School reform frameworks are common, but the following framework has the benefits of being derived from a moral foundation that is likely universal, focused on a surprisingly small set of behavioral changes, and encompasses every level of the school system in positive ways.
As someone (not Einstein) pointed out, “You can't solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it.”
In my view the school reform programs that have dominated our attention in the United States have been created with an education-is-delivery consciousness which I argue on my definition of education page is what created the problems in the first place.
I propose that a new consciousness for solving the deepest, most entrenched problems of schools is education-is-cognitive-cartography.
But, naturally, that is easier said than done.
In this essay I will sketch out my proposal for a three step intervention plan that starts with a district level program in a high school catchment area then scales up to state and federal policy changes.
The proposal is based on my understanding of how to create cultural change.
So, first, I will share my synthesis of cultural change models which is one part of my overall school reform framework.
Then I will present a draft intervention plan outline to accomplish the necessary change in consciousness that will bring about effective school reform.
Taking my lead from a variety of sources including Howard Gardner (Changing Minds), Sharif Abdullah (Creating A World That Works for All), George Lakoff (Moral Politics), Jonathan Haidt (creator of Moral Foundations Theory), and Joe Brewer (founder of Cognitive Policy Works) amongst others; I take the following to be the necessary steps in creating an effective cultural change plan.
Step 1- Moral Imperative: State a moral imperative that is easily understood and, ideally, universal.
Step 2- Empirical Foundation: Establish the empirical foundation that serves to express the moral imperative and, thereby, frames what counts as evidence for enacting the moral imperative.
Step 3- Inspiring Comprehensive Story: Figure out the story of why change is necessary such that the status quo fails to express the moral imperative and there are relatively obvious approaches to corrective action.
Step 4- Empirical Strategy: Generate an empirically respectable approach to sustainable change that expresses the moral imperative in a manner that is consistent with the story.
Step 5- Political Strategy: Generate a politically respectable approach to cognitive and material policies that will enable the implementation of the empirically respectable approach to sustainable change that expresses the moral imperative in a manner that is consistent with the inspiring comprehensive story.
Here, then, are the essential elements of my cultural change plan for schools:
Moral Imperative: All adults responsible for children must nurture those children.
Empirical Foundation: Nurturing children requires meeting their fundamental human needs.
According to the best available evidence human fundamental needs include, at minimum, the psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy.
Self-Determination Theory which was first proposed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan is the research tradition that has most thoroughly established those needs as universal and primary rather than derivative needs.
Inspiring Comprehensive Story: Since the emergence of life over 4 billion years ago there have been a series of global catastrophes that have nearly wiped life out.
Life has responded to each catastrophe with creativity.
We are in the midst of one of those catastrophes now, and we are called to respond creatively or die.
On a smaller scale some of our ancestors experienced exactly this kind of challenge sometime about five to ten thousand years ago and responded by creatively changing the cultural story they lived by.
Up until then all human beings lived in cultures that in one way or another acknowledged that they were part of the Sacred Hoop, one part of a larger whole that sustained their existence, you could say that they left their fate in the hands of the gods.
Those were the Keepers of the Sacred Hoop.
Those humans who were having their very existence threatened by scarcity came up with the innovation of breaking the Sacred Hoop and taking their fate into their own hands.
They were our ancestors and we have been striving endlessly for hundreds of generations to take control of fate ever since.
We now have Breaker schools that assume that adults must control children in order to ensure they will get what they need to succeed.
In Breaker schools policies and practices systematically exert control and inherently undermine autonomy at all levels.
The Breaker system is pervasive and exerts it's effects independent of the beliefs of individual teachers, parents, students, administrators and policy makers.
The Breaker story has brought us into the global Mess that threatens our existence.
While, the Breaker system is not vulnerable to the beliefs of individuals, it is vulnerable to the actions of individuals if those actions catalyze other's to act and lead to organized support for the continuation of those actions.
There is a new story emerging today in which people are acknowledging that while we cannot take control of fate, we can act as co-creators of the universe to influence how we live within the limitations of our world.
These people are the Menders of the Sacred Hoop who realize that the Keepers were right that there will always be ways in which God can wipe us out using natural and man-made disasters and misfortunes.
But, the Breakers were also right that we can be powerful forces (for both good and evil) in the world.
Mender schools are about enabling children to practice being powerful agents so that they can make good decisions that help people and avoid decisions that, while well intended, turn out to be harmful.
Mender schools co-create educational experiences with children and work to minimize the level of control that adults have to exert for the children's protection.
Mender Schools structure the environment of the school for autonomy support at every level, encourage the development of strong personal and community bonds within the organization, and hold everyone accountable for high levels of competence.
Becoming a Mender school can be as simple as making a public commitment to being held accountable for meeting the psychological needs of all the members of their school community.
And after the school demonstrates a substantial degree of success they will be promoted to the status of a School of Conscience.
Empirical Strategy: Implement a multi-year mental model intervention that promotes autonomy support at all levels of practice within the context of a well-structured school climate study and introduce and sustain the intervention in autonomy supportive not controlling ways.
Political Strategy: Sustainable changes require policies that hold school managers and leaders accountable for meeting the psychological needs of the central members of the school community, students, teachers, and staff.
The policies must be pedagogically neutral to allow families across the spectrum of moral perspectives to find and attend appropriate schools for their children.
The Essential Educational Policy Argument for Schools of Conscience
We currently have a school system that forces adults responsible for nurturing children to sacrifice that duty on the altar of academics; this is wrong.
Even if the teachers can achieve the status of a benevolent classroom dictator, this is the wrong model of power to teach children who are growing up in a democratic society.
Worse yet, schools have had to kowtow to arbitrary standards and testing regimes that pressure everyone to ignore the basic human needs of teachers and children in order to keep up with the instructional bookkeeping that is required to stave off dire punishments.
The current system slaps down the people who are on the front lines doing their best to care for and nurture the children; this is wrong and we can do better.
Compulsory schooling should be about guaranteeing every child access to a nurturing community environment.
Then within that larger nurturing community pockets of excellent academic instruction should be readily available, but, only to those children who are motivationally ready to meet the highest standards of behavior that are required in those classes.
These essential elements form the conceptual core of Schools of Conscience, a network of educators and education advocates that is charged with implementing the whole set of five school reform proposals being presented in this series.
Given those essentials then an outline of the school reform implementation I currently favor has the following three stages:
Stage 1: Organizational Culture Intervention- Proof of Concept
The first rule for this intervention is that change must come about in autonomy supportive, not controlling, ways.
Therefore, the essence of the plan is to provide a consistent professional development presence focused on the cognitive cartography concept in all schools within a high-school catchment area for 5 years or more.
Teachers and administrators will not be coerced, but, rather given the option of attending workshops that focus on autonomy supportive teaching practices initially, then eventually they will be supported to figure out ways to apply the full suite of ideas that follow from the cognitive cartography metaphor.
At least one full-time staff person will provide workshops and a variety of support services to all the target schools on a rotating basis as teachers and administrators come on board and need help transforming their day-to-day practices.
The initial focus will be based on Johnmarshall Reeve's research into why teachers are controlling and supporting teachers to use autonomy supportive teaching practices.
The long-term goal is to reach a critical mass of teachers and administrators in each school such that school policies would begin to reflect autonomy support at all levels within the schools.
The initial proof of concept team will include a nearby college or university which will conduct a study of the patterns of behavioral management at all levels within the schools as part of a longitudinal school climate study.
The study will also include a comparable high school catchment area with no intervention staff as a control group and another comparable high school catchment area with a professional development support person who will focus on community building and professional networking within the catchment area without reference to autonomy support nor educational metaphors.
Funding for the study should be independent of the district in which it occurs to minimize conflicts of interest and ensure that local school politics and funding issues do not disrupt the study.
Ideally, there would be several original districts so that the study proving the concept could represent several regions of the country.
Stage 2: Organizational Culture Intervention- District-wide Application and New District Recruiting
Given proof of the effectiveness of the intervention then the district would create a department that would provide a full-time staff person to each high school catchment area in the district to provide professional development support for creating Schools of Conscience throughout the district.
It is not presumed that every school will take on the responsibility of becoming a School of Conscience at this stage, and the first rule of the intervention dictates that involuntary or coerced compliance with School of Conscience standards would violate the School of Conscience standards.
At the same time as the original district is intervening throughout their system the Schools of Conscience network will actively seek new districts that would like to implement interventions in their areas.
Growth strategies for the movement would ideally reflect the distinct needs and characteristics of each region in which interventions are implemented.
Stage 3: Societal Intervention- State & Federal Policy Changes
As the momentum for Schools of Conscience builds then higher level policies will need to be adjusted to accommodate the full range of possible school models that have evidence of their effectiveness at meeting their students needs, since currently democratic schools, for instance, are effectively excluded from receiving most funding unless they make substantial concessions to implementing controlling policies that are antithetical to their pedagogical commitments.
As a significant number of Schools of Conscience are acknowledged in a diverse set of districts then it will become more and more imperative to align state and federal policies to reflect the needs of schools committing themselves to the well-being of their school populations.
This three stage intervention plan is likely to take many years to fully realize.
It is imperative to understand that while dictatorial imposition of policy changes feels like an efficient method of transforming institutions it may ultimately fail if the imposition seriously diminishes the autonomy of those upon whom it is imposed.
If this plan is based on true insight into human and organizational psychology, then it will succeed on it's own terms over time and impetuous efforts to impose the change will be counter productive.
The moral imperative is clear: We must nurture children where ever they are.
And in schools we must nurture them before all else.
But this requires us to shift the priorities of schools away from uncompromising emphasis on academic instructional bookkeeping to uncompromising nurturance of all the people in the system.
This is a call to change more than just your mind, but to change the culture of schools.
Cultural change requires a long-term strategic plan based on a combination of a moral imperative, an empirical foundation, a comprehensive story, and empirically and politically respectable approaches.
With an appropriate plan, a lot of patience, and perseverance we can make positive improvements in the lives of school children, teachers, and everyone else in our education system.