Thursday, June 7, 2012

Turns Out I Won't Be Seeing You All Later

In a previous blog I wrote about trying to sync our bell times with a nearby school, which would allow us to perhaps share teachers through videoconferencing, and more importantly, to move our start time back in the morning, which all research indicates is better for learning. To collect stakeholder input, first we went around to classes and gathered student opinion via a paper poll.

On the side of moving the bells forward, this quote stood out as our favourite:
"Dude, bro this bell time is sick!"

On the side of continuing on with what we have now:
"The bells are fine the way they are. Chemainus can videoconference with somebody else!"

Most comments were quite thoughtful and focused on things they value, whether it be sleeping a bit more, or keeping precious after school time for play or work. In the end, the later start did not really resonate with kids, and about 60% preferred to keep things as they are. Next came the parent poll, and though the return rate was only about 7%, it echoed this same sentiment with roughly 66% preferring to stay the same. The staff, as expected, supported the learning community in the actual vote and decided against changing the bells by the same margin. This has left me with a serious epiphany. 

*Apparently people aren't that interested in research.

Wow. I know. Crazy, right? It turns out that personal experience really does trump what the experts and researchers tell us most of the time. This also brings me to some other thoughts about leadership. You probably noticed the mention of a staff vote and wondered if this was the normal way of doing business at my school. I have to admit that it isn't. Typically, most decisions are discussed in staff meetings, then if need be, discussed again with the department heads before I make the final call as principal. This generally works quite well, and I know that if I can't at least get the department heads on board I am probably well advised to rethink my position. I am also pretty sure that if I had every major proposal I brought forward in the last four years subjected to the litmus test of a student/parent poll followed by a straight staff vote like the one we just had, most would not have made it past the planning stage and our achievement profile would still look a lot like it did before I got here. ("Would you prefer a full-day for Recreation Day or just the afternoon with regular classes in the am?" Hmmm.) Communication and input are really important, but straight democracy can be limiting in regard to school improvement. Directions backed by expert opinion and research applied with judicious use of those "soft skills" will tend to get you farther in most cases.

I think buy-in occurs on a continuum in any organization, and if people who are really keen are able to move forward with change while the others do as much as they wish to but don't actively block, you can get reasonable momentum occurring. Positive signs, or "wins" as Kotter calls them, will then encourage others to join in, and if you stick with an idea and support it well enough, you can make some real progress. Having everyone on board for a major change right from the start would be fantastic, but because of human nature, it doesn't happen all that often, and that's okay.

One of the reasons I went with a staff vote on the later start is that I won't be here at the school next year, and I thought it would be unreasonable to impose something that I wouldn't be around to experience or support. Most would agree that was an appropriate way to resolve the conversation under the circumstances. Hopefully the idea will emerge again one day, and the next advocate for a later start will do a better job selling the idea than I did! I have enjoyed my time here "at Lake" very much and I have learned many lessons which I hope to use in the future, and more importantly, I made many great friends whom I will miss very much. Sometimes it takes knowing you are leaving before you really take stock in what you have gained from an experience. This last statement is based entirely on my own perceptions, by the way. Apparently, I'm not that interested in the research.

*Click here  to read this short blog entry by David Wees on why people tend to ignore research. 


  1. Hey Peter - I was speaking with Jacquie Taylor (@JeT33333) yesterday and she brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the conversation. One of the things that she said really stood out: she sai, "If I could go back, I would use and encourage the use of more research in education".

    This morning I tweeted out a question somewhere along these lines: Why is it that "we know better" than educational research? With all the research opposing retention, volumes of homework, traditional assessment practices (including zeros), zero-tolerance policies, standardized testing, etc why do we continue to see these in systems, schools, and classrooms?

    This is something I would love to explore further: how do we use educational research more effectively to create positive change in our schools?

    Great post and I look forward to learning from you in your new role.

  2. Thanks Chris! If I could do this one over I would have spent more time with the kids actually explaining the research and connecting it to what they experience every day. I also would have clarified some of the specific things the research says, like the difference between bed time and what time deep sleep actually occurs, and how much this this all impacts everyone's mood. This certainly was another learning experience, and at the end of the day, the stakeholders got their input and feel good about that. We'll talk soon. Thanks for commenting and "Retweeting".

  3. We will miss you very much too!!