CAN WE REACH SOME PLACE WE NEVER ENVISION?
Updated: Mar 22, 2018
Mathematically speaking, it’s possible for a person to run a 100 meters in 9.27 seconds, according to some mathematicians, given mathematical extensions of the world record improvement rate and some basic principles of force (basically the force a sprinter applies when his or her foot is on the ground).
Usain Bolt would have to shave 31/100 of a second off of his current record to reach that mark. However, knowing that a time of 9.27 is mathematically possible, the world’s greatest sprinters envision themselves reaching that mark.
My students and I recently discussed what it takes to be a “world record holder in education leadership” and how the power of a vision is critical. The context of the discussion revolved around how a vision drives performance. The course content is strategic planning and resource allocation. A subtitle for this integrated course could be, “Allocating resources to ensure organizational health and positive student outcomes.” The most successful plan in the world does not stand a chance of realizing its vision if a district’s Organizational Health Index (OHI) is low. It would be putting the cart before the horse.
The archetype for good organizational health is characterized by policies and practices that promote both high levels of divisional resource alignment (Fiscal, Human, and Educational) and collective efficacy (behaviors of the governance team and the district-level staff that foster positive student outcomes). For example, if a district sought to provide career pathways for students in media arts, fiscal resources to purchase equipment and create learning environments, human resources to ensure supportive contract language and find credentialed and capable specialist instructors, and educational resources to provide curriculum and instructional support and professional development would all need to be aligned to deliver a successful program. If one of the divisions fails to align with the other two divisions the result is a less-than-stellar program.
The challenge of alignment is particularly acute in declining enrollment districts because revenue is uncertain, staff rarely turns over, and without the right people program delivery is difficult, at best.
Factors that interfere with organizational health and consequently lower the OHI at the school site-level include enrollment (reduced revenue), staff turnover, absenteeism, dysfunctional governance, and segmentation (the social distance among community members as measured by structural aspects of a community, such as urbanism, concentration of poverty, racial and ethnic heterogeneity, and residential mobility). As a student of educational leadership, you probably want to know a little more about OHI since it’s a business concept and is uncommon in education. Generally, OHI utilizes processes to measure and track elements of organizational effectiveness. Specifically, those elements that directly impact operational performance. An OHI is a predictor of future performance capacity. The concept of an OHI in education was developed in the late 1980s and is composed of the following elements: institutional integrity, collegial leadership, resource influence, staff affiliation, and academic emphasis.
The strategic planning process is how most organizations in the public and private sector, in education and other industries, go about improving their OHI. Utilizing a SWOT framework, organizations identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Change is likely to be embraced and subsequently more successful if it’s clear to everyone that there is a problem. My school district has undergone an extensive strategic planning process utilizing the SWOT framework. It has yielded meaningful data that are driving the District’s initiatives moving forward. But it was the District’s OHI that drove us to engage in the strategic planning process. The fiscal, human, and educational resources were out of alignment. Fourteen consecutive years of declining enrollment effectively morphed the District into a smaller (33% shrinkage) version of itself – yet the structure remained largely unchanged. In household budgetary terms (we can all understand that!), the same amount of money has been going out while less and less has been coming in, year after year. Therein lies the complexity of alignment, in very simple terms. It would be like cruising down the road with your wheels pointing in different directions. You're working very hard just to keep the car on the road.
The strategic planning process is all about direction. And direction is all about a vision. And visions are all about possibilities. Identifying the direction of a school district, the primary responsibility of the governance team, is dependent on just how committed an organization is to making the possible a reality, and making the impossible, possible. In my District, we know where we are going thanks to a governing board that has articulated that vision. Does your district? Can you envision a 9.27 in your district’s future?
In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll wrote, “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”
Does your district know where it’s going?