2: Think.

Interpret and explain what you see. Ask interpretive questions – Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How?

4. Recognizing link between discontent and the desire to transformation Prepare to fine-tune the problem.

What is real? What is ideal? What is the desired compromise?

5. Exploration of options Define tasks required to address the problem.

Chart the course and explore options.

6. Planning a course of action Step 3: Act.

Move forward. Formulate a detailed implementation plan. Identify task, steps, people, places, times, materials, and funds.

7. Acquiring knowledge and skills Reflect.

Evaluate and interpret data: What new knowledge have you gained? What has been the impact on the issue of concern? What do you still need to know?

8. Provisional trying of new roles Test options.
9. Building competence and self-confidence Identify additional training needs.

What additional training is required to build competence in the new role or situation?

10. Reintegration into one’s life of conditions dictated by one’s new perspective Internalize/Institutionalize your plans.

Develop new vision, routines, policies, and procedures to sustain the new outcome.

 

Sources:

Reed, L. C. (2017). The agape alternative. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A case study approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 


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Phases of Perspective Transformation

Phases of Perspective Transformation

Phase 1 – Identify the disorienting dilemma of this case.

This step typically results from the convergence of several “disquieting” events or experiences that tend to upset the equilibrium within the organization and its stakeholders. What are some of the significant areas of concern presented in this case? Identify the most immediate areas of concern – the disorienting dilemmas. State the dilemma(s) in simple terms.

Phase 2 – Self-examination (Look)

This phase involves deep introspection about the problems or situations. Engagement with this phase might entail stakeholders having critical conversations about the significant issues. Questions that might facilitate organizational self-examination include:

  • What are the major issues? How are they interconnected?
  • In what ways do the school’s problems impede the goal of building resiliency in the school setting?
  • What specific personnel or organizational adjustments will have to be made if the major issues are to be resolved?
  • Assess the school’s strengths and weaknesses in the following areas:
    1. Caring Relationships
    2. High Expectations
    3. Opportunities for Participation and Contribution

Phase 3 – Critical analysis of assumptions (Think)

This phase requires stakeholders to examine their assumptions about people, places, things, or circumstances that could inhibit or facilitate change. Such assumptions should be deconstructed, critically assessed, and reconstructed in ways that enable movement toward the desired goal. Questions include the following:

  • Does everyone in the organization look at the issue in the same way? What are the points of departure and convergence?
  • What are the likely sources (or root causes) of problems in the following areas?
    1. Caring Relationships
    2. High Expectations
    3. Opportunities for Participation and Contribution
  • As a group, assess how Meier’s five questions on critical consciousness are being addressed? (Meier, 1995).
    1. How do we know what we know?
    2. Who’s speaking?
    3. What causes what?
    4. How might things have been different?
    5. Who cares?
  • What programs and policies need to be adjusted to support the implementation of protective factors in the school setting in each of the categories?
    1. Caring Relationships
    2. High Expectations
    3. Opportunities for Participation and Contribution

Phase 4 – Recognition that one’s discontent and the process of transformation are shared

This phase assumes that the stakeholders’ level of discontent with circumstances will serve as a motivator for change leading to transformation. Questions that might help to clarify the situation include:

  • What prohibits the organization/community from reaching the desired goal of resiliency?
  • What would be the consequences if the desired change were not made?

Phase 5 – Exploration of options: New roles, relationships, and actions

If change is warranted, stakeholders have to explore new roles, options, relationships, and actions, along with long-term and short-term implications. Exploratory considerations might include:

  • Ensure that the new program addresses all of the areas outlined below:
    1. Caring Relationships
    2. High Expectations
    3. Opportunities for Participation and Contribution
  • For the given scenario, what would be the ideal solution?

Phase 6 – Planning a course of action (Act)

Planning a new course of action entails developing a set of action steps for activating protective factors in the school setting and taking the plan to build resiliency to the next level.  Guiding questions might include:

  • What steps must be taken to reach an ideal formulated by the group? (The “new ideal” must be contextual and may vary from school to school.)
  • What new roles and relationships should be cultivated to advance movement toward resiliency?
  • What is the relative difficulty of implementing each protective factor?
  • What are other details that need to be considered in an action plan? (i.e., “who, what, when, where, why, and how”).

Phase 7 – Acquiring knowledge and skills for implementing the plan

This phase involves helping stakeholders acquire knowledge and skills needed to implement an action plan. This list of skill-building activities does not need to be all inclusive but should provide stakeholders opportunities to build competence in critical areas. Questions to be addressed at this phase include:

  • What are the organization’s/stakeholders’ current strengths and weaknesses about the achievement of resiliency protective factors?
    1. Caring Relationships
    2. High Expectations
    3. Opportunities for Participation and Contribution
  • What resources are accessible to help stakeholders build competence and self-confidence in their redefined roles and relationships?

Phase 8 – Provisional trying of new roles

This phase involves stakeholders practicing acquired skills and acquiring experiences. Questions to be considered at this phase include:

  • What new skills and knowledge have stakeholders acquired to nurture protective factors?
    1. Caring Relationships
    2. High Expectations
    3. Opportunities for Participation and Contribution
  • What lessons have stakeholders learned so far?
  • What additional opportunities exist for growth and development?

Phase 9 – Building competence and self-confidence in new roles and relationships

Building competence and self-confidence entails involvement in opportunities to improve performance in the new role(s).

  • Develop a tentative list of possible opportunities for building competence and self-confidence.
  • What are the costs involved in pursuing each opportunity?

Phase 10 – Reintegration into one’s life of conditions dictated by one’s new perspective

For this phase, reintegration is defined as what occurs after a radical change has been completed. Questions include:

  • In what ways are the stakeholders equipped to apply newfound skills and insights to achieving and sustaining resiliency?
  • In what ways should the organization or stakeholder invest materially, intellectually, physically, and emotionally to sustain resiliency?
  • What mechanisms will be used for the organization or stakeholder to engage in constant reflection and revision of the goal to promote resiliency?

Sources:

Reed, L. C. (2017). The agape alternative. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A case study approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 


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Organizational Apathy

Apathy is an insidious disease in educational organizations. Its symptoms are teacher burn out, student discipline problems, academic failure, community dissatisfaction, and other deadly woes that stand in the way of teaching and learning. Based on many years as an educator, I have identified at least four phases of this dreaded disease: being amazed, appalled, amused, and finally apathetic. While this disease can affect almost anyone, there is the reason to hope. Apathy is neither inevitable nor permanent. If its degenerative pattern is detected early enough, apathy can be treated and reversed at any point in the cycle.

The first symptom of organizational apathy involves being amazed. According to Webster’s dictionary, amazement is evident when a person is perplexed or taken aback.  This state occurs when a person’s experience fails to reconcile with what that person expects. Unfortunately, a person can sustain prolonged cognitive dissonance for only so long before growing disheartened and drifting into the next phase in the cycle.

Being appalled erupts when amazement continues without resolution. This state of mind is a reaction to severe organizational stress. Operationally, when a situation is appalling, it has advanced to the point of inspiring horror, dismay, or disgust. The shocking phase continues until the circumstances that gave rise to it become so ridiculous as to evoke a reaction of humor.

That’s when amusement kicks in. Humor at this stage serves as a relief reaction to being appalled. When one is amused, one seeks to entertain or to occupy one’s thoughts in a light, playful, or pleasant manner. Amusement is a diversion that distracts one’s attention from worry or routine occupation. But, laughing to keep from crying can last for only so long before apathy takes over.

Apathy is the final stage in the cycle. It entails the absence of feeling or emotion, characterized by impassiveness, lack of interest, and indifference. Being apathetic means having or showing little concern for things outside of the self. In many ways, apathy can signal a state of defeat and fatigue.

How does one break the progression? In some situations, a movement towards apathy can be short-circuited by responsible leadership in an organization.  On other occasions, intervention may involve the use of reflective thinking, collaborative problem solving, and research-based planning for systemic change. Mediation may also require community input and fresh insights from outside stakeholders.

Breaking the cycle may depend on hefty doses of motivation, inspiration, and creativity. But, in the final analysis, an intervention will almost certainly demand a radical departure from the old way of doing things. I believe that a new road to organizational well-being must be paved with unity and trust if apathy is to be eradicated.

Sources:

Reed, L. C. (2017). The agape alternative. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A case study approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 


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Open-systems Theory and School Change

Open-systems Theory and School Change

An example of how open-system theory is applied in education can be seen in the standards movement.  Major stakeholders determined that schools should be held accountable for student outcomes. They placed pressure on political and educational leaders to initiate the development of standards for teaching, learning, administration, and other aspects of schooling.  In reaction to external environmental pressure, some stakeholders determined that norm-referenced test scores might be an appropriate way to measure attainment of standards.  Consequently, at federal and state policy levels, decisions were made to link dollars to outcomes.  These monetary incentives prompted local schools to focus on raising test scores, often employing a seemingly harmless process of “teaching to the test” that had far-reaching implications for staff motivation, curriculum, instruction, technology utilization, decision-making procedures, and staff development, among other things. The point is that the external environment drove organizational change, and the results were far-reaching.

Pressures for organizational change may also come from internal sources.  For example, situations in the internal environment that may signal the need for change include such things as breakdowns in communication and decision-making processes, new leadership, high turnover, or increased student misbehavior. Changes in one school subsystem have implications for changes in other subsystems such that organizational components interact dynamically with each other and with the outside environment. In the open systems approach, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The same principles apply to cultivate resiliency in schools.

Sources:

Reed, L. C. (2017). The agape alternative. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A case study approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 


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Systemic Change in Schools

Systemic Change in Schools

The professional literature on systemic change in education is vast. For purposes of this discussion, systemic change is defined as holistic self-examination, redefinition, renewal, and reformulation of fundamental principles, beliefs, and practices that drive the entire organization toward attainment of its goals. Such an encompassing definition is based in part on the notion that schools exist in an open system, with a dynamic interchange between internal and external environmental influences. To maintain equilibrium in such an environment, schools have to adopt practices that contribute to their survival – a notion that is referred to as organizational resiliency in the present discussion. The synergistic impact of any organizational adjustment is organizational ecology.

Schools that are kept off balance cannot concentrate for sustained periods of time on goal attainment. Therefore, the institution needs to engage in practices geared toward organizational self-renewal. Ongoing self-renewal results in goal attainment and the survival of the organism.  Systems thinking coupled with organizational resiliency and organizational ecology provides a useful way of viewing the systemic school change problem.

A common thread running through recent research pertains to the systemic nature of change in school organizations. That is, the change affects every aspect of the institutional environment, having the potential to throw off balance the delicate ecology of the school as an organism. Educational entities must have a way of monitoring the ecological impact of change on school outcomes. Systems theory provides a way of looking at the problem. System theory is not a theory in the true sense of the term.  Rather it is a framework for viewing interactions occurring in most living systems.

General systems theory can shed light on transactions that take place in complex social systems.  In the 1950’s Ludwig von Bertalanffy detailed a general systems theory to encompass all levels of science ranging from the investigation of what occurs in a single living cell to what occurs in society at large. Later, Miller expanded and developed the theory, broadening its applicability to a range of living systems.

Viewing a phenomenon from a systems perspective draws our attention to the influence of the larger environment, the complex interdependencies that exist within that environment, and the impact of subtle changes on the organism as a whole. Looking through the lens of systems theory, cause-effect relationships become problematic – a single factor is rarely the cause of an outcome. Rather, the cause is associated with a complex and sensitive interplay of subsystems within the larger entity.  Thus, the concept of subsystems is coupled with that of multiple-causation.

These ideas can be translated into schools. Schools function in an open system in which a close relationship exists between the school organization and its surrounding environment. Any system needs to have a continual inflow of energy to maintain a viable connection between structure and supporting environment. In schools, this interchange is associated with an endless, cyclical transaction between school and the surrounding environment. In this relationship, organizational behavior is contingent upon forces that extend beyond the self-contained context of the school.  It then becomes necessary to study “the relationships between human behavior and the context (environment, ecology) that are characteristic of the organization” (Owens, 1998, p. 44).

Sources:

Reed, L. C. (2017). The agape alternative. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A case study approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 


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Perseverance

Don’t let anything break your stride!

A Motivational Message from

Center Street Consulting – “Teach One”


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Assumptions About Change

Although change is inevitable and rarely easy, it consists of a predictable process. Back in 1990, Michael Fullan identified some factors that impede meaningful change. Today, concerned stakeholders are well advised to revisit Fullan’s “10 Assumptions about Change.” They are as insightful now as they were more than 20 years ago. As we collectively address the ongoing need for change in schools, we should move forward with caution and pay attention to the lessons of the past:

  1. Do not assume that your version of what the change should be is the one that should be implemented.
  2. Assume that any significant innovation, if it is to result in change, requires individual implementers to work out their own meaning.
  3. Assume that conflict and disagreement are not only inevitable but fundamental to successful change.
  4. Assume that people need pressure to change (even in directions that they desire). But it will only be effective under conditions that allow them to react, to form their own position, to interact with other implementers, to obtain technical assistance, etc.
  5. Assume that effective change takes time: 3 – 5 years for specific innovations, greater than 5 years for institutional reform.
  6. We should not assume that the reason for lack of implementation is the outright rejection of the values embodied in the change or hardcore resistance to all change. There are some possible reasons: value rejection, inadequate resources to support implementation, insufficient time elapsed.
  7. We should not expect all or even most people or groups to change. Progress occurs when we take steps that increase the number of people.  Our reach should not exceed our grasps … by such a margin that we fall flat on our face.
  8. Assume that we will need a plan that is based on the above assumptions.
  9. Assume that no amount of knowledge will ever make it totally clear what action should be taken.
  10. We should assume that changing the culture of institutions is the real agenda, not implementing single innovations.

Sources:

Reed, L. C. (2017). The agape alternative. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A case study approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 


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History and Background on the Purposes of Education

Education in some circles represents the one best hope for millions of young Americans, especially those who classified as minority and underprivileged. However, policymakers and many stakeholders have failed continually to agree on what constitutes quality in schools. There is a lack of consensus about the core purposes of schooling in a world dominated by relativistic values and beliefs.

What are the purposes of schooling?  Some critics, analysts, and theorists have suggested that schools should serve as vehicles for social change, the kind of change that is planned, controlled, and directed toward improving the human condition. Other groups have advocated for schools that focus on achievement (based on a range of definitions). There are some stakeholders who believe schools should help youngsters develop thinking skills, communication acumen, and similar aptitudes.  Another group believes schools should get youngsters ready for work, while their counterparts insist that schools prepare students for college. Another contingent would have schools preserve and transmit “traditional” and societal moral values. Some stakeholders believe the school should be a place that teaches young people how to build and nurture relationships. Frequently, these groups stand in opposition to each other. Infinite variations exist on the themes. In the meantime, a failure to define the purposes of schooling keeps school systems off balance.

The present state of schooling has become one of perpetual motion. The need for change, especially in the urban school context, is ongoing, inevitable and driven by social, political, and economic factors at any given time. The debate among disparate stakeholders rages on in spite of the fact that most of them have not bothered to look long and hard at the big picture. Instead, special interest “marksmen” from outside environments are shooting random arrows at targets blurred by political and fiscal uncertainty. And, in too many cases their solutions miss the intended mark. Until the focus becomes clearer, trying to improve schools from the outside will remain little more than the practice of shooting arrows into the wind and hoping they land somewhere near the stated targets.

In the meantime, the need for systemic change continues. It has become apparent that change affects every aspect of the institutional environment, having the potential to throw off balance the delicate ecology of the school as an organism. Until educational entities have a way of monitoring the ecological impact of change on school outcomes, schools will continue to operate with uncertainty.

Sources:

Reed, L. C. (2017). The agape alternative. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A Case Study Approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 


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The Nature of Theories

Perspective Transformation (Mezirow, 1991), Action Research (Stringer, 1996), and Resiliency Theory (Benard, 2004; Henderson & Milstein, 2003) are frameworks with applicability to systemic change in educational settings. These paradigms represent our best guesses about what occurs in schools and how the variables work together. The organizational principles underlying these theories appear to be fairly universal. Examining them enables us to confirm or disconfirm what we believe to be real.

Thomas Kuhn (1970) noted that research stimulates growth in knowledge by confirming or disconfirming theoretical propositions. Paradigms represent the central ideological core of any discipline and serve to define associated research and practice. Therefore, paradigm adherents routinely engage in efforts to support and develop theories (i.e., formulation of esoteric vocabulary, acquisition of specialized skills, refinement of concepts that clarify and strengthen the core beliefs, and support for workshops, conferences, and publications embracing the core). Furthermore, what paradigm adherents see is what their conditioning through experiences with the paradigm has taught them to see (Kuhn, 1970, p. 113).  In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn discussed how paradigms shift.

From time to time, a paradigm no longer possesses the power, breadth, or depth to explain certain phenomena. Consequently, an anomaly occurs, and a crisis results. According to Kuhn, all emergencies are resolved in one of three ways: (a) the problem that provoked the crisis is handled normally in the context of the research program; (b) the problem persists, and scientists may reach the conclusion that the current state of knowledge in the field is inadequate to handle the problem; or (c) a new candidate for a paradigm may emerge. The processes involved in shifting paradigms can be applied to just about any phenomenon requiring a change of mind or an adjustment in practice. Using Kuhn’s ideas as a lens may prompt us to view an old reality from a different point of view.

In the field of education, paradigms frequently shift because to educate is to change. The enterprise exists to move students from one stage of understanding to another. The pendulum continues to swing between equity and efficiency. Educational stakeholders run in circles and conform to cycles based on outside influences such as politics, culture, economics, and shift in ideology. Unless a system exists to manage change, schools will be in a perpetual state of imbalance.

Center Street Consulting outlines a process for cultivating resiliency in educational settings.  The paradigm is grounded in a theory-based model called Strategic Transformation and Resiliency Theory for Systemic Change (START-SC). The process examines relationships among key variables, including, resiliency factors, perspective transformation phases, and action research strategies for systemic school change and hypothesizes that meaningful change depends on equilibrium among all the components in the school setting. Equilibrium requires renewal. The renewal comes about from resilience. Adjustments must be made continually if educational institutions are to thrive. The model helps stakeholders look at the bigger picture so they can respond to it holistically.

Sources:

Reed, L. C. (2017). The agape alternative. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A case study approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.