The word “systemic” is defined as something that affects the whole. The whole in this report is a real situation. The school I am referring to is the one where I am the guidance counselor. The junior high school is located in Brockton, Massachusetts. Brockton is equivalent to Boston and is considered an inner-city school. The school district has been going “downhill” since the late 1980’s. Teacher turnover is very high, students are scoring below the average in all subjects on standardized tests, the drop out rate is at an all time high, and the measures instituted by the superintendent has not solved the school district’s problems. Perhaps a transforming leadership approach using a systemic view of change could improve the city of Brockton’s schools?
Systemic change is bringing about change. Using a systemic approach is utilizing everyone. Everyone that is involved with the schools must work together. Reform is a complex animal that can be tamed using the “strength in numbers” approach. All schools require a defined purpose and the technical means to produce reform must be identified.
The purpose of education is constantly changing. Using a systemic approach recognizes the importance of the teacher. The teacher is the one who hasn’t in the past provided input, but should provide pertinent input in the future. Teachers know the school better than anyone in it besides the janitor and the secretaries. Teachers know what makes the systems work. The most effective form of reform is communication. Teachers must develop an open dialogue in order for their school to improve.
A systemic approach introduced and innovated by a transformative leader would work in a school system like Brockton. It would work for many reasons: restructuring roles, relationships, and rules are essential, use of “second-order” change, and having a vision for tomorrows’ student. These three types of restructuring would help move the school district in the right direction.
Restructuring is not the same as eliminating. Restructuring is drawing upon observation and data to determine what has worked and what does not. Restructuring the roles of administrators is essential for failing schools. The new appointed faculty member brings not only a new energy but also the experiences he/she had in a different, yet also important, environment. Restructuring the relationships among teachers and students and teachers and administrators is the same as having healthy dialogue. Communication is the key to any reform. Rules are meant to mean something and must be enforced at all costs. Schools lose the emphasis on rules after the winter break. Students need to understand that the rules that were outlined in September still apply in June. Teachers experience frustration as they see the lapse of rule accountability in their colleagues and in their students. It is like one of my mentors once told me, “don’t smile until the last day of school”.
Using a “second-order” change is when a school system looks at the way things have been done the old way and considers doing things in new ways to solve the schools real problems. The old way of trying to improve upon what is being done currently has shown to be ineffective. The vision of the school should be to produce a student who can go into the workplace directly after graduation. Not all students will aspire to attend college. In many inner-city areas such as Brockton, children are not encouraged to attend college by their parents because their parents didn’t attend college and does not understand the value it holds in establishing a career goal.
Schools need to help minorities that possess no desire to attend college. The young adult of the present is required to be knowledgeable, self-determined, strategic, and empathetic. The world is a tough place and these future workers of America need to be prepared. In many ways, school is a place for some to get a hot meal and be somewhere during the day. In the days of past the most important aspects of education were: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Today’s children need life skills.
A transformative leader is someone that has a vision. This vision is needed to start change. The basis of being a good transformative leader is to establish a foundation. This foundation should be about support. The teachers must know that they are supported. The leader should be willing to listen to everything and will follow through on decisions that are made. The leader will be consistent and will offer opportunities for improvement to everyone. The culture of the school will be collaborative and safe. He/she will foster innovation and ideas and will help solve problems as a group instead of individually. The leader must be “in-touch” with the community. He/she must embrace its police and governmental leaders and show them his/her vision. A transformative leader must show moral authority. Moral authority is telling a person how you feel at that moment, instead of waiting for an issue to grow worse. Additionally, using moral authority makes you seem more human and authentic. To be an effective leader you must make sure that your staff realizes that they are learning with you and beside you. As a team, you are willing to tackle the biggest problems facing the school and address the needs of the school first.
A transformative approach requires a person to be many things. For example, this type of leader must be: knowledgeable of change management, collaborator, team builder, value education, high morals, knowledge of curriculum, strong philosophy, knowledge of community and surrounding environment, and be sensitive to the staff’s needs.
The Brockton School system, like many other inner-city schools, has its problems. If a transformative leader with a vision for the future were able to institute a systemic change, the school system would start to improve. I am not as much concerned with the scores on standardized tests however; I am concerned with the high dropout rate, higher birth rates, teacher turnover, and lack of after school programs.
Of course, where does the leader start? Someone would need to have the courage of his or her convictions and say that what is being done is “not” working. A systemic change would be to look at the cancer and try to cut it out. The school system needs to stop blaming the teachers and students and realize that there are many other innovative ways to education. Why do private schools flourish? Why do charter schools perform well? It is time to ask a transformative leader to start from scratch. The best part is that he/she is not alone. People assume teachers don’t like change. It is not the teachers that harbor resentment to change; it is the policy makers in Washington.