Warning: I threw my back out yesterday and I hurt. What you will be reading may be written more by sore muscles than brain cells.
Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. Peter Drucker
You can't do the right things unless you know how to do things right. - the Blue Skunk
I am getting a little tired of the emphasis on "leadership" in society and especially in education. For all the talk, all the theories, all the studies, all the exhortations, this push is getting us nowhere - and good management may be suffering as a result.
Here are some deadly warning signs I've noticed lately...
- Has your local grad school replaced its "administration and management" classes with "leadership" classes?
- Has your professional organization's standards become a "visionary" document instead a practical description of and guidelines for an effective program?
- Has your last administrator been hired based on his philosophy and not his track record of running schools well?
I will state right up front that I am better manager than I am "leader." The workshops and articles of which I am most proud tend to be "management" rather than "leader" focused. Budgeting, tech planning, policy-making, skills integration, effective staff development and program evaluation are among my favorites. It's pretty easy to sneer at sharing "how-I-done-it-good" stories rather than research or high-blown commentary. But those looking down their noses probably aren't the folks trying to make actual changes in the classroom or library.
Let's face it - anybody can create a "vision" and cry loudly about all the things that are wrong and paint a utopian view that sounds pretty good (and it seems like almost everyone does). But what is usually lacking is any practical means of moving from Point A to Point B - especially within the parameters of working with real people, real budgets and a real number of hours in a day. I would contend that true genius is in finding ways to make vision reality - working where the rubber hits the road.
I've been wondering a good deal about what seems to be a round of recent political, economic and educational disasters - the Iraq War, the handling of Hurricane Katrina, the housing bubble, NCLB - and questioning whether it was a lack of leadership or piss-poor management that created (or exacerbated) the mess. Lets see:
- removing an evil dictator and establishing a democracy in the Middle East - good vision, poor execution
- helping the victims of a natural disaster - good vision, poor execution
- increasing the number of people who own their own homes - good vision, poor execution
- assuring that all children have good reading and math skills - good vision, poor execution
Where did we go wrong? Might it have been putting people who couldn't manage a one-car parade in charge? Leaders, not managers? Hmmmmm.
Pat a good manager on the back today...
While I admit that I am excited about e-books and their possibilities both as an educator and individual reader, I find myself a print addict. Anything more than a couple pages long that I need to read with care goes to the printer. I shudder at the thought of trying to read anything of substance on a PDA or, worse, a cell phone screen. I've not purchased a Kindle. My dresser is stacked with - gasp - a dozen or more hardbacks and paperbacks. Amazon, Barnes & Noble and printer cartridge manufacturers all love me.
Am I a latent Luddite?
Probably, but Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper Is Eternal (2007) 74 pages by William Powers, Media Critic for the National Journal, helped me understand a little better why many of us still cling to hardcopy books, magazines, newspapers, and printouts of digital content. It's a fascinating, uh, "paper."
One of the more interesting sections describes the early impact the printing press had on hand-written manuscripts. Handwriting, according to historians became even more widespread and important after Gutenberg. He uses this as an lesson, writing: "We have seen that new technologies do not necessarily eliminate old ones, at least not as quickly or predictably as is often assumed. However, when new modes of communication arrive, they do often change the role played by existing media." (p.26) and argues that "paper's work has been shifting away from storage and toward communication." Communication being the end user experience of actually reading.
Power's describes a Sellen and Harper study that ascribes to paper four "affordances" - inherent characteristics that make it particularly useful, especially for concentrated study:
- Tangibility (Our hands can do some of the work our brain does in navigation.)
- Spatial flexibility (We can spread out paper limitlessly, not confined by the size of a monitor)
- Tailorability (We can easily mark up printed documents.)
- Manipulability (We can put one page beside another for easy comparison.)
He concludes, "within a multi-tasking context, printed documents make it easier to focus on each specific task."
There are two other characteristics of paper that Power describes that resonated with me.
The first is that is is immutable. "Unlike a Web page that can be changed in the blink of an eye, a paper document implies a certain commitment to the content it carries." (p. 49) This summarizes my concerns over Wikipedia - not that the information it contains may be inaccurate. But that it may be accurate today and inaccurate 10 seconds later. (And frightens me to think how easy it would be today for Orwell's Big Brother to finish his task of revising all of history.) This may also explain why I take a good deal more time and care writing an 800 word magazine column than a longer blog entry - no going back to "re-write" the column.
The second characteristic is that paper is a selective medium. "A hard-copy document can only hold only as much information as will fit on its pages, and it cannot link to other sources except by verbal reference. ... the immensity of the digital trove also makes it inscrutable, unwieldy, and, at times, overwhelming." Power quotes Brown and Dugid in The Social Life of Information: ...it has become increasingly clear that libraries are less 'collections.' than useful selections that gain usefulness from what they exclude as much as what they hold." If that is not the best argument for excellent collection development strategies in school libraries, I don't know what is.
Anyway, Hamlet's Blackberry is well worth taking the time to read. I suggest you print it out and do so.