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October 1, 1993
Vol. 51
No. 2

Overview / How Restructuring Applies to Me

    Instructional Strategies
      I speak and write frequently about restructuring schools, but some recent experiences have helped me see the matter in a new light.
      The need to change schools seems self-evident. Lectures and textbooks don't motivate students; active student involvement produces more authentic learning. Students should not compete in a win-lose situation; cooperative learning is more productive. Bureaucratic management is incompatible with professionalism; teachers should participate in school governance. I have oversimplified these arguments for the sake of brevity, but I do believe such changes are warranted, and many practicing educators say they agree. Why, then, are these and other innovations so rare? Well, many schools lack the resources to do things right. Parents and board members may be resistant. Preservice education and staff development are generally weak. It's undoubtedly all these things and more—but another reason is that change is frustrating and uncomfortable.
      We've been learning something about that at ASCD. Over the past year we engaged in an ambitious strategic planning project. We have a new mission and six broad goals, including one that calls for ASCD to model the qualities of a self-renewing organization. A few days after the Executive Council approved the goals in June, all staff members were invited to join in drafting strategies for achieving them. Our plans, developed in two months of feverish activity, will be reviewed by the Council later this month.
      Meanwhile we've begun to reexamine our department structures and how we work together. We've been reading Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline and asking how teaming applies to us. In the Publications Department, for example, we think we already have some elements of team operation. We're proud of what we do and how we do it. We have a reputation for quality. We're like a high school that sends its graduates to the best colleges. We have a tradition to uphold.
      Not that we're old-fashioned, you understand. We have been through the publishing revolution and now produce our magazine and other materials using desktop computers in-house. But we also know that things will continue to change. No one knows, for example, what will happen to print publications like ours as new forms of electronic publishing become more common. It's unsettling.
      The goals groups have also been unsettling. I have always assumed that only some of us were qualified to make the really important decisions about ASCD activities. But the goals groups are composed of people from all levels and all departments. I may find myself discussing a strategy proposed by an order processing assistant in a meeting co-chaired by a staff development specialist and the manager of marketing. And I'm finding they have much to offer.
      In this issue, Phil Schlechty, an education consultant who is also a sociologist, defines restructuring as dealing with “how power is distributed, how decisions are made.” It is “changing the system of rules, roles, and relationships.” That's just fine—until it's my role and my relationships that are on the block. I'm beginning to see why educators may be a little defensive when I call for school restructuring, even when they, too, support change. Deep down, they can't help feeling criticized and wondering how the change will affect them.
      Now that I understand that, I look at my own situation differently. Yes, I'm confused and anxious. But I'm also excited about the possibilities for doing things differently. And I'm confident that if we do it right, we will have an even healthier association.

      Education writer and consultant Ron Brandt is the former editor of Educational Leadership and other publications of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

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      New Roles, New Relationships
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