1703 North Beauregard St.
Alexandria, VA 22311-1714
Tel: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723)
8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday
Local to the D.C. area: 1-703-578-9600
Toll-free from U.S. and Canada: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723)
All other countries: (International Access Code) + 1-703-578-9600
by Douglas B. Reeves
Table of Contents
I love watching people select books. I always wonder what makes prospective readers linger on a title, briefly examine the cover of one and replace it on the shelf, then select another and flip through its pages for several minutes, and finally pick up another and take it home. Although my observations are hardly scientific, my strong suspicion is that the decision to select a book is made quickly—within a few seconds. The author must respond to every reader's questions:
Why you? If you are a leader or educator in a complex organization, then you have already concluded that the myths of the singular heroic leader and teacher are unsatisfying and fundamentally flawed. You know that the complexities of your organization and the enormity of your responsibilities demand performance, not platitudes. You want a solid intellectual framework that acknowledges the work of other researchers, but you want a new insight that will provide intellectual rigor and organizational energy. Above all, you want the answer to challenges that are facing you right now. You have an immediate need to improve communication within your organization, enhance staff morale, and increase performance at the individual and organizational levels. You are modest enough to know that you cannot achieve the objectives alone, but you are confident enough to know that one person can serve as a catalyst for the entire organization.
Why this book? There are many excellent books on leadership, and well over 100 other scholars are cited in the following pages. But there is also a lot of tripe masquerading as leadership insight. If you and other leaders and educators in your organization apply the lessons of this book, it will change your professional practices in profound ways. From conducting strategic planning, to running meetings, to evaluating projects, teams, and individuals, to organizing your leadership team and involving parents and community members, the Leadership for Learning Framework will help you reconceptualize your role and that of your colleagues. You will simultaneously discover strengths and acknowledge limitations, and you and your organization will be more resilient, less stressed, and more successful.
Will it work? The Leadership for Learning Framework is the result of extensive fieldwork and research. As I have done in my previous 19 books, I use authentic cases and real data. This book introduces a new and previously unpublished study that is the result of a detailed analysis of student achievement, teaching practices, and leadership planning for approximately 300,000 students in more than 290 schools. This is in addition to previous research and fieldwork from all 50 states and Canada, as well as my work in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. In other words, this is not ivory tower theory or abstract musings. Leadership for Learning is a framework for success, not a silver bullet or a feel-good reassurance that all is well. The framework will encourage those who are discouraged because it provides specific guidance for the most difficult schools, and it will challenge complacent schools to differentiate between being effective and being lucky.
What is the Leadership for Learning Framework? Consider the diagram in Figure 1.1 (Reeves, 2002a). On the vertical axis is the “Achievement of Results.” If you have high results, you are effective; if you have low results, you are ineffective or so goes the conventional wisdom. But such a superficial analysis does not distinguish between those who achieved high results through luck and through professional effectiveness. On the horizontal axis are the “Antecedents of Excellence,” those observable qualities in leadership, teaching, curriculum, parental engagement, and other indicators that assist in understanding how results are achieved.
Educators in the upper left quadrant, the Lucky quadrant, teach students who achieve high results, probably true before these students walked into school in the morning. These teachers and leaders are unable to link their professional practices to results because they do not know how their practices influence achievement. In these demoralizing environments, there is so much self-congratulatory backslapping and protestations of “excellence” that the inhabitants of the Lucky quadrant fail to recognize that a doll, television, computer game, or superior teacher could all achieve similar reading test results if these students are already reading fluently when they walk in the door of a 1st grade classroom. These Lucky schools treat their best teachers shabbily, because they do not recognize their extraordinary qualities. Those who choose the path of least resistance, who prefer popularity over effectiveness, or who decimate a forest with worksheets will achieve results similar to those who work their hearts out, analyze individual student results, challenge their high-achieving students, and encourage and coach their lowest-performing students. When challenges arrive, however, student achievement plummets. Lucky is nice while it lasts, but in a changing environment, lucky isn't enough.
In the lower left quadrant are the Losers. These leaders engage in stunningly self-defeating behavior by doing the same thing and expecting different results. Not only do they have low results on the vertical axis, but they are clueless about the antecedents of excellence on the horizontal axis.
The best example of this behavior I have recently encountered was a middle school in which more than 80 percent of the students were not reading on grade level. When I asked the leadership team how much time had been devoted to reading in the previous year, they replied, “Thirty-seven minutes every day.” Now, however, they were equipped with data that showed the error of their ways. Surely it would be obvious to the most casual observer that they needed to change their curriculum, schedule, and teaching practices, right? I innocently inquired, “So, now that we know how serious this situation is, how much time will you be spending on reading next year?” The stunning response: “Thirty-seven minutes every day.”
Leaders and teachers who say, “I'll do whatever is needed in order to improve student results, as long as we don't have to change the schedule, modify the curriculum, improve teaching practices, or alter leadership behavior,” are in the Loser quadrant. I might as well tell my physician that I am committed to losing 30 pounds as long as I can maintain a diet of fried chicken and martinis, sleep through my exercise class, and have a tailor who will adjust the waistband of my pants.
I have previously written about “belligerent indifference” (Reeves, 2001a) and have, not surprisingly, received some hostile responses to my use of the phrase. What better terminology is there for professionals who persist in leadership and teaching practices that are not working? We will not lure, cajole, bribe, or persuade people in the Loser quadrant to move to the right side of the matrix. We can only jolt them into a moment of extraordinary discomfort with this simple but profound question: “Is it working?” The Loser's answer is, at the very least, honest: “I don't know.” Implicit in this confession is the absolution that performance failures must be the fault of anyone except themselves. The fault for poor performance, if it lies anywhere, is with the students, their parents, their ethnicity, their culture, their environment, their peer group. It is anything except the professional conduct of the leaders and teachers involved in their education. This is the path of determined impotence and selected “victimhood.” At the very least, it represents a decidedly unpleasant way to lead a professional life. At the worst, this attitude characterizes the classic “blame the victim” mentality, in which the assaulted student deserves punishment for dressing provocatively, the poor student reaps the seeds of indolence, and the illiterate student has chosen the path of irresponsibility and failure.
Blaming students and their families for poor achievement is a very small step removed from blaming the rape victim for the assault or the unemployed for their poverty. In the latter case, the victims deserved their fate due to lack of effort, planning, and preparation; in the former case the victims deserved their fate due to their choice of apparel or boyfriends, or their choice of education and professions. Shouldn't the readers of fashion magazines have known that the advertisers conflated sex appeal with irresistible enticement? Shouldn't the steelworkers of the 1960s have known that their jobs would be exported? Shouldn't the computer programmers of the 1990s have known that the doors of economic opportunity would evaporate with the speed with which information travels from corporate headquarters in New York to programming centers in Asia? This is not a polemic about trading policies or women's fashions, but only an observation that trade policies do not render hardworking and well-trained workers incompetent dolts who deserve homelessness any more than fashion trends render aspiring models punching bags who deserve abuse. No one chooses failure, and the presumption that failure is a choice is deeply rooted in the need to elevate blame over responsibility.
The preceding paragraphs do not mean very much unless the remainder of this book offers a constructive solution. Fortunately, a significant body of research, including new research, suggests that there is hope. The primary conclusions of that research are as follows:
Now that we have our framework, let us consider how Leadership for Learning can work for you.
Note: If you are conducting a book study with your colleagues, you can download a free book study guide at www.MakingStandardsWork.com,
www.ascd.org and also find free access to information needed to apply the lessons from this book to develop your own Leadership Map.
Copyright © 2006 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication—including the drawings, graphs, illustrations, or chapters, except for brief quotations in
critical reviews or articles—may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from ASCD.
Subscribe to ASCD Express, our free e-mail newsletter, to have practical, actionable strategies and information delivered to your e-mail inbox twice a month.
ASCD respects intellectual property rights and adheres to the laws governing them. Learn more about our permissions policy and submit your request online.