Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Leading with our linchpins

“The problem is that most schools don’t like great teachers. They’re organized to stamp them out, bore them, bureaucratize them, and make them average.” -- Seth Godin

Chris says,

How many educators do you know that try to change the system of education? How many educators do you know that just stick to the status quo? How are these two different types of people treated by school and district leaders?

As a principal, I want people who challenge the education system and take risks to benefit our kids. I want people that say the way we have always done things is not the best way. I want people who reflect on current structures and practices and say to themselves: is this what is best for kids? I cannot recall who stated this but if we continue to do what we have always done, we will get what we have always had. To me, that’s not good enough.

In the past year, I have spoken to a number of people who are trying to create change in their classrooms and in the schools but have been told to “toe the line” both by administrators and colleagues. These important educators have been told to follow their lizard brain and conform, comply and follow instructions. Does this sound familiar? Is this what many schools also teach our kids? Is this what we actually want in our education system?

It is EASY to do what has always been done. When you do this, you rarely get criticized and you rarely even get noticed; you please the resistance. What is difficult to do is to be the one to change the system - to challenge the current norms and to be what Seth Godin calls a “Linchpin”. A linchpin is someone who is indispensable; someone who fights the resistance and uses their creativity to live on the edge of the box. “The linchpin feels the fear, acknowledges it, then proceeds.”
We need to be teaching students to not just “do school” but to take risks, try new initiatives and become indispensable. What better way to teach students this than to model this as educators? Now I realize that we have laws that govern education but as leaders and teachers, how can we work WITH our passionate staff and students who are taking risks, challenging the ‘truths’ and norms, and changing the education system?
Godin asks the question: “Would your organization be more successful if your employees were more obedient? Or, consider for a second: would you be more successful if your employees were more artistic, motivated, connected, aware, passionate, and genuine?”.

What kind of school culture do you want? How are you providing your staff with the autonomy to fight their lizard brain and challenge the status quo? Do you silence or encourage the voices of change?

How do you lead with your Linchpins?


  1. Dave,
    Just got done reading "Linchpin" and passed it along to my wife. It is an important book for teachers to read - not just in challenging their own fears but in considering whether their classrooms fosters cogs or linchpins. I equate cogs with students and linchpins with learners.

    I've been thinking about ways to help the teachers in training that I work with to survive in the system while simultaneously subverting it. We talk about making subtle shifts that change direction and demonstrate success. That builds trust and allows for even greater change.

    I keep telling them that I do not want to be teaching their kids this same stuff. They know better. Enough is enough!

  2. I tried to challenge students to work to their potential and beyond. After 30 years of teaching [3 in the current system-brought in to build the AP Calculus program], I was told I no longer have a job. Why...because the darling children did not all earn A's as usual.

  3. @j.arnold - wow! That is just sad... it is super silly how some trust test scores and ignore the comments by teachers.

    I truly believe these people believe they are serving the "best needs" of the students but are blinded by test scores.

  4. Here is what I have on the Internet.

  5. Wow! You made me very grateful to be at the school where I'm teaching. Not only are we encouraged to share new ideas or try different strategies or create new lessons in our classrooms with our students, we feel very free in letting our colleagues - and our principal - know the outcomes of our attempts. This allows others to adopt the ideas or offer suggestions for improvement.

    Yes, we still have to get through a packed curriculum and we do make adjustments on the ordering of topics for state testing. But I have never been told to 'toe the line'. I have never been criticized for trying something new. I'm allowed to do what I think is best for students as long as I follow state content standards.

    M. Newland

  6. Great post Dave & Chris! I'm reading Linchpin right now and am loving it. This year we have a new math textbook adoption. We've been under a directive to teach math using a rigid pacing guide, scripted lessons, 4-page paper/pencil unit tests (for 1st graders), etc. and it's been driving me positively crazy. I decided yesterday I've got 10 days left and I'm teaching the remaining concepts using a creative project based on response to a story we read, "Roxaboxen". We are building our own "Roxaboxen" in my classroom and we'll incorporate measurement and telling time and more into this project.

    My students are SO excited and I'm re-energized. My principal said go ahead, but I still have to give the unit tests. Go figure. I'm not worried, they'll do just fine.

  7. I feel that fear everyday. And hearing that @j.arnold was fired because of grades is disheartening. It is circumstances like these that make creative and progressive teachers toe the line. Especially in the current economy. @M.Newland, you are incredibly lucky (or smart) to be in a school where there is support across the board. Unfortunately, your circumstance is the exception. Your leader is evidently quite talented in cultivating a culture that breeds true collaboration and risk taking. Hopefully s/he is a blogger and I could pass it on.

  8. This blog hit very close to home with me. I have been teaching for 32 years. And yet still I keep trying new approaches and to stay current with technology. But both the department and administration do NOT want change! These are young teachers and they do not want to learn to use the latest technology and they still continue to teach 1950's style. And I am the one who gets scolded when I try to encourage new ideas! I am enthusiastic...and i will never stop learning! I was even told I had to make the tests in my AP classes EASIER to abide by the grading policy. How sad! If I did that, I would NOT get the test scores on the AP exam that I DO get! Keep rippling the waters here! Helps me to continue to keep trying!