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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Eliminating Loser Loops: Free yourself and your school for success!



Basking in the springtime air, I strolled into the teachers lounge this morning and stumbled into the the stifling torrent of a network nightmare! The network was DOWN... kind of... but not really.

Limited connectivity errors... a bad hard drive on the server...the wireless nodes blinking like crazy... something was definitely WRONG. It took three hours and step by step I isolated what worked and didn't.

Finally, I determined it was what ever was plugged into jack D1 and D2. Armed with this knowledge, I hurriedly huffed towards my unknowing victim ready to vociferously ventilate my voracious venom over this meaningless waste of my morning.

And explode I did! On an empty room. In this empty room, I found two innocent little network jacks with a nice little 12 inch cable plugged into them... thus "bridging the gap." This made a topology loop guaranteed to crash just about any network. The network was plugged into itself!

So, my router... designed to "look" for new devices, sent out a signal to port D1 and that signal came back to the router through D2 -- faster and faster... into D2 and out D1 the router literally choked itself in its own quest for self analysis! It killed itself and the network.

Needless to say that some student somewhere is very lucky that I don't know their name... after I found this it has provoked some distinct consideration in my own mind of how often we choke our schools in useless loops such as this. I believe that finding and eliminating these loops will help us succeed and free up our time for meaningful activities.

Looking for "loops"

Administrative Loops
Look at your school and ask yourself -- "What are we producing for a limited internal audience that adds no value to our core mission?"

The core mission of a SCHOOL may vary, but I believe it centers around educating STUDENTS and helping them find their purpose!

In the successful businesses where I've worked, we were often asked to assign a percentage to the amount of time we focused on the CORE issues of the business versus that for "internal" customers. (Creating a report for accounting, answering a question for the VP, etc.)

So, how much time are you creating paper to feed to an administrator's insatiably hungry wastebasket? How much time are you creating electronic documents that will not be read NOR opened?

Teachers don't have enough TIME. We have to look for TIME in the places that will not harm our mission.

If we take a look at Steven Covey's "Four Quadrants of Living."

Everything in our lives can be categorized into urgent or not urgent and IMportant or Not Important.

Here is the kicker... administrators have the ability to take something that is NOT IMPORTANT and make it IMPORTANT as a result of their authority and power. So, it is vital that they look at what they are asking their employees to do and truly ask how important it is.

Additionally... BUREAUCRATS have the ability to take something that is NOT IMPORTANT and make it IMPORTANT as a result of their authority and power. If state school boards and federal school boards want to improve schools and increase headcount without spending a dime... they will eliminate needless paperwork or cut down on it.

We need visionary leaders who will tell bureaucrats -- "cut back on every form we have by 50%." Keep the meaning... cut out on the wasted, redundant information. Figure out ways to code things so we don't have to repeat things.

Teacher time should be treated as a scarce, finite resource. They should not be considered at the bottom of the "food chain" but top- front line producers and the people who should be helped.

And the focus should be on the student!

Paperwork Paralysis
I had an administrator that used to make me turn in every lesson plan for every class every week at the end of the prior week. He did not read them. They were for his file.

And IF I changed the lesson plan, I had to update it. I plan my lessons anyway... however, all of this paperwork really took the focus off of my STUDENT and made the PRINCIPAL my customer. The focus WAS on him NOT students. I often spent so much time making the lesson plans PRETTY that I wasn't really ready to TEACH when it came time to implement the plan. That is ridiculous.

I honestly don't know if I could have been able to do Flat Classroom or Horizon in such a scenario.

Now, I'm not advocating that we don't plan our lessons. WE MUST PLAN AHEAD for our lessons. I plan out the year, the six weeks, the week, the day. However, often, these plans are a bit messy and working. I do them in pencil for the week and they end up with erasures and sometimes post it notes on them. They are working documents and they look like it! A BEAUTIFUL lesson plan is a report, not a lesson plan.

Are we producing lesson plans or lessons?
We have to ask ourselves... what is the product a teacher is producing? Are teachers producing neat tidy, well kept lesson plans or are they producing a LESSON that is planned to TEACH and flexible enough to be adapted as necessary?

Is the "customer" of the lesson the principal (or the principal's file?) or the students who learn within it?

I have friends who state that they spend 6-8 hours a WEEK on PAPERWORK. They say that real planning is an afterthought because the customer is all of the administrators and directors who are inspecting the paper.

This is a backwards scenario.

Seeing reality depends upon what you look at?
If administrators and directors want to see if good lessons are being taught, they should observe the lessons.

This is like saying that I'm going to observe your family by sitting outside and looking at the outside of your house. I'm going to learn something about your family from the outside, but I'm going to judge a lot by how pretty the house looks and external factors. I honestly DON'T KNOW what is happening in that house by looking at the outside.

The proverbial "fly on the wall" knows more about the house than I do. (OH, and if You KNOW I'm coming to visit, you WILL act differently.)

I want to be trusted but I also like the assurance that comes from the fact that my principal and curriculum director pop in pretty often. They don't have to.. I don't feel watched... I just feel like they care what happens in there!

Classroom Loops
But teachers, don't point your finger at administrators, because you have four pointing right back at you! Teachers are some of the worst at creating meaningless loops!

Why do we have the fill out worksheets? What if knowledge could be better imparted by experience?

Teachers often opt for the worksheet because it can be seen, touched, and "measured." Experience cannot be filed in a box and handed to parents. Audio files and video are not as "tangible" as a piece of paper! We cannot touch a wiki or a blog!

We have to ask ourselves... what is the PURPOSE of what my students are creating? Can I expand the audience to be more than just the teacher? (IS it appropriate to expand the audience?) Can I better assess in another way?

Purpose
Students want PURPOSE. Teachers want PURPOSE

Useless loops KILL PURPOSE and suck the very hopes, dreams, and motivations from a school faster than a greased pig through the hands of a four year old.

Looking for the Loser Loops
So, my three hours of finding this useless loop will not go to waste. I will look for the other useless loops in my life and work to eradicate them from my life so that I can free up my time, energy, and resources for the things full of meaning.

Oh, and I just read that we only wear 20% of our clothes and use 20% of what we have in our houses-- so maybe part of my problem is unused stuff... wasted space will be my next target I think.

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