I have been positively wrapped in the business of school turnaround for the last few weeks in preparation for the TN High Priority Schools Conference, the KY Bridging Event (for chronically under-performing schools), and in my own doctoral study on educational leadership. A story that I’ve kept filed away in my back pocket for months keeps coming to mind in relation to these strands of work. Here’s the gist:
Not so long ago in a place not so far away, there was an enormous cliff. Right in the middle of the cliff, there was a deep gorge. On either side of the gorge, there were two villages. Both villages cared deeply about the children of their communities and both had suffered incredible losses because children kept falling over the edge of the cliff and into the gorge. It wasn’t long before the elders of both villages decided to call together the stakeholders of their communities and find a solution to this tragic problem. Separately the villages met. One village determined that they would station an ambulance at the base of the gorge so that whenever a child would fall over the edge of the cliff, someone would be waiting at the bottom to provide immediate care and attention and hopefully get him back up on his feet. The other village determined that they would build structures at the edge of the cliff in hopes of preventing any more children from falling into the gorge.
And so, of course, the question we ask ourselves: which village would we rather live in?
I believe that for so many of the schools who have recently been placed on the takeover lists in their states or have once again missed their AYP targets, that they are not so unlike the villages in this tale. They, too, are faced with the reality that they are “losing” students. For these schools, they no longer have the option of simply providing ambulatory services for students after the fall. Schools in crisis must build sound structures at the edge of the cliff so that no other children face the perils of falling.
The research on Turnaround, whether specific to schools or drawn from best business practices, cites strategic recommendations for schools embarking on dramatic change. These practices include:
- Crafting a compelling turn-around campaign strategy with tightened, high-priority goals and focused early wins that show progress made in reaching instructionally focused targets.
- Risking and experimenting, abandoning practices that do not prove effective and investing in what works. Successful turnaround leaders enlist out-of-the box approaches that contradict traditional norms or rules for how things typically get done.
- Building commitment among faculty, which includes getting the right people in the right spots, and holding firm to the notion that change is mandatory, not optional.
- Creating a tolerance for truth, facing the brutal realities of the data and engaging all stakeholders in inquiry-driven, investigative, instructional practice.
These very recommendations are the frame around which schools can assemble the structures at the edge of their cliffs. For more information on best turnaround practices, visit: