How Do You Connect Big Rocks?

Stack of pebble stonesWhen Steven Covey used the analogy of putting big rocks in a bucket to emphasize the importance of aligning personal and professional priorities in life, he likely had no way of knowing that the term “big rocks” would become such a ubiquitous term in the field of organizational leadership in future years.  No doubt you have seen the illustration where a jar or bucket represents a finite amount of resource capacity and big rocks represent priority areas in work or life, while sand and gravel represent lesser or competing priorities.  The most common resource limitation is no doubt time, but the size of our bucket could just as easily represent limitations in money, people etc.  No person or organization enjoys unlimited resources and, metaphorically speaking, who among us hasn’t stared at what seemed like a big pile of rocks and a woefully small bucket?  The point of the illustration is that the big rocks will only fit in the bucket with the sand and gravel if they are put in first.  When one puts the small stuff in the bucket first, the big stuff doesn’t all fit.  One can find a myriad of videos and articles illustrating this principle by simply entering “big rocks” into any search engine.  You will find the big rocks illustration being applied to personal, spiritual and professional priorities in colleges of business, churches, and time management seminars throughout the world.  It’s a powerful, but very simple message about the importance of  “keeping the main thing the main thing.”

As we kick off the school year, I have no doubt that your school and district have identified your big rocks for the coming year.  Our four biggest priority areas this year at GPAEA are:

  1. Teacher Leadership Training (TLC)
  2. Implementation of the Iowa Core
  3. Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS, also known as RTI)
  4. Early Literacy Implementation (ELI)

These priority areas were developed in conjunction with the statewide AEA system and the Department of Education through Iowa’s Collaborating for Kids (C4K) consortium and are in direct response to two pieces of recent legislation, those being the teacher leadership and compensation law and the early literacy implementation law (279.68).  I’m guessing that virtually every local school district in Iowa is currently responding to very similar priorities.  Whether you are a current TLC district or seeking to become one in the next two years, building teacher leadership capacity is likely a priority in your district.  Similarly, no district is immune from the requirements associated with the early literacy implementation law, for which the Iowa Department of Education recently provided new guidance here.

The challenge of leadership is to make sure people can see the forest for the trees.  How do we maintain clarity around multiple priorities so that people feel focused and empowered and not overwhelmed?  The answer I believe is to connect the big rocks so that aren’t viewed in isolation.  I would argue that none of the four priorities above can be addressed independently of the others and that they actually represent parts of a whole.  To illustrate this I offer Iowa’s Collaborative Inquiry Questions: Collaborative Inquiry Questions 1

Collaborative Inquiry Questions 1These questions will be released with fuller protocols over the coming weeks, but I would suggest that using them as a guide for teacher leaders and PLC’s when leading work around the Iowa Core and MTSS will quickly unify work that may initially seem fragmented and complex.  The universal screener(s) and progress monitoring tools associated with ELI requirements are integrated into the collaborative question framework as well.  If you create a collaborative culture and follow the CIQ framework with early literacy as your initial context, you will be putting the right rocks in the bucket first.

Have a great and successful year!

Use TLC to Combat Avalanche Isolation

This morning I read a blog in Edutopia (I highly recommend a twitter follow for Edutopia if you don’t already do so).  The piece was on teacher isolation and was written by Sean Glaze, a team building facilitator and leadership speaker.  In the piece, he talks about two types of teacher isolation, egg crate isolation and avalanche isolation.  Egg crate isolation is what we typically think of when we think about isolation.  For OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthose of you who, like me, are too young to remember taking eggs to town, an egg crate is a wooden cube in which each egg is placed in its own cell, preventing it from touching any other egg in the crate either horizontally or vertically.  In a way it is like a school building for eggs.  Each egg has its own space on it’s own level.  (I actually have an egg crate, but no chickens thank goodness so mine functions as a geranium stand this time of year).  I believe that instructional leaders in Iowa have done a very nice job of addressing egg crate isolation.  Buildings and systems are increasingly breaking down horizontal and vertical barriers through the use of things like PLC’s, instructional rounds, and mentoring and induction.  I know of very few school buildings where teachers are still operating in total isolation behind closed doors.  That is a fairly recent development in public schools and one I think we need to celebrate, because it has greatly elevated the teaching profession.

The other type of isolation referred to in Glaze’s piece is avalanche isolation and, frankly, it is a type of isolation that I had never really considered, even though it’s pervasive in many schools today.  Avalanche isolation takes place when teachers become inundated with individual responsibilities to such a significant extent that they cannot make or find the time to fully engage in meaningful collaboration.  Such responsibilities include assessing student work, contacting parents, learning new instructional strategies, and working on various committees just to name a few.  These are all core teaching responsibilities, but we often hear that they are reasons why teachers cannot fully engage in collaboration time. So, how do we set up a system where teachers can fulfill these responsibilities and still not feel isolated?  I think the answer to that question lies in Iowa’s implementation of its Teacher Leadership program.

As educational leaders begin constructing and implementing teacher leadership systems, they will need to set aside time for the expressed purpose of teacher collaboration.  When the allocation of that time is formalized and teachers are given the tools and protocols with which to truly engage in collective inquiry, the sense of isolation that many teachers feel will be replaced with a culture more typified by support and efficacy.  We already have vehicles with which to do this work.  PLC’s, data teams, mentoring and induction programs, and instructional coaching protocols all are effective means to building collaborative cultures in schools.  These programs are all either already being supported by AEA’s and professional organizations in Iowa or will soon be offered.  School Administrators of Iowa and the Iowa State Education Association have a collaborative culture strand planned for their June 12 TLC Workshop.  AEA’s will continue to offer PLC and data team training, as well as instructional coaching opportunities. The Iowa Department of Education continues to add content to its TLC page on its website almost daily.  New regional trainings and online learning opportunities in the area of teacher collaboration are being developed as we speak.   In fact, never have I seen our state so energetically mobilizing around the right work as we are now doing in response to TLC.

Here is the caveat.  While all of these programs and initiatives have a strong research base, they will not drive the continuous improvement we seek if they are placed into a system that does not formally set time aside for this work.  PLC or data team time can’t be something we squeeze in around our other responsibilities.  It isn’t something that can be done only after school or by combining prep periods within a school day.  I realize that many communities have a resistance to teacher release time and that creating the types of calendars or schedules that facilitate ongoing, sustained collaboration time is often an uphill political struggle in those communities.  Even so, how we use our time communicates our priorities and if we want teacher growth to be a priority, there needs to be time set aside for that work.  I would argue that setting time aside for PLC or data team work is every bit as important as setting aside time for the learning of new strategies.  Implementing new things in the absence of a collaborative school culture just adds to avalanche isolation for teachers and can even give them an excuse to not fully engage in the work.

Here is a link to the complete piece.

Have a Great Summer!

Supporting Teacher Leadership Systems in GPAEA

The flowers are in bloom and the Chicago Cubs are 9 games below .500 so it must be May Day in the Great State of Iowa.  This spring brings something new to Iowa’s educational landscape though, as the Iowa Teacher Leadership Supplement (TLS) program is officially off the ground.  Districts representing one-third of Iowa’s school aged students have been selected to begin implementing teacher leadership programs this coming school year.  Over the course of the following two school years (2015-16 and 2016-17), nearly all of Iowa’s school districts will be involved in the business of utilizing teacher leadership positions to improve student achievement through strengthening instruction and instructional leadership.  Most districts in Iowa are already well into implementing the foundational components that will help support TLS.  Implementing the Iowa Core Standards and Curriculum is helping Iowa schools address the “what” of continuous school improvement.  Using  RTI or Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports is addressing the “how” .  TLS will address the “who” of continuous improvement by creating a network of highly qualified teacher leaders able to provide instructional coaching and otherwise engage all of Iowa’s teachers in a model of collaborative inquiry.

A stakeholder group made up of educators from the Department of Education and AEA’s has recognized that districts in Iowa will need a system of support designed specifically to develop mentors and teacher leaders.  That group has designed a Framework for Learning Supports, a draft of which can be viewed in its entirety here:


This framework of supports is divided into 7 categories, those being adult learning, collaborative culture, communication, content/pedagogy/assessment, systems thinking, data, and organizational leadership.  Great Prairie AEA, like all AEA’s, is currently taking steps to see that all districts are supported in the seven TLC support areas, regardless of whether or not they were formally selected in year one for the Teacher Leadership Supplement.  Many current GPAEA initiatives already align to one or more parts of the framework.  We will continue to support investigations and unit design in the Iowa Core, Data Teams, RTI, and early literacy.  We will also continue to address systems issues through our leadership academy, which will again facilitate the implementation of current and emerging district priorities.  These continuing programs will all serve to support multiple parts of the framework.  Some areas in the framework will require us to provide new learning opportunities.  We will no doubt need to enhance our mentoring and induction programs and place a renewed emphasis on instructional coaching.  We plan to continue a new strand of PLC training, which begins in August. We will also soon be announcing new learning opportunities in the areas of mentoring and instructional coaching for teacher leaders.

This is an exciting and challenging time.  Please know that we are working tirelessly to provide the types of support that will help your district’s journey into teacher leadership development be a successful one.  As you begin thinking about your district’s future plans, I would encourage you to familiarize yourself with the Framework of Learning Supports linked above.  You will find many other helpful supports for enhancing teacher leadership in your district on the Iowa Department of Education’s website.  Just do a search for TLC or teacher leadership and know that new resources are being added to the site regularly.  I would also encourage you to contact us by email or phone at GPAEA if you have ideas or needs relative to your TLC plan.  We will be communicating developments and opportunities as they become known through multiple avenues, including this blog and our website, but there is really no substitute for a good conversation as we begin our work together. We want to hear from you.  Also, please remember that all of our trainings are for all of our districts.  We want to help you build your teacher leadership capacity now, regardless of where you are in the TLC application process.  Thank you for all of your hard work on the behalf of the kids and families of SE Iowa and have a great May….And …oh yeah….Go Cubs!

Defining Quality Service and Identifying Learning Gaps Through Core Competencies

Throughout our agency, job-alike work groups are in the process of defining quality service through the development of core competency documents.  Each group, whether it be reading consultant, special education core team member etc., is in the process of defining what the core competencies should be for any person who is performing that task.  Groups are currently in various stages of this process.  For some of you, this may be the first time you have heard about this activity.  Some others have already spent some significant time on the activity.  (Our regional directors were the first job-alike group to engage this work.)  In either case, I thought it was time to share with the entire agency my perceptions on the purpose of the activity and why I think it is so important.

The purpose of this activity is two-fold.  The first and most important purpose is to build a common and collaborative definition of quality service in every service area.  Effective organizations have well-defined measures of quality and use those routinely to reflect and grow.  All professional organizations have quality standards and that’s good, particularly for preparation and evaluation purposes.  There is power, however, in bringing people together internally so they can talk about what quality work looks like “here”.  This not only creates better ownership of the local definition of quality, but also requires people to wrestle for consensus as they strive to define quality service.  In service agencies, we are working with many school districts that often do business differently.  By developing core competencies, we better unite around key essential functions and ultimately provide more consistent service across a diverse landscape of multiple school districts.

Once consensus is reached and core competencies are developed, they can be used for their second purpose which is to assist in identifying needs for new learning.  To best illustrate this purpose I use the example of a new person being hired to do Job X at our agency.  We already have job descriptions and more general evaluation standards, but how does this new employee go about the business of learning what it means in our agency to be good at Job X?  How have the people in my organization defined quality service and performance in Job X?  Our core competency documents should help answer those questions.  We know that all people encounter a learning curve when they assume new duties and it is expected that a certain amount of professional development will be necessary for new people to grow toward higher levels of performance.  (This holds true for experienced professionals as well.  If you find someone in education whose job today looks the way it did 10 years ago, please drop me a line.  The fact that some people are doing the same work today that they were doing 10 years ago is a problem and a topic for another day).  What professional development opportunities, then, need to be offered to our staff so that we can assure that each staff member is able to perform the core competencies for his or her job category?  Not all professionals have the same learning gaps and we need a way to organize and prioritize our internal learning opportunities.  Core competency documents should be for us to identify learning gaps and customize our professional development and coaching experiences.

So, that is my answer to ever recurring question that every educator has heard a million times.  “Why do we have to do this?”  By spending time developing these documents in job alike groups, we get to share our craft, define quality, and target new learning opportunities.  I hope the exercise helps you celebrate your colleagues and your profession.  Thanks everyone for taking the time to do this important activity.

Strategic Plan Update

Like local school districts, each AEA in Iowa undergoes an accreditation process every five years and Great Prairie AEA will be completing that process in the coming weeks.  The process actually takes two years to complete, with the first year consisting of the preparing for and conducting of the formal site visit.  Many of our local districts were instrumental in helping us with the site visit phase last year, providing teachers, administrators, and parents for our focus group interviews.  This year, we have been using the results of that accreditation report, as well as multiple other data sources, to produce our Comprehensive Improvement Plan or CIP.  This is an exciting and critical time for the agency because the CIP charts our course for the coming years.  It is our strategic plan, the plan that will guide us as we endeavor to support and lead Iowa’s education community.

The Process – This year, we have been working as an agency on the planning phase or CIP phase of the process. The first step in the CIP phase of accreditation is to inventory all current AEA services.  After this comprehensive inventory of services, we look at a number of data sources from within and outside the agency:  We review the contents of both AEA and local district accreditation reports.  We analyze the student achievement data and CSIP goals of all of our districts.  We also analyze the qualitative and quantitative data from the AEA satisfaction surveys taken annually by educators in the region.  Finally, we look at the current educational context in the state by reviewing the priorities stated in the AEA Compact and by reviewing recent state and federal legislation that either is impacting or will be impacting our local school districts.  From this needs assessment and analysis phase, two guiding documents are developed.  The first is the actual 5-year action plan that establishes our actions and priorities going forward.  The second and equally important document is the professional development plan that will map out the  internal (AEA) and external (LEA) learning that will need to take place in order for us to execute our plan and to successfully support our districts.

Here is what we are learning from the process.  We know from student achievement data, satisfaction survey data, and leadership interview data that districts want us to continue to provide quality direct services that allow students with special needs to access a free and appropriate education.  This need is particularly acute for districts as they work with students who are experiencing difficulty in the areas of reading and behavior.  We are already responding to this by making sure that every LEA building is served by one special education core team member specializing in reading and one specializing in challenging behavior.  We are continuing to provide half of our core team members ongoing training in methods for providing specially designed instruction in literacy and the other half in best practices for intervening with students who exhibit challenging behavior.  We will also continue to provide the full array of direct services to students that we currently offer, such as speech, physical, and occupational therapy.  These have been and will remain core services for our agency.

Another area of concentration for our agency going forward will be to support the continued implementation of the Iowa Core.  This means that we will need to continue to support teachers and school leaders as they learn more about the shifts involved in teaching to the Iowa Core in reading, math, and science.  We will need to stay abreast of best practices in characteristics of effective instruction, as well as understanding and teaching to the Iowa Core Standards. Developing high quality, aligned  assessments for those standards is the third piece of supporting implementation of the Iowa Core.  We will continue to support investigations work with the standards and assessments, effective instructional models, and observational protocols.  Supporting the Iowa Core has implications for both special education and instructional services staff as we will need to support the development of extended benchmarks and alternate assessment in addition to the work we do with general education teachers in curriculum, instruction, and assessment.  This will have implications for the work we do with both teachers and leaders.

One of the key responsibilities for the agency going forward will be to support districts as they strive to meet new requirements for early literacy in response to last year’s legislation calling for Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) formerly known as response to intervention (RTI and yes we do love new acronyms because we have such a critical shortage of them in the education business).  This is an area we are emphasizing, in part because there are so many implications for new learning and because the stakes are so high.  MTSS impacts everything from core and specially designed instruction to professional learning communities and data teams.  We will need to better support schools as they collect data with new screeners and diagnostic assessments.  We will not only need to support schools in collecting data, but also in using that data to develop appropriate interventions and effective extended learning programs.  The complexity of meeting district needs in this area is particularly compounded in the area of literacy where we see such a wide variance of programs and philosophies across our region.  One of our single biggest challenges going forward is to assure that all GPAEA literacy consultants in both special education and instructional services can effectively meet the general and special education literacy needs of any district regardless of that district’s approach to core literacy instruction.  This will no doubt be a significant piece or our internal learning plan.

Another key action area in our strategic plan will be to support districts as they implement the Teacher Leadership Compensation program, also know as the Teacher Leadership Supplement or TLS .  As districts begin to establish new roles and responsibilities for teacher leaders, there will be an increased need for skill development in areas like instructional coaching and observational protocols.  Perhaps even more critical to the success of TLS though may be the larger cultural shift that schools and districts must make as they begin to distribute leadership responsibilities traditionally reserved for administrators out into the larger organization.  School leaders will need to utilize collaborative protocols like those found in professional learning communities or data teams as the professional development process increasingly becomes more formative in nature.  Teacher leaders who already possess a strong set of instructional skills will need to be able to observe the instruction and student work of others for the purposes of identifying instructional strengths and weaknesses.  This will require districts to have a well articulated instructional continuum that can be used as a framework instructional coaching.  Leaders will need the types of coaching skills that encourage growth and reflection in others.  Some districts already have coaching models and even full-time release coaches, but most do not.  This all has huge implications for the future learning of both AEA and LEA educators.

Certainly our action plan and professional development plans will address much more than what I have chosen to include here.  What I have included in this blog are the big pieces that I see creating the general framework for our initiatives.  We feel that it is important for our core services to respond to district needs and the current context in Iowa.  These are ever-changing times and it will be necessary for us to review and realign these plans annually in order to keep up with those changes.  Even this Spring we will still be receiving feedback on the contents of the plan from our GPAEA Advisory Committee.  Our GPAEA Board of Directors will also be giving feedback before they ultimately approve the plan later this Spring.  We have many new and exciting challenges ahead.  We always welcome feedback to our proposed priorities.  If you would like to share your feedback, you can comment here on WordPress or contact me at

2014 Presents Opportunities for Meaningful School Reform in Iowa

During 2014, Iowa educators will begin working with two key pieces of education reform policy for the first time.  Districts representing roughly one-third of Iowa’s public school students will begin developing new teacher leadership roles and re-examining teacher development models as they begin to implement the Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) program.  Those districts will be receiving the Teacher Leadership Supplement (TLS) which was authorized during the last legislative session by HF215.  At the same time, all Iowa districts will begin planning to meet the new demands for literacy instruction found in chapter 62.  These require local districts to screen all students for potential reading problems beginning in kindergarten and to provide research based interventions and progress monitoring for all students experiencing difficulty in the area of reading.  Districts will be required to provide extended learning programs and consider retention for all students not proficient in reading by the end of 3rd grade.   Both of these new developments have the potential to substantially improve student learning outcomes in Iowa.  Unfortunately, they also have the potential to do for student learning what so many reform efforts have done before, which is little or nothing.  How can we assure that these reforms will result in real change and improved student learning?  Here are a few thoughts.

1) Continue to fund these initiatives at a level that is in addition to reasonable allowable growth.  Iowa’s policy makers deserve credit for putting additional funds behind these priorities.  Districts participating in the Teacher Leadership Supplement will receive over $300 per student to pay for the program, an amount that represents roughly a 5% increase in per pupil state aid.  If this comes at the expense of further limitations on allowable growth or other categorical revenue streams, however, return on this investment will be diminished.  Already there exists an inequity between schools that will need to spend part of the TLS to reach the salary minimum of $33,000/year and those that already exceed that minimum.  In recent years, Iowa has dropped from having the 8th highest investment in public education to 37th.  During that period, the state has become increasingly diverse both socioeconomically and culturally and, yet, achievement has remained relatively constant.  The Teacher Leadership Supplement is one of the most significant and exciting developments in public education in Iowa in years, but it won’t drive real reform if it becomes a substitute for consistent allowable growth over time in a state that has already fallen behind most other states in funding for education.

2) Account for the impacts of poverty and language as reform initiatives go forward. Policy makers have allocated eight million dollars to improve early literacy education in Iowa.  This is commendable, but assumes that the cost of providing interventions and extended learning opportunities in one community will be the same as those in another when we know that communities and schools vary greatly.  I know that it has become somewhat unfashionable to say so, but language and poverty continue to be the strongest indicators of school readiness and school performance.  All students can learn, but not when funding and time are the constants.  For that reason I support the growing call for our legislature to revisit Iowa’s school foundation formula.  Iowa has taken huge steps toward addressing poverty and equity by supporting universal pre-school, but we still have a long way to go if we want to make learning a constant.  Kids in poverty are more likely to show up for school less ready to learn and more likely to need instructional interventions and extended learning opportunities.  I don’t for a moment minimize the importance of quality teaching, but we know from research that kids in poverty need both better and more instruction.  That requires differentiated resources for kids and schools in poverty.

3) Hold us accountable for results.  If early literacy is a high priority for schools in Iowa, and I believe that it is, let’s align accreditation standards for Iowa’s schools and AEAs to reflect that priority.  Districts and AEAs should be measured and accredited in part based on how well they support early literacy interventions and multi-tiered systems of support.  Similarly, if teacher leadership is to become the pathway to improved instruction in Iowa’s schools, let’s make sure that districts and AEAs are supporting that work by providing all teachers with quality professional learning experiences that support teacher development.  Teacher leadership holds tremendous potential for building the professional capital that will put every Iowa school on a path of continuous improvement, but only if districts and AEAs implement clear, research based instructional models and collectively define what good teaching is and what it looks like.  There is plenty of room for local control when it comes to implementing the TLC program, but there also exists an extensive body of research on what works instructionally when it comes to improving student outcomes.  This could also become an explicit standard to which districts and AEAs should be held accountable during the accreditation process.

In summary, we need to work together to make sure that these two reforms are well funded and then measured.  If we do those two things, we have an excellent chance to change the course of education in Iowa.  Have a great 2014.  It’s an exciting time to be working in education.

The New Paradigm of Adaptive Teacher Leadership

I recently heard a radio interview with Ron Heifetz, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, in which he talked about organizational leadership practices in America. For three decades, he has taught organizational leadership at Harvard and has found that leaders and aspiring leaders always come to him with the same basic question:  “How can I get people to follow me?”  Heifetz shared that he is never surprised by this question because it reflects the dominant view of organizational leadership in America today.  That dominant view operates from the premise that says, “I am the leader and I have the answer.  I just need to be able to better sell that answer to the stakeholders in my organization”.  The problem with that approach to problem solving, Heifetz claims, is that it only works with certain types of problems and those typically aren’t the biggest problems facing an organization.

Heifetz developed the theory of adaptive leadership prior to publishing his book Leadership Without Easy Answers in 1994.  Most recently, he and his colleagues published The Practice of Adaptive Leadership in 2009. His theory posits that the challenges facing all organizations can be placed into two general categories.  The first category of problem facing today’s organization is the technical problem.  Technical problems are problems that are clearly defined and have a known solution.  The typical leadership response to a technical problem is to establish the authority within the organization to ensure that everyone implements the known solution.  There is no need to find an alternative solution to a technical problem because there are no proven alternatives.  The focus is on quality control and adherence to protocol.  The problem and the solution have both been clearly defined and the leadership focus is placed on the authoritative framework necessary to see that all stakeholders are doing the right work.  A former medical doctor, Heifetz equates a technical problem to one where the leader acts like a surgeon.  The surgeon (leader) says, “You have a problem and I have the solution.  You don’t have to worry because I know what to do.”

The other and more common challenge category facing organizations today is the adaptive problem.  An adaptive problem is often a changing problem and one that requires new learning before it can be solved or even clearly defined.  Adaptive leadership recognizes the importance of new learning across the entire organization.  Stakeholders at all levels are involved in the learning that leads to the definition and solution of the problem.  The adaptive problem is one in which people (stakeholders) are both part of the problem and part of the solution.  For that reason, the adaptive leader recognizes that, before the problem is identified and solved, there will not only be a lot of new learning at multiple levels across the organization, there will also be a need for stakeholders to change beliefs and practices in response to that learning.  Heifetz uses a medical analogy to describe the adaptive problem also, but in this case he compares it to the psychiatrist who says, “You have a problem and it is my job to help you build the capacity to solve your problem.”  Stakeholders have to be invested in defining the problem so they know what to do in response.  It becomes the function of leadership then to consistently engage people with the problem and mobilize them around it.  The solutions come from the group.

The single biggest cause of failure in today’s organization is the misidentifying of adaptive problems as technical ones.  Successful organizations embed stakeholders in the work of problem identification and problem solving and manage that process within a set of organizational parameters, but without a predetermined outcome.  Leaders manage the process that stakeholders use to engage in this problem solving work, but they don’t prescribe the solution.  Less successful organizations often rely on a small faction of leadership to identify and define a problem and then prescribe a solution to stakeholders who are then expected to respond accordingly.  This technical, more traditional approach to leadership is appropriate for technical problems where the solution is known, but not for the more adaptive types of problems that require large amounts of new learning and changes in adult behavior.

So, what does this mean for educational organizations?  We know that our challenges primarily relate to improving student outcomes, but which of our challenges are adaptive and which are technical?  Is our problem already defined and is a “best practice” solution already apparent?  Or, are some real challenges yet to be clearly defined and is there still a lot of learning to be done in order to define and address those challenges?  How we answer these questions is critical.  The leadership response to a technical problem in education is typically teacher training , but does that always equate to teacher learning?  We know that changes in behavior are a function of new and collective learning, not necessarily more individual training.  A common leadership function in dealing with instruction as a technical problem is the walk-through observation, but is that walk-through process designed to engage teachers in new learning, or is it a quality control measure intended to measure the implementation of a solution that came from someone else.  Are teachers being given adequate time to collaborate around common instructional challenges so they can adapt to new and better strategies, or is professional development time dominated by “sit and get” time in which teachers are learning a new strategy from an external expert.

I believe that positive school cultures are the product of leadership teams that have learned how to balance the importance of addressing both technical and adaptive problems.  We ignore the research and educational experts at our own peril.  Certainly, teachers need to develop teaching strategies that are research based and known to be effective in solving known problems.  I think of these strategies as making up a tool box from which a skilled teacher can pull the right tool for the right job.  Beyond this technical approach to teaching, though, lies an adaptive approach that requires collective wisdom and new learning.  Positive school cultures make time for this work as well.  Professional learning communities are given the time and tools necessary to study new problems and try new strategies.  There is an accountability to improved results but it is an internally imposed accountability and teachers are trusted to collaborate and learn together.  When systems rely purely on prescriptive approaches to teaching and do not build adult learning systems that value collaboration time and peer learning, they relegate all problems to the technical realm and miss out on the art and magic that can result when teachers are given time and tools to engage in real adaptive learning and problem solving.  Technical leadership creates compliance, but adaptive leadership builds trust and ownership.  As we build new systems of teacher leadership in Iowa, we should strive to create that trust and ownership.