Wired‘s theme for April is all about radical transparency and how it plays out for business, but I couldn’t help reading it by what it might mean for education. I think one of the biggest pushes for schools with all of this is the whole idea that transparency can be a good thing. Yeah, it can be messy, and it’s going to make life more difficult from time to time. But the long term benefits are worth the short term problems.
Clive Thompson’s feature on “The See-Through CEO” challenges the traditional thinking about this in a number of ways. (Interestingly, he invited readers to help write the story by posting updates to his blog in the process.) And it’s a huge shift, this idea that “turning everyone into a partner in the process and inviting them” to poke around and complain in the open is a good idea. But as the article points out, many businesses, from Microsoft to Southwest Airlines to online shoe retailers I’ve never heard of are slowly (or in some cases quickly) pulling back the curtains and letting people inside with very positive results.
And so I’m wondering whether a “See-Through Superintendent” might play. I know some of the high-profile attempts at superintendent blogging have gone down in flames. But in schools, this would be more than just a blog. It would be a culture shift that would attempt to open both internal and external communications and build collaborative environments.
First, as the article implies, shouldn’t superintendents be working toward districts where “the more you know us the more you’ll like us” tenet applies? I mean, if we are being transparent in our work, in our decision making process, and we are sincere in our efforts to bring others into the conversation, our constituents will be more forgiving of those “everyday snafus.” And second, if we are communicating more and interacting more, we can actually gain leverage over those who may want to disrupt or disparage what we are trying to do, assuming, once again, that what we are trying to do is in the best interests of students.
Not to mention that at the heart of this is creating models for our students to look to and learn from.
Technorati Tags: leadership, education, learning, schools
Kelly Christopherson says
Transparency is a double-edged sword that can have great benefits but can create huge problems for the person and, maybe, for the organization. To be transparent leaves one open for those interested in creating harm. We need to educate people about being transparent and atmosphere that needs to exist for it to be effective. Personally, it can be great when people know where you are coming from but it can also create a whole lot of angst and anxiety as people use your transparency to try and discredit you. How much do we expect our people in education to take? It’s easy to say “Let’s be more transparent.” but until you’re “walking the talk” I think that it is a bit presumptuous to assume people will “forgive us for those everyday snafus”. As for “what’s best for the students” idea, that really has too many doors that will explode when opened. If you’re dealing with “bubble wrapped kids”, you may run into serious problems. Our models have to be more than merely “academic” theories. They have to be workable and achievable. My experience in this is that we have quite a long row to hoe before this will be effective. Right now, from my perspective, it’s a nice thought, a good idea but that’s it. Reality is just to harsh sometimes.
Will Richardson says
You know, the minute after I posted this I saw this: http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/03/as_i_type_this_.html. It’s thrown me. Hard. I think I want to take this post back, in the virtual sense, obviously.
Tim Goree says
I agree with Kelly only to the point that school districts are different animals than commercial companies and WILL pose more problems with this theory than commercial companies will. I subscribe to the idea that many of the concepts that work for commercial companies will work if tried in school districts, however we have to be realistic in that school districts are more complicated politically than commercial companies.
In commercial companies, the bottom line almost always wins out in the end. It’s about making money in the end, and most differences that need to be worked out in those companies between people tend to be related to the HOW of making money.
In school districts, you have a number of different organizations that influence the operations of the district, and their main goals can differ greatly. Often, what they SAY is their main goal is really not their main goal at all when you look at their actions. Off the top of my head, I can list a number of groups that greatly influence operations, but often differ dramatically in their main goal: Superintendency, Principals, District Managers, Teachers (and their unions), Classified Staff (and their unions), students, parents, and business communities.
If you think about it, all of these groups tend to expect different things from the school district. Kelly is right in that there would be employees and members of the community who would try to take advantage of transparency to further selfish ends.
I feel that transparency is still the correct direction to head (it is what I always try to do with my own department), but in a leadership position, you have to be able to draw the line as to how far backward you will bend in this process before you say “no”. Of course, if you say “no” in a transparent environment, you’d better be able to explain yourself. In the end, you are always in better shape if you can explain your actions in terms of what is best for the district and the students in the long run. Transparency forces leaders to make sure that they can explain their actions (and aren’t afraid to do so) – and that is always a good thing.
Dana Huff says
Will, I just wrote on this same topic a few days ago: http://www.huffenglish.com/?p=299. Interesting concept, as you say, but what do we do about all the scary folks and trolls the WWW brings out?
Scott McLeod says
Here’s what one superintendent, Mark Stock, has to say about this:
I don’t think you need to take it back. Superintendents are used to being criticized publicly: why not have a chance to have an open conversation with some folks (with some comment moderation if need be)?
The Pinellas fiasco blew over and Wilcox is blogging again…
Scott McLeod says
Oops, forgot to add Why Blog As An Administrator?
James O'Hagan says
Wow, did everyone blow past the series of threats against that blogger? Forget the super.
Jeff Wasserman says
Interesting stuff to think about, what with the Kathy Sierra story still such huge news. Where does transparency end and a seeming invitation to threats and harm begin?