Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It's not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious -- but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.

Oct 18, 2005

A Custom-fit Education System

Have you ever been to some event and received a one-size-fits-all hat?  Did it fit well?  Did you actually take the hat home and wear it?  Or did it go up on the closet shelf where you can't really get to it?  Maybe you've donated it to Goodwill for the bums and college students who shop at thrift stores.

I originally set out to simply make a comment on A Schoolyard Blog's latest post about stale donuts and her remorseful response to Fantasia Barrino's admission that she can't read:

Over the weekend I read a tidbit of star news. Fantasia Barrino, an American Idol who left me in awe with her rendition of Summer Time, has admitted that she is functionally illiterate. She has a new book out that she dictated to a free-lance writer. Star and illiterate in the same sentence is a sad statement. I fantasized Fantasia in a school where the main focus was singing, something she always knew about from the bones out, and she was learning to read and write on the side. I don’t know if it is possible for a singing school to turn someone into AP material, but maybe you have to start somewhere.

And with a one-two punch, ASYB'er talks with a guy who has come from a D.C. ghetto to Denver and is installing cable boxes:

Then a young man who told me he grew up in the “ghettos” of Washington D.C. came to install a new cable box. As I was talking with him I saw that the only thing keeping him in the installers truck was lack of practice in talking about his thinking. Because of the way he was enjoying our conversation I could tell that he had not been exposed to enough people who thought their job included listening and helping him be comfortable extending his thoughts.

...so ASYB'er concludes:

How I felt about these two incidents spurred me to conclude that I am sort of over education issues. Perhaps my imagination is too wild or my ideas too simple for a public institution. I have watched education for a long time and the stories haven’t changed much. They say a watched pot doesn't boil so I am going to stop watching for a bit.

I understand her frustration.  The source of her frustration is so systemic in our current ways of thinking that we might not be able to overcome it.

Colorado is gearing up to vote on Referendums C & D, which ditch the Tax Payer's Bill Of Rights (TABOR) Law in favor of a tax increase to "improve education and health care."  Colorado's TABOR law is unique.  Pretty much every economist in Colorado agrees that the TABOR law is the single mechanism that kept Colorado from serious financial woes like the ones California is facing.

Personally, I'm a little worried to be ditching the TABOR law.  As a young professional with a good job, I am theoretically earning enough to pay off my education debt and am looking to buy a house.  Unfortunately I'm not doing either, and am increasingly frustrated with putting 30% or more of my wages towards "improving" things.  If I could skip paying taxes for just this year, I could use that tax money to pay off all of my debt and start 2006 as a fresh, fired-up, debt-free consumer.  I would:  buy a house, start contributing to my company's fully-vested 100%-match-up-to-6%-salary 401k, get married, and take a vacation.  I might also think seriously about starting a family.  Instead, I am paying credit interest and making only small dents in the principles.

Nevertheless, they are asking for a tax-raise in Colorado. From my perspective a tax-increase feels too much like piling an increasing amount of money into an increasingly failing education system where everybody is feeling increasingly worthless -- both kids and teachers.  (Hopefully the administrators are also starting to feel worthless...)

Why do I think our system of public education is failing?  Because in most cases, in the lives of most of our students, it is worthless.

I do not think it is failing because Fantasia Barrino cannot read.  I think it is failing because we have somehow trained ourselves to conclude that we have failed if Fantasia Barrino cannot read.

If Fantasia could read as a child, would she still be able to sing as well as she can?  Probably not since a creature's abilities are strengthened and weakened in inverse proportion to the strength of the other abilities involved in surviving and thriving.  Fantasia's singing ability provides her an opportunity to reach out and help people.  Had she spent more time reading and writing and less time singing, it's very possible that both her writing and singing skills would be mediocre and would not provide her with such an opportunity as she has now.

B.B. King is another example.   In his semi-autobiography, he mentions that he stuttered horribly as a child, and began singing in the church choir because singing was the only time he could say words smoothly.  B.B. learned to read at a later age in life, and has accomplished much more than he would have otherwise.

I'm not writing this to be a nay-sayer.  I am not trying to excuse us from the obligation to assist the progress of everyone in our society.  But I would like to point out that the quality of an average public education in America (all the way through college) is going downhill at an increasing rate the more we tell ourselves that "everybody deserves the same education."

Clearly people do not deserve the same education, nor do they even want it.  And if they did want it, nobody would respond to it in the same way.  Education is a personalized journey that each person must tailor for themselves.  It is Our responsibility to continually seek more effective ways to help students educate themselves.  It is subsequently Business's responsibility to find more efficient ways to assess a person's education "travel" log.

Only a thin, dynamic and scalable education system will perform well for us as our society grows.  A heavy, laggard and highly-political system is failing us now as our society grows past the system's capabilities.  Our one-education-fits-all approach is like the one-size-fits-all baseball hat -- it truly fits nobody.

posted at 09:21 AM by Chris Chew in Education, Politics | Comments (2)

Sep 16, 2005

Got Met Thinking, Part 3: See What I Mean?

A perfect example of resource-based problem solving!

A programmer from Italy reportedly stumbled across previously unknown ancient Roman ruins near his home when he was simply messing around with Google Earth.

posted at 07:51 PM by Chris Chew in Education, Leadership, Science, Technology | Comments (0)

Got Me Thinking Continued: Resource-based Problem Solvers

Continuing with my thoughts that sprung from Microsoft's Hiring Practices...

How many kinds of problem solvers are there?  Some that I have thought of are:

"Leave me alone, I can find it on my own" - The ultra self-motivated type of person

"Give me a few books (or an Internet connection) and I'll figure it out" - The resourceful type of person

"I'm going to look very cute until you tell me" - The sociologically-resourceful type of person.  Some ex-girlfriends come to mind here.

"I won't ever figure it out" - The non-problem solver.

...and I'm sure that technical names for these categories have been coined by people who do much more thinking about problem solving than I do.  Maybe we can even map them to this chart of the 16 personality types.  But the names do not concern me for now.

What does concern me, however, is how successful these types of people are going to be in different circumstances throughout life.

The Non-Problem-Solver will probably stay in their hometown and perform the same tasks that their most visible example (a parent?) performs. They will probably be happy, if only internally, and that is good.

The Sociologically-Resourceful type, my ex-girlfriends, will be successful so long as they can surround themselves with people who are eager to share (for whatever reason).

I expect only partial success for the Ultra-Self-Motivated type.  People simply cannot do everything on their own anymore.  In fact, we can do less and less all the time while things become more and more complex:  Who can repair their own car?  Can they do their own taxes?  Architect a financially-secure network?  Can they re-wire their house?  Can they raise their children?  Can they repair a levy?  Can they manage the task of rebuilding a disaster site?  Can they decorate their house?  Can they listen to your concerns without turning the conversation towards themselves?

As civilization progresses (or re-progresses if you talk to Graham Hancock), it becomes increasingly unreasonable to enjoy success as an introverted, self-reliant person.  Instead, success will come to people who can immediately convert anything into a resource -- books, people, web-pages, inanimate objects, or their own intellect -- and use any type of resource equally well.

This is what Twenty-Something's son B is doing when playing Legend of Zelda.  He is managing resources of various types to accomplish a daunting task:  beating the game.  The Legend of Zelda is an enormous and enormously impressive game; anybody who can complete it deserves some respect.

I played the original mid-1980's edition of The Legend of Zelda.  Even back then the game was huge.  At one point, I must have been 8 or 9 years old, I learned basic mapping skills because I could no longer keep track of the game's world and was forced to write it down in order to navigate directly to where I wanted to go.  In the 80's, there were no external resources for video gamers.  Today there are countless resources in the form of web-page walk-throughs, hints books and even older generations of video gamers.

Lots of employees with this skill of being able to use any type of resource to help accomplish any kind of goal is what progressive organizations need in order to progress.  These people are their most valuable assets.

From the stories that come back from interviewees, it seems that Microsoft understands the need to have resourceful employees.  Their hiring practices appear to be designed to determine what kind of problem solver a candidate is.  Based on the handful of people whom I know personally to have gone to work for Microsoft, they seem to be hiring the resourceful types.

I dislike Microsoft and loathe its success.  But I certainly cannot deny that it is a successful organization.

As an aside, I wouldn't be surprised if they saw the need for resourceful marketers before they saw the need for resourceful developers.  This might help explain its impressive sales numbers despite the terrible security and stability issues with Windows 95, 98 and Me, and Office 97-2003.

posted at 12:57 PM by Chris Chew in Education, Leadership, Technology | Comments (0)

Jul 21, 2005

Got Me Thinking...Microsoft's Interviewing Practices

I just wanted to give you a heads-up that I'm pregnant with a new post.  I'll briefly describe the idea here until it's ready for a full blog post...

ASP.NET bloggers have been arguing recently about Microsoft's interviewing practices.  In particular, they are wondering whether it is good that Microsoft asks preposterous questions simply to observe how an interviewee approaches problem solving.

TwentySomethingMom has been watching her 6 year old son read adult-level hint books while playing the Legend Of Zelda video game for hours upon hours.

(Correction:  He's 7 years old...)

And we can't forget our Level 5 rule to leadership:  Get the right people on the bus, decide where they should sit, and then decide which direction the bus is headed.

There are correlations here that should help identify what characteristics define "the right person".  I have a feeling that we'll discover that TwentySomethingMom's son B will be the right kind of person for any bus.

See you soon!

posted at 02:24 PM by Chris Chew in Education, Leadership, Technology | Comments (0)

Mar 08, 2005

The Structural Unprofessional-ness of Teaching, Part II

THE UNPROFESSIONAL-NESS OF TEACHERS:  Jonathan Kallay at OverEducation has his second installment of "the structural unprofessional-ness of teaching."  Be sure and read Paul's comment (first link in OE's post).

(It's a bit long, I've had a long day, and he has my thoughts a rollin', so expect a response a little later this week.)

posted at 11:40 PM by Chris Chew in Education | Comments (0)

The Structural Unprofessional-ness of Teaching

JONATHAN KALLAY from OverEducation writes in response to my post about a lack of level 5 teachers in our schools:

I’m going to be writing in my blog (http://overeducation.blogspot.com) over the next few days about how all of the problems in education stem from this one fact- which I refer to as the structural unprofessional-ness of teaching- and propose some solutions.

His term "the structural unprofessional-ness of teaching" is a much nicer description of what I judged to be a "muck of honor-less unaccountability" -- that is, the public education system, replete with unions, quotas, state-classifications, tenure, and high-paid administrators.

Jonathan's first post on the subject is a great start.  He describes how progressive charter schools have had little success in disseminating new ideas and better practices back into the traditional public schools.  This breakdown in communication demonstrates the first point of unprofessional-ism:  There is no standard or culture for post-entry training or competition-fueled improvement within the field of school-teaching.

As a programmer, I spend about a quarter of my work-week learning about new technologies and best practices.  I constantly look for small projects which utilize a new technology or technique so that I can improve my skills.  There are even books written to help organize a programmer's time spent improving.  I could not possibly survive in my profession without this effort.

But I hear very little of this type of culture from teachers.  In fact, almost any story that starts with "I just learned about this new approach to teaching..." inevitably ends with "...and now nobody will talk to me in the teacher's break room" or worse, "...and the principal called me into his office then appointed somebody to monitor my class twice a week."

Indeed in order for the profession as a whole to improve, professionals must learn from each other in both a communal and competitive way.  A major goal of the profession must be, simply, to improve -- to write more capable software, save more lives, net more dollars per unit, or earn more of the World's respect.

Thanks Jonathan, I'm looking forward to reading more of your thoughts about the profession of teaching!

posted at 12:07 AM by Chris Chew in Education | Comments (0)

Mar 02, 2005

From The Notepad Of Bud, A Level 5 Teacher

I FOUND BUD THE TEACHER at this week's Carnival of Education from EdWonks.  Bud is excited to have discovered blogging, and his excitement is definitely contagious.  His first post, in January of this year, begins with "I am beginning this blog because I am a teacher and I am in need of an education."  Bud seems like the kind of teacher that on any given day expects to learn as much from his students as they learn from him.  I am not surprised that he does not teach in a public school.

Lately, Bud is impressed by how much blogs extend our thinking and learning skills:

So, yes, for me, at least in these beginning stages, the blog will be the content management system, to some degree.  But the end product, I hope, will be the set of thinking and learning skills hiding inside "blogging."  Blogs are management, blogging is content.

I agree wholeheartedly.  I usually do not know for sure what I even think about the topic when I click "Create Post" and start typing.  My first attempt at the post is almost entirely a discovery process, and only after several paragraphs do I stumble upon my real conclusion.

In the meantime, I've asked a million related questions and searched the Internet for supporting references (and I have a browser window open for each inquiry...)  I've also probably used the thesaurus at answers.com several times to help find more precise words.

I practice editing the post several times until it seems like the statements run in a reasonable order.  Then I add links.  And preview it, take a break, preview it, take a break, preview it, and publish it.  Finally I check the links one more time and take a long break.

But once the post is published, not only have I added another entry to my learning portfolio, I have an electronic record of my latest finding that anybody can share, search or reference.

Bud, if you haven't already, be sure and read Hugh Hewitt's book Blog so you can put the power of the "blog portfolio" into a historical context as well as an educational one.

UPDATE 2/3/05:  In a kind email today, Bud writes:

I wanted to thank you for the very kind and very flattering
comments in your blog today...However, I need to let you know that, although I teach at an alternative high school, I am a public school teacher.

I apologize for the mistake.  I had read the website pretty thoroughly yesterday, but for some reason didn't look at the site's address.

posted at 05:10 AM by Chris Chew in Education | Comments (0)

Feb 28, 2005

And No Child Gets Ahead

A POST OVER AT EDWONKS has me thinking about the No Child Left Behind legislation.

EdWonks points out a funny article comparing Arizona's version of the standardized testing to a new football program.  The idea is that if no child gets ahead, then nobody is left behind.  And to an extent, it's very astute.  But it is very short-sighted and proves my point that school teachers have lost the ability to lead.

For the record, let me say that I partially support NCLB.  Not because it is going to end our problems, which it is NOT going to do, but because it is the first federal legislation that admits we have a problem in our schools and requires that we fix it.  Basically the act gives schools 12 years to get their acts together by laying out a list of proficiencies ("standards") that every student must have.

There wasn't much fuss over it until recently when the first round of assessments came due.  Now, it is the source of headache for every administrator who until recently has had a very cushy job.  Pile on top a stereotypical propensity for liberal politics, and you have a grade AA grievance!  A true conspiracy theorist might look for evidence that McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Motrin, has lobbied for NCLB in order to expand their market in the "educator" demographic.  Maybe McNeil determined in 1998 that 8 in 10 teachers use Bufferin for headaches -- clearly a market opportunity for Motrin!

Returning to my point, there is very little wrong with NCLB in itself.  It gives money for changes such as fewer students per teacher, English education, continued education for teachers, etc.  But, just like prescribing antibiotics to a regularly sick person who eats no vegetables, the program addresses the symptoms and not the disorder.

Take a look at Arizona's AIMS blueprints (pdf) (UPDATE 9/16/05:  new links here) for their NCLB math standards.  What a mess!  Can you imagine having to write a test that incorporates all of this crap?  And how do you relate that to little Jamie...has she learned math or not?  As a programmer, I spend most of my days looking at charts, databases and standards/requirements and am very good at gleaming a real-world perspective from them -- but I get very confused trying to relate the AIMS blueprints to a real person's level of knowledge.

Now consider the amount of money this will cost every state to implement similar standards, write similar tests, assess every student, and then report on the results.  And then consider all of the committees that will have to be formed to investigate the lying and cheating that districts do to avoid losing their funding come year 2012.

And don't tell me that superintendents and principals don't lie, cheat or steal.

Let me reiterate that more legislation will not improve our schools.  Only leadership at the deepest level will.

I would love to have the opportunity to take over a public high school with the responsibility of getting it "fit" by 2012.  Here's what I would do:

I would re-assign 11 of the 12 deans to classrooms and reduce their salaries to a normal teacher's wage.  I would remove all coaches from the classrooms unless they can indubitably demonstrate their qualifications as quality teachers.  The coaches can keep their salaries so long as they volunteer wherever they feel they're the most help.

I would dismiss the police, all but one security guard and the metal detectors.  I would double the number of trash cans, replacing the 50-gallon drums for bathroom-sized models.  I would invite all the parents and children over for breakfast and lunch every Saturday to do any handiwork to maintain the facility.  Volunteers can also come in during any school day to help.  My savings in administrative salaries should easily pay for any additional cost here, assuming that many of the parents can negotiate discounts or donations from their employers where relevant.  I could also partner with local service clubs like Rotary or the Optimists Club.  "Detention" would consist of custodial work.

Volunteer parents would cook the school lunches in the cafeteria.  I would get rid of the pop machines and replace the candy-peddling school store inventory with actual school supplies.  You can't improve at anything unless you eat right and have the proper equipment.

I would bring in interesting speakers every week, gathering the whole school to listen and participate.  There would be an open invitation to parents.

I would poll the students weekly, asking things like who their favorite and least favorite teachers are for each subject or where they feel they are weakest and strongest academically, etc.  Based on my findings, I would interview students to find out more about their input so that I could better address the core issues.  After all, who knows more about what goes on than students?  Besides, this whole thing is for them.  I would also do the same for the teachers.

I would promise to help every student afford continued education, no matter what.  There are a multitude of possibilities for accomplishing this.  Denver's mayor recently pledged to do it for a failing middle school (Link in MS Word here, HTML here).

I would take 6 or so random students out to a nice dinner and some cultural event every week.  I might not even ask them about school.

Kids 18 and older would be allowed to smoke outside so long as every butt was disposed of properly.  No, I do not smoke myself.

Classes would be re-arranged to employ as much discussion and self-discovery as possible.  This includes math, science labs, history and foreign language.  Desks would be arranged to form conference tables in every classroom.  Eventually real conference tables would replace the desks as the budget allows.

I would replace as many textbooks as possible with original texts: Euclid for Geometry, Descartes for algebra, Newton & Leibniz for Calculus, Livvy, Plutarch and Herodotus for Western History, Freud and Jung for psychology.  Etc.  I'll photocopy them if I have to.

Every student would write a blog and regularly discuss their ideas in groups.

Every student would participate in Olympics of the Mind or similar programs.

At the end of each semester, every student would meet with all of their teachers for 20 minutes while each teacher in turn reports their assessment of the student's performance.  Next, they would address trends or anomalies discovered from the reports and ask the student to answer any questions, make clarifications or disagree with an assessment.  I would encourage every teacher to perform the single-class version of this prior to the larger meeting.

Every year, each student would write or revise their life plan, consisting of steps and milestones for 1, 3, 5, 10, 20 and 30 years.

I would set up internship programs for as many professions as possible.  Students would earn pay for their work.  Yes, this would be difficult for a large school.  But schools always have resources proportional to their size and location.

I would make it clear that I expect everybody, including the teachers, to be excited about learning.  I would make it clear that everybody is expected to continue their education after graduation.

There would be as much reading out loud in the classroom as possible.  This improves every body's reading skills.

And I'm sure I would do more, but I am getting tired.  You probably are too.

Heeheh.  Can you imagine the uproar I would cause among the faculty?  I can't help but laugh whenever I think about this.

But I don't think I would get much uproar from the parents.  And if I did, I would put their student in a separate part of the school for the kids whose parent complained.  There, the student would go back to the boring 8 periods with lectures from unmotivated adults.  It wouldn't take long before the student told their parent to shut up and let them try the new ideas.

My ideas are not new ones.  They are all based on the premise that people live up to what is expected of them -- high or low, good or bad.  In fact, each piece is being successfully used in a private school somewhere in America, right now...  Scary, isn't it?  I suggest you call the police!

The truly unfortunate part about my ideas is that most of them would be impossible or illegal in a public school.  It is often illegal to demote a government employee.  You certainly can't fire a teacher that hasn't been indicted of a crime!  It is a ridiculous hassle to take students off-campus to learn.  In some cities it is illegal to dismiss the police or remove the metal detectors.  It can be illegal for non-custodial government employees to perform maintenance on the facilities.  Ugh, and here I am reminding us of this crap right before taxes are due.

This is all very sad to me because I am excited to learn and teach.  I expect great schools from a great nation.  Thanks for listening.

UPDATE 2/28/05 4PM:  Well, I have one parent and one teacher that would give me a school!  In return, I would put TwentySomethingMom in charge of the school lunches assign ASYB to the lead the math department (or any department she wants).

posted at 01:43 AM by Chris Chew in Education | Comments (0)

Feb 25, 2005

Level 5 Leadership in The Carnival Of Education

I HAVE BEEN MEANING to post something about this week's Carnival of Education courtesy of EdWonks.  Educators and education bloggers are very interesting to listen to from the perspective of leadership.

You'd expect there to be a tremendous number of examples of Level 5 leadership by teachers in our schools.  After all, teachers are bright, caring people who have given up bigger salaries as physicians or attorneys simply because they want to continue learning and because they place great importance on the success of future generations.  These traits in essence define Level 5 leadership.

So then looking at education worldwide, why don't our schools perform "three-times better than the market for fifteen years" like Jim Collins' eleven "great" Level 5 companies?

The fact is, there are no Level 5 leaders in our schools.  If you do not yet see this, try attending your local school-board meeting and listen to the petty complaints coming from all sides of the table.

If there are no longer any level 5 leaders in our schools, where did they all go?  For we watched many level 5-quality teachers go in.  We even personally know some of them to take active rolls in furthering people's progress.  But they don't seem to make it back out of the system intact as level-5 leaders in a teaching capacity.  Witness aschoolyardblog's friend Ted or her neighbor.  Where is the trap door in this black-box school system that lets the Level 5 leadership escape?  The most obvious answer is that leadership drowns in the bureaucracy and office politics of a government system.  But there is better answer.

School Teachers do not truly have level-5-ness to begin with.  Leadership in its true form requires liability.  Otherwise, what does it matter which path you take or how far you get?  Without risk, there are no leaders.

And our school system has been cultured and legislated to be the epitome of a risk-free system.  Inside the school system, school teachers aren't decision makers, they are decision takers.  School-teacher qua decision-taker can never be a true leader of students since there is no risk or measure for failing.

How can we establish risk for a school teacher and help them become leaders again?  Financial liability, "pay for performance," is one way, but not a very good way.  School systems can learn from businesses, but they are not businesses themselves.  It is not desirable to have school teachers acting like salespeople hunting a commission.

Rather than a salesperson, a school teacher is more like a managing stock-holder.  They hold stock in the community, the city, the state, the country, and the World.  We all hold that stock, and designate teachers to manage it.  This is precisely what people like Jim Lileks have in mind when they say that a school should be "bonded with the neighborhood."  By educating ourselves, we are purchasing stock in an organization of juxtaposed communities that provide security-in and meaning-to Life.

Our stock values increase as our fellow communities respect us more.  Our responsibility as stock-holders is to leverage a teacher's respect to create risk and establish more value.  We do not need to threaten to take away their food or shelter lest they act like salespeople.  The only real risk a teacher can have is losing his or her Credibility -- losing hard-earned respect from students, administrators, parents, citizens and nations.

There will be no change in the quality of public education until school teachers teach like they will lose the World's respect should they fail, and have nobody else to blame but themselves.  We can write legislation, standards, metrics, paradigms, programs, tests, anything you want.  But we will see no change until our teachers lead, until they lead as well as they know they can and perhaps at one time did.  If we want to improve our schools, we need teachers to teach Level-5 leadership by example, and be greatly rewarded for doing so.

So go now, read the Carnival of Education and look for school teachers who are struggling to spring from the administrative muck of honor-less unaccountability.  Do not lament them or the immutable mandatory referendums that keep them in a risk-free government system.  Pull them out, rinse them off, and help them teach more effectively in another capacity!

posted at 01:48 AM by Chris Chew in Education