PEACE IN THE WORKPLACE
Give Peace (Leadership) a Chance. Many executive-level leaders in education possess a fixed mindset when it comes to changing a school's or organization's culture. Part 3 of a series on Peace Leadership.
In a recent essay on change in a fixed mindset environment, I advanced the notion that institutionalizing a collective growth mindset, when one doesn't exist, is the greatest challenge education leaders face today. When continuous improvement, not compliance, became the new normal, it became clear to education leaders that change is no longer an event, but a mindset. Those tasked with turning schools or districts around start with the primary elements of an organizational infrastructure that girds a positive culture: trust, respect, and the ethos of caring. Organizations either have them, or they don't.
When organizations have them to a very high degree, there are no limits to their success. Their organizational story has all of the characteristics of a culture capable of propelling itself infinitely further than any strategic plan, budget strategy, reform initiative, or reorganization is capable of doing. When organizations do not possess them, however, there is little chance to reach their potential. Poor organizational cultures are characterized by a lot more chutes than ladders. Even good deeds are commonly punished.
Transforming schools is a challenging leadership task. Transforming organizations is a monumental leadership task. My students and I are studying transformational leadership through a Peace Leadership lens. Cultivating a professional culture of peace and inclusion is the foundation of the Integral Perspective of Peace Leadership (IPPL). The integrated and systems-oriented approach aims to strengthen school culture and capacity within communities of educational leaders. According to Peace Leadership experts Whitney McIntyre Miller and Anna Abdou, the IPPL can “connect the dots” and provide a strong foundation through which school-wide change is possible and more sustainable. But what if a school is persistently failing? What if its organizational infrastructure is fragile? What if its fundamental organizational characteristic is antagonism? What if there is no peace?
Section 1003(g) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) identifies four models to turnaround persistently failing schools. All four models speak to the existing culture, to varying degrees, and aim to change it through implosion. The Transformation Model replaces the principal and implements a rigorous staff evaluation and development system in conjunction with comprehensive instructional reform. The Turnaround Model replaces the principal and rehires no more than 50% of the staff.
The Restart Model, which either converts or closes and reopens a school under a charter school operator, charter management organization, or education management organization, is one step away from the most extreme measure: the School Closure Model. In the case of a school characterized by a culture beyond transformation, ESEA calls for one of the two extreme measures. Many executive-level leaders in education possess a fixed mindset when it comes to changing a school's or organization's culture without extreme measures. Most leaders cite research in the field and mounting evidence, in addition to their own experiences as either witnesses or participants in reform efforts.
Organizational culture manifests itself in its self-image. Similar to an individual with low self-image, low organizational self-image reflects the perception people inside the organization have of themselves in relation to the organization and their work. Indicators of low organizational self-image include high turnover rates, sensitivity to criticism, withdrawal, preoccupation with problems not directly related to the work, and even hostility that reveals itself in forms of workplace bullying, commonly referred to as mobbing when adults engage in it.
My students will directly examine the phenomena of organizational culture as they have consciously experienced it within their own organization using Edgar Schein’s Organizational Culture Model (OCM) as a conceptual framework. You may recall from an earlier essay that the renowned MIT Sloan School of Management professor and organizational management guru has influenced both my academic and professional work and has contributed to the my leadership classes. At 92-years young, the Father of Organizational Culture is still active. His latest book, Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness, and Trust, by Edgar and Peter Schein, explores how building personal relationships and trust gives way to leadership that enables better information flow and self-management.
Regarding organizational culture, Professor Schein's theory holds that organizations must guard against negative attitudes and ego, the primary enemies of a positive organizational culture. My students will test his theory and find out for themselves, but there's little doubt that negativity and ego are anathema to the IPPL. If Peace Leadership is to usher in positive and sustaining organizational and cultural change, it's likely negative attitudes and egos will have to be checked at the door.