A message to the Tribes Learning Community
“No creature can fly with just one wing.
Gifted leadership occurs where heart and head
—feeling and thought— meet.
These are the two wings that allow a leader to soar.”
–Daniel Goleman 1
The time has come to highlight the question that is rarely raised in discussions on school reform – despite the fact that the national mandate is to raise student test scores, and “by the way” also to develop character and social-emotional competency for success in life. The question?
Why, if indeed this is a national consensus, is the wealth of studies and research on the nature of learning, human development and effective practices largely being ignored as irrelevant to improving education today?
Why…in spite of the fact that for more than one-hundred years, beginning with John Dewey in 1900, respected educators and scientists have been advocating a way of teaching that is congruent with how human beings truly learn. 2 Why…even though in the last twenty-five years more than a thousand studies on the impressive results of cooperative learning have been published. The most notable of those studies include the very same outcomes that American schools are struggling to achieve, namely: increased academic achievement, social competency and positive character qualities. 3 In light of these realities, it is mind-boggling that a majority of school systems and teachers still are using the less-than-effective Industrial Age model of whole class direct instruction, seat work and memorization. Unfortunately, the current pressure upon teachers today to “deliver” higher test scores may be increasing resistance to change. Untold numbers of knowledgeable teachers are caught in the agonizing daily conflict of having to teach to standardized tests when their own beliefs on learning and childrens’ development are to the contrary. 4 The dilemma is becoming a central issue to transforming American education. As proven during the last decade, it borders on the ridiculous to learn that notable political leaders and corporate officers at “a summit meeting” were the ones to define “The Nation’s Education Goals for 2000.” No educational leaders were invited.5
The good news is that an impressive number of schools are finding that when well-trained teachers use active group learning and student-led inquiry, achievement scores on standardized tests increase. This is especially true in science. 6 One hopeful Tribes Learning Community principal writes, “We’re finally catching on and catching up on what works and what does not work. We came to the realization that our whole staff needs to keep learning together …in discussion of our beliefs, goals and practices.” Indeed, the first step for significant school improvement is to arrange sufficient time for teacher learning (dialogue) groups. Over time the excitement of learning and spirit gained from collegial collaboration transforms the whole school community. Positive groups help people make positive changes. 7
An abundance of organizational studies and our past experiences (as courageous educators) have more than proven that any innovation whether a new curriculum, program, policy or process, initially is met with varying degrees of resistance. Even though people would like to have their schools realize the positive results that can evolve through use of the developmental process of Tribes, the anticipated changes may be disturbing. The process of Tribes TLC is, of course, in this innovative category. Some of the more significant changes that may lead to reluctance among some teachers are the following:
- The school culture changes as a set of relational agreements are learned and practiced.
- Students help to manage the classroom as responsibility is transferred to small learning groups.
- Long-term student-led small groups give students a voice in decision-making.
- Students become involved in daily reflective practice and assessment.
- The teacher’s role changes when students are learning in small cooperative (research, inquiry and project) groups.
The language of reluctance is familiar.
“We tried using groups once.”
“I know all about this. It doesn’t work for me.”
“Students won’t be able to do this at all.”
“I just don’t have the time to learn new stuff.”
“It probably isn’t that great.”
“We don’t need anything more.”
Underneath the statements may be a fear of failure, inertia to learn, pride, inflexibility, snap judgment, weariness – or perhaps just wanting to put in time until retirement. Yet hidden within a protest may be something important to know. A big loss or disruption may happen whenever a leader is unappreciative or insensitive to those expressing doubts. Michael Fullan urges us to redefine resistance as a potential positive force. He also believes that “reculturing is the name of the game.” 8
The philosophy and the practice of reculturing and inclusion is inherent in building Tribes Learning Communities. The emphasis on nurturing students’ human development and resiliency as well as cognitive learning, is activated by creating and sustaining the inclusive caring culture. Whether a reluctant student or staff member, all long for inclusion and to be valued by the learning community. Keep in mind that a central concept in the process of Tribes is: “If a person does not feel included, he or she will create his or her own inclusion by grabbing influence…attracting attention, creating a controversy, demanding power or drawing into passive belligerence.” 9 This applies to adults as well as students. The disruptive ones, whether students or adults, also have a contribution to make.
The Way of “Gifted Leadership”
Our reflection on schools using Tribes Learning Communities are corroborated by an abundance of studies that indicate successful school-wide change depends upon more than the efforts of one dedicated principal or single leader. Just as “no creature can fly with one wing,” a lone leader needs a team of other “gifted” leaders flying along side. The qualities and style of leadership are critical to having any innovation become effective within a school or any organization. The main task of leaders is to generate optimism, passion for the job ahead, and an atmosphere of cooperation and trust. 10 Successful leaders believe that their essential role is to call forth the potential of others. To do so depends upon having spontaneous competence – which is the ability to resonate to the needs of a group and become directive, non-directive or assume a style in between. 11
Effective leaders have emotional intelligence competencies that enable them to be resonant in a wide-range of situations with a diversity of people. Daniel Goleman identifies these four key competencies. The leader has…
- self-awareness (tuned to one’s inner signals)
- social awareness (a keen ability to listen, and empathy)
- self-management (adaptability, emotional control and optimism)
- relational management (capacity to inspire and build team collaboration)
The competencies are not innate talents but learned abilities that make leaders more effective.12
Identifying Leadership To Build a Network
Throughout the network of Tribes TLC® schools, there are energetic principals, curriculum coordinators, counselors, trainers and other personnel who still are attempting to fly alone…just on their own gifted two wings. One way or another due to his or her vision and commitment, the person becomes responsible for the implementation and success of the process of Tribes in the school or district. Often, it is one or two certified Tribes trainers who become the “leaders” of the new initiative. The literature shows that it is rare that any one or two leaders can sustain a new learning approach well throughout a school system. Greater success is realized by having an active network of teachers meeting, learning and action-planning together.13
In Tribes schools, the teacher-leadership network should be initiated after the first teacher-training course. There always are a cadre of enthusiastic teachers – who want the positive process to “stick and spread” successfully throughout the school. They are the peer leaders (with gifted hearts and minds) who can reach out, include and mentor the more hesitant few. Six to eight people can be invited to begin meeting regularly with the Tribes trainer(s) and the Principal as a strategic leadership group. They are the core learning community whose purpose is to maintain dialogue, relationship to all teachers, reflective practice, planning, and celebration. Membership is always open to other staff members. Various interests, curriculum, planning, inquiry and study groups are spun off as needed. Hopefully, in time a majority of the faculty will belong to “a leadership group.”The inclusive community building process of Tribes needs to be used throughout all groups. It supports the network systemic development approach well.
And What About the Principal?
“If there ever was a time when the principal could ride in alone
on a white horse, like John Wayne or Joan of Arc, and save
a troubled school, those days are certainly over. I know of no
administrator who doesn’t need help in fulfilling his or her
impossible job description.” 14 –Roland Barth
Dr. Barth points out that many in the school community have the potential to be wonderful resources, but he writes, “The most reliable, useful, proximate and professional reside under the roof of the schoolhouse with the teaching staff.” The network teacher-leader approach enables the principal to decentralize not only responsibility and oversight or the new innovation in the school but other management responsibilities. It allows a principal time to extend his or her ideas, capabilities and contacts for the school. An example of the benefit for a principal and school can be seen at the Moanalua Middle School, an outstanding Tribes school, in Honolulu. Some years ago Principal Caroline Wong began to transfer responsibility for many areas of school management, planning, budgetary considerations, curricula decisions and assessment to teacher groups. Now there are 14 to 18 staff groups meeting and working together every year. The richness of the teacher-leader approach in this large inner city school coupled with the caring culture that hums throughout the school now is benefiting the students, teachers and the principal. How do they know? Higher student test scores that are happening and the whole faculty is smiling a lot.
Homework for Tribes Learning Communities – Just Think About It!
The message sounds loud and clear. If indeed anyone fretting about American education wants to hear it. No longer can there be any doubt how to improve our schools – even to raise test scores. The literature is replete with an abundance of studies that few even consider. They are about human learning and development, and how the sound research-based process of cooperative learning and constructivism accelerate cognitive and social-emotional learning. It is known that the process of Tribes Learning Communities, like any educational innovation, often triggers resistance. Yet there are positive ways, using the process of Tribes itself and peer teacher-leaders, that the lonely and reluctant can be included. Tribes trainers as well as their principals and schools need to recognize the capacity and skills of Tribes TLC trainers as “leaders of leaders.” They are key to building leadership groups of teachers and a positive active network for school improvement.
Who has not heard the promising phrase “All children can learn”? An equally revolutionary idea is that “All teachers can lead.” Then doesn’t that stand to reason that “Indeed, if schools are places where all children are learning, all teachers must lead.” 15
trust the process
References and Notes
1. Goleman, Daniel, Boyatzis, Richard, and McKee, Ann. Primal Leadership – Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002, p.26
2. Brooks, J and Brooks, M. (1993) In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD
Fosnot, Catherine. (1996). A Psychological Theory of Learning. In: Constructivism, Theory, Perspectives and Practice. New York, N.Y: Teachers College Press
3. Johnson, D. and Johnson, R. (1995). Cooperative Learning and Individual Student Achievement. In: Secondary Schools and Cooperative Learning: Theories, Models and Strategies. Pedersen, J. and Digby, A (Eds.). New York, N.Y.: Garland Publishing
Johnson, D. and Johnson, R. (1989). Cooperation and Competition: Theory and Research. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company
4. Gordon Wells points out the current dilemma in his excellent paper, Dialogic Inquiry in Education: Building on the Legacy of Vygotsky. University of Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
5. The governors of 38 states met in 1992 with an equal number of chief executive officers from large U.S. corporations to define the educational goals for the Nation. No educators were invited. The lofty unrealistic goals for education in the United States have not been achieved.
6. Jorgenson, Olaf and Vanosdall, Rick. The Death of Science? What We Risk in Our Rush Toward Standardized Testing and the Three R’s. Phi Delta Kappan, April 2002, p.601-605
7. Goleman, (2002) p.163.
8. Fullan, Michael. (2001). Leading in a Culture of Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p.3
9. Gibbs, Jeanne. (2001). Tribes, A New Way of Learning and Being Together. Windsor, CA: CenterSource Systems, p.76.
10. Goleman (2002), p.21
11. The concept of “spontaneous competence” is credited to Gordon Lippitt. Professor of psychology and human development, Georgetown University. Dr.Lippitt was a key organizational development and educational training consultant to the National Training Laboratories, Washington, D.C. and the Summer Institute programs at Bethel, Maine. This author is indebted to Dr. Lippitt for learning many of the community-building components now used in Tribes Learning Communities. The transfer of leadership as illustrated on the “Tribes Trail Map” represents the principle of a leader assuming a different style depending upon the group’s development.
12. A rich discussion on the emotional intelligence domains for leadership are contained in Daniel Goleman’s fine new book (2002), Primal Leadership, Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
13. Lambert, Linda. A Framework for Shared Leadership. Educational Leadership, ASCD, May 2002. p.37
14. The article, The Teacher Leader, written by Roland Barth in 1999 for the Rhode Island Teachers and Technology Initiative is reprinted in the Phi Delta Kappan magazine, February 2001, pp.443-449.
15. Barth, Ibid. 444