Friday, September 14, 2012

It's About Telling the Story as Much as it is About Getting the Policy Right

I was struck by a quote in Thomas Friedman's New York Times column on Sunday July 22, 2012. President Obama was asked to reflect on his failures and successes in an interview with CBS News' Charlie Rose. In considering one of his biggest mistakes, the president said:

"[One of the biggest mistakes of my first term] was thinking that this job was about getting the policy right. That's important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times."

It struck me when reading this passage that at times I've failed to tell the story of my school district's "policies" (or initiatives). For instance, I recently developed a plan, collaboratively with the administration team and several teachers, to improve student performance data collection in the district. I spent a lot of time making sure the implementation timeline for new assessment tools was appropriate, that the tools themselves were the most effective ways to collect performance data, and that everything we were planning to do in our K-12 schools was backed by "good research."

What got lost in all of this planning was the "sale." I probably spent too much time tending to the details of implementation of the initiative and not enough "selling" the initiative to the rest of the faculty. I should have spent more time compelling teachers to recognize the power of effective student performance data collection and analysis. I should have spent more time inspiring people to realize the amazing impact data on our capability to pinpoint individual student needs and adapt (or differentiate) instruction. I could have walked the halls, stopping in on teachers to strike up engaging conversations about the initiative upon which they were about to embark. I could have spent 15-20 minutes at faculty meetings in each school laying out the case for data collection by showing simple slides that explicitly describe why were embarking on this project. I would also have sent weekly articles from such publications as Education Week, Educational Leadership, and Phi Delta Kappan that validate the work we would be doing.

Friedman concludes his piece by conducting his own reflection on the Obama presidency and writes,

"Looking back, I always felt to me that Obama's nomination was a hugely important act. But the election happened because the majority of Americans thought he was the best man to do something..."

Perhaps my district's assessment initiative could have been deployed more effectively had I moved the majority of teachers to realize the importance of our work. I am reminded that it takes an energized majority to make things happen, even if the details, (i.e. the "policies") have all been worked out!

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