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I was going through old notes and saw this in response to an exchange with George Thompson. We were talking about how you play a good education game in spite of the bad state accountability game they want you to play.

Regardless of whether you’re a school, a district, or a board, as well as the people in each, here is the dilemma. of a bad game versus a good game and how I would recommend people think about it:

1. You get elected, hired, or promoted, and you’re excited—you want to change the world for the better. You go to work and suddenly the weight of what you are attempting hits.

2. You get bogged down in the bureaucracy, often co-opted by it, because that is where the state places success. Success is where teachers teach to the test, administrators jump through unhelpful hoops they can’t see how to avoid, and the board adopts the tone of the compliant board. All accept the current state of accountability as a done deal even though they complain constantly knowing it isn’t right or good for kids.

3. No one is happy because of the misplaced notion of success, but outside of a Herculean effort no one can see a way out. Teachers leave by the truckload and those that are committed and stay do their best to live a schizophrenic life for the sake of the kids. Boards form tribes and bug the hell out of the superintendent, firing him/her when their frustration with the bureaucracy reaches the point where it exceeds the superintendent’s ability to respond. In the end, board’s protect the bureaucracy because they are told by the state that’s their job. The superintendent churn is bad for everyone.

4. The state sees the dysfunction and responds with more compliance and more bureaucracy, because that is what they are good at. (Go back to #2 and hit repeat). Or they throw up their hands, declare the problem too big, and offer charter and choice as a capitulation.

5. A committed educational leader gets fed up. They accept that a buracratic organization is rudderless and commit to do something. That something generally takes two forms: rebellion against the bureaucracy and its accountability systems, and the desire to start serving the kids rather than the system. Care must be taken as the committed leader is frequently in a place the state judges as a poor performer, and the leader risks looking like an apologist unhappy with what most will accept as an accurate judgment.

6. Two parallel paths need to form. One is towards becoming a Learning Organization. The other is towards True Accountability. The order is less important than knowing that both paths exist and must be followed. Much care will need to be taken to ensure that the negative judgments in the state system are kept isolated from this work, which occurs in a very different system.

7. Each sub-organization within a school system must go down both paths in a manner unique to them. You must have accountable schools, an accountable central office, and an accountable board, and they must all be accountable for constant movement towards a Learning Organization. And never forget what accountability is: the system through which you build and maintain trust with your stakeholders, which are the students, their parents, and their community.

8. The new paths will frequently collide with the old. Care must be taken that the new work not be corrupted. The more fidelity and focus give to step #7, the more likely the school system will succeed in the real sense of the word.

9. The new way will be different to most. Much care will need to be given to induction, culture, community, etc., to ensure that the new way is supported and protected. The goal is to eliminate steps 2-6 above so that the process begins with excited people who are inducted into a Learning Organization with True Accountability as the driver so that the new becomes the norm and the old fades into the background.

Like a board game. But without dice. And way more important.

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