Zero-Based Strategy Part 5 of 7: Windows, Not Silos

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Zero-Based Strategy Part 5 of 7: Windows, Not Silos

In the last week or so since my article in Independent School Magazine came out I have had calls with three leaders of reputable, successful independent schools.  All three have developed a solid vision of learning that recognizes the changing demands our students will face in their futures.  All three lead strong faculties who build lasting relationships with their students.  And all three recognize that our familiar “school” may evolve dramatically in the next decade, and that now, not later, is the time to focus our lens on those possibilities. They understand that we will not re-imagine school if we keep looking at it through the lenses of the past.

imagesThe dominant structures and processes that define our schools are a result of generations of Newtonian thinking, that our world is segmented and compartmentalized into quanta of space, time, and matter.  We know this is not true, yet our organizations have developed rigid frameworks in response to this inertia.  Our schools are built, operate, and even think within the scaffold of classroom, subject, department, division, office, positional responsibility, and daily duties.

In reading the strategic plans and implementation strategies of even the most successful schools, we find them parsed according to these outmoded silos, boundaries that divide by function rather than connect by vision.  Metaphorically, Goal 1 belongs to the principals; Goal 2 to the Business Office; Goal 3 is the responsibility of the Board, or the fundraisers, or a new committee of faculty.  We build our plans to implement our vision within the constraints of a pre-determined framework that is antithetical to the best practices of successfully innovating organizations which find and build value through networked collaboration, guerrilla pilots, moonshot thinking, and distributed decision-making.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 9.22.44 AMAs I have described in the earlier posts in this series, (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4) in our recent presentation at the NAIS annual conference, Bo Adams and I offered a new way forward, one that builds on the core values that define learning, not the dividing silos of an outmoded Industrial Age organization.  I call these alternative lenses “windows”, and once a school community has clarified the ethnography that drives their vision of learning, we can use these windows, rather than operating departments, to focus our resources and implementation steps.

What are these windows?  They might vary somewhat for each school. Bo’s windows are these:

  • Leadership
  • Professional Learning
  • Curricula
  • Purpose
  • Instruction
  • Assessment
  • Learning Environments

I have considered a couple of additions/modifications: Learning themes, communication, and sustainability.

What if, in implementing our learning vision, we ensured that each of these windows was filled with our attention? What if we built a path forward based on how our community can amplify these connecting values, rather than on how departments and divisions can address procedural tasks? I think this offers a sea change in approach and mindset.  Our job as amplifiers of vision is not to make everyone happy and comfortable in their familiar silos, but rather to nurture and develop new value for the school in a changing environment.

In my next post I will discuss how we use these windows in the all-important task of systemically aligning our school resources to these core values.

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  1. Angél Kytle March 13, 2014 at 9:18 pm - Reply

    I found myself getting into the weeds a bit too much on this one, Grant, so I forced myself to stop and simplify, which of course always makes things more complex in my opinion! I love the idea of windows versus silos as I picture looking through a window with great visibility and being blinded by the opaqueness of silos, not being able to see through them. In my mind, I picture two wonderfully comprehensive windows that encompass all– stained glass with much color, several sections or components that are interesting in and of themselves and even more interesting when viewed together as a whole (amplification). These two stained glass windows are Learning and Relationships. All of the other things that you and Bo mention–leadership, communication, curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, professional learning, sustainability, themes, purpose, etc.– fit in to either one or both of these windows and provide more meaning to each. One could add alignment, customization. But I think these two areas are the hallmark and key areas of study of adding value (or losing it).

    If I have taken the metaphor too far and not added anything, I apologize. But, it certainly is helping me to clarify/amplify my own thoughts and goals as I grow.

    • glichtman March 14, 2014 at 2:48 pm - Reply

      I agree with your Big Windows, but have also found that there is a time to get into the weeds, and that lacking such weediness we stay at a level that invites lack of real action. The tough work is always implementation, and I think the path that Bo has started us all down in terms of mapping pedagogy to purpose requires this level of mapping at most schools. Thanks!

      • awkytle March 14, 2014 at 2:58 pm - Reply

        I absolutely agree that a “weedy” examination and curation are critical, exactly as Bo and his colleagues are doing. For my own noodling, I am a mapping fiend coupled with concrete-sequential roots. So it helps to force myself to capture essence then go down to details and comprehensive development. So the windows have many panes and colors to be described and explored, but recognizing what the whole window is itself is also vital. That’s why I appreciate the work that you, Bo, and others are doing!

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