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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford


Leadership Thoughts | Issue #115

I am sitting here on a Saturday morning debating with myself about the theme of this week's blog and out from the trees emerges a newly born fawn and its mother.

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Regardless of what I am doing when I see a beautiful sight like a newborn fawn, nothing is more important than observing; watching God's work makes me smile.

I've been an educator for more than 50 years, and for the last 25 years, I've been advocating the transformation of education while doing most of my work on reforming education. My friends Charlie Schwahn and Bea McGarvey might classify the reform work as "tinkering." Charlie and Bea, authors of Inevitable, a book about the need to customize education, believe there must be a change in the structures supporting current practices to transform education.

Transformation and reforming are distinct concepts with different definitions, goals, and processes. Reforming education typically involves minor changes to the existing educational system, like modifying policies, curricula, teaching methods, or assessment practices. Reforms focus on creating incremental adjustments rather than ultimately shifting the paradigms in education. Transforming education involves a more radical approach to revolutionizing the entire education framework.

Recently I began to wonder if educational transformation is possible within the current system. After watching several districts that made remarkable progress toward creating a new, improved system revert to "how it has always been done," my optimism for a transformation was dented. I set to work to learn why most progressive educational initiatives fail and how better to lead change. I read books and articles, researched, watched videos, listened to podcasts, and that led me to other resources on innovation and how to lead change; I drastically slowed my research when everything began to sound the same – "Do this, don't do that!"

As I attempted to sort through everything I had learned about leading change, I read Thomas Arnett's blog post for the Christensen Institute titled, K-12 Value Networks: The Hidden Forces that Help or Hinder Learner-Centered Education. Since my thinking aligned with Tom Arnett's blog, I was motivated to write a blog titled, Leadership Thoughts Issue #89: Value Networks, which continued to highlight the concept of value networks. As explained by Tom Arnett, successful change does not happen without an aligned group of people that supports the initiative. Value networks represent the collective perception about what school should be by the many different groups that influence schools The most influential groups are local, state, and federal education agencies and policymakers, learners and their families, employee unions, voters and taxpayers, community organizations, and teacher preparation pipelines. A value network is an environment where a school maintains its practices, processes, policies, and goals to fulfill its stakeholders' expectations. These groups influence a school's priorities and can derail any change that doesn't align with their perception of the school. Arnett's article put another dent in my optimism armor about the possibility of transforming education in the current system,

Another favorite personality from the Christensen Institute, Michael Horn, posted a blog titled, Why 'System Transformation' is Like a Pipe Dream on May 11, 2023. Horn presents a convincing argument why transformation within the current system may not be possible. He wrote, "School system transformation almost never happens by changing the system's fundamental tenets; instead, it comes from replacing the system with a brand-new one. Horn believes any new ideas associated with a systemic transformation that doesn't fit the value network members' mental model of school will either be rejected or altered to appease the current members. He said that if we wish to transform the school system as we know it, perhaps our focus should shift toward replacing the current model with something entirely new and innovative outside of public education. He said that disruptions and modifications within the existing educational system remain essential, but it is more likely that transformation will occur outside the current system. Although his statement dinged my optimism again, he renewed my hope by providing ideas about the opportunity for modifications within the current system in his book, From Reopen to Reinvent. I recommend putting the book on the must-read list.

Although Horn and Arnett put some dents in my optimism about the possibility of transforming the current educational system to one that creates ideal learning experiences for all children, I still believe that school leaders at all levels must push toward a complete restructuring of education. It will take leaders within the current system to be the disruptors and to garner the support of the current and future value networks. It also requires having a mindset of an innovator and entrepreneur to create schools that can serve as a model for others. The possibilities are numerous and only limited by the imagination and courage of the pioneers of education.

As for me, I plan to continue my work within the confines associated with the current educational system. I am committed to being a positive influence to create an improved system that genuinely meets all children's current and future needs. While working within the boundaries of acceptable, I will encourage disruptive practices that go beyond simple reform to the edge of transformation.

My purpose in writing this blog is twofold. First, the writing helps me clarify and organize my thoughts, and the second purpose is to stimulate the reader's thinking while encouraging a push forward toward creating a better way to facilitate learning. I welcome your "thoughts" on whether the transformation of the current educational system is possible. Email:


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