Improving schools is difficult. Don’t make it complicated.

A must-read for school personnel is Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal’s Reframing Organizations (RO). It uses clear language to explain an idea that is so simple it can be remembered and applied in even the most complex, hectic, school situations. When applied to schools, the theory behind RO is that educators acquire a full understanding of school situations by looking at them through four different “frames:” (1) structural, (2) human relations, (3) political, and (4) symbolic.

The structural frame asks, “What do job descriptions say should be done in this situation? The human relations frame asks, “What human factors need to be considered before taking action?” The political frame asks, “Which political coalitions win and which lose, by taking specific actions?” The symbolic frame asks, “What is the meaning people will give to different actions?”

Most social science theories can’t be applied universally, but the four frame theory points to two universals. First, everybody analyzes situations through at least one of these frames. The book asks people to make their analysis and thinking explicit. Second, by flipping through the frames, all situations can be more fully understood.

Reading RO is a necessary, but insufficient, foundation for school improvement. Understanding situations is the first step. The next steps are the actions needed to improvement them. (I am stating the obvious.)

RO explains how to develop deep understandings. After understanding is deep and full, the other five virtues are needed to improve schools.

That is why The Six Virtues of the Educated Person (TSVOTEP) is the other must-read for school personnel.  It defines the virtue capacities and capabilities needed to improve schools. There it is again — a simple idea.  The six virtues are one intellectual capacity (understanding), one intellectual capability (imagination), one character capacity (strength), one character capability (courage), one spiritual capacity (humility), and one spiritual capability (generosity). Nothing else is needed to improve education.

It is simple, but that does not mean it is easy. It is difficult for educators to bring the six virtues to bear on school situations because they were taught to develop understanding that is unimaginative, strong character that is fearful of truth and generosity that emerges from pride.  Consequently, school personnel struggle to bring enough imagination, courage and humility to situations that need improving.

As a philosopher in the principal preparation business, my recommendation is that principal certification be granted to teachers who can document their ability to use the four frames and model the six virtues. But that would be too simple for those who believe in the social scientific approach to improving schools. The social science improvement paradigm says it has to be complicated. It says aspiring principals need to become knowledgeable about: (1) change theory, (2) curriculum theory, (3) teacher evaluation theory, (4) management theory, (5) leadership theory, etc. How is that working?

Do we have strong public school leadership? Do you see schools improving?

1. If not, why not?

2. If so, why is that?

The answer to both questions is in school people’s abilities to see situations through multiple frames and to model and teach the six virtues. Those who can look through all four frames and bring the virtues to school situations are our best leaders.

We all want school leaders to have understanding, imagination, strength, courage, humility and generosity.  This virtue definition of the educated person makes it simple because it addresses the essence. The social science approach makes it complicated because it addresses the infinite possibilities at the periphery.

School improvement is difficult. Don’t make it complicated, too. The choice is yours.


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