Thursday, March 24, 2011

Leading with our linchpins

“The problem is that most schools don’t like great teachers. They’re organized to stamp them out, bore them, bureaucratize them, and make them average.” -- Seth Godin

How many educators do you know that try to change the system of education? How many educators do you know that just stick to the status quo? How are these two different types of people treated by school and district leaders?

As a principal, I want people who challenge the education system and take risks to benefit our kids. I want people that say the way we have always done things is not the best way. I want people who reflect on current structures and practices and say to themselves: is this what is best for kids? I cannot recall who stated this but if we continue to do what we have always done, we will get what we have always had. To me, that’s not good enough.

In the past year, I have spoken to a number of people who are trying to create change in their classrooms and in the schools but have been told to “toe the line” both by administrators and colleagues. These important educators have been told to follow their lizard brain and conform, comply and follow instructions. Does this sound familiar? Is this what many schools also teach our kids? Is this what we actually want in our education system?

It is EASY to do what has always been done. When you do this, you rarely get criticized and you rarely even get noticed; you please the resistance. What is difficult to do is to be the one to change the system - to challenge the current norms and to be what Seth Godin calls a “Linchpin”. A linchpin is someone who is indispensable; someone who fights the resistance and uses their creativity to live on the edge of the box. “The linchpin feels the fear, acknowledges it, then proceeds.”
We need to be teaching students to not just “do school” but to take risks, try new initiatives and become indispensable. What better way to teach students this than to model this as educators? Now I realize that we have laws that govern education but as leaders and teachers, how can we work WITH our passionate staff and students who are taking risks, challenging the ‘truths’ and norms, and changing the education system?
Godin asks the question: “Would your organization be more successful if your employees were more obedient? Or, consider for a second: would you be more successful if your employees were more artistic, motivated, connected, aware, passionate, and genuine?”.

What kind of school culture do you want? How are you providing your staff with the autonomy to fight their lizard brain and challenge the status quo? Do you silence or encourage the voices of change?

How do you lead with your Linchpins?


  1. When I worked in Thailand, I attempted to start an overhaul of our school website. Everyone in the school, including administration, agreed that our website was a complete mess.

    At every step of the process, someone in administration blocked the process. Fellow teachers told me that my project was too ambitious and would fail because administrators would never get on board. "Don't try and rock the boat, you'll just get burned," I can remember hearing.

    Eventually my website overhaul project died, and the year after I left, they hired a company to redesign the website from scratch. Lesson learned: work for organizations which support change.

  2. Chris, this post speaks loud and clear to me.

    There are too many educators that say children should come first, and yet continue to make excuses for why the system's needs should trump even on student's needs.

    And then when a progressive educator refuses to buy into the excuses, they are labelled as an outcast and judged as being idealistic and utopian (as if our goals should be anything less).

    It really bothers me how often pragmatism becomes simply code for justifying apathy. And when our leaders think this way, we are in big trouble.

  3. Joe, One of my big concerns is that many people don't even understand what students' needs are. I think we ALL agree that school are about doing what's best for our kids. But does that mean free daycare? preparing them for a future of office jobs? allowing them to discover things on their own? helping them to be resilient? experiencing democracy?

    I know what I think, but I've heard all these things from concerned parents and politicians. And in the current economic climate and worldview, I'm afraid that "spending 13 years preparing our kids to work in an office job, doing what they are told" seems to sum up the current education system pretty well.

  4. Chris, I love this post and have been hoping you would write about linchpins for a while. Change is not easy but we have to realize why the change is needed. If we continue to suppress educators that think they may have a better idea, we are only harming ourselves. Thank you for your great insight.

  5. Thanks, Chris. I am in the middle of reading "Linchpin" now and I could not agree more with your post. The book was actually suggested to me by a preservice teacher in one of my classes. Given my approach to teaching, she thought I'd like it.

    I'm not sure like is the right word. It is at the same time inspiring and depressing. There is so much we could be doing to foster creativity. There is so much we are doing to squash it.

    Chris, we need more principals like you who are encouraging teachers and learners to flourish. Thank you!

  6. Hi Chris, sometimes I think that you are raising philosophical question, sometime I see that you stick to practical guns.
    History always remembers people that brought changes. You know why? Because there are not too many. That why David in his introduction calls himself "activist". There are not too many activists (I mean real people that what and ready to make changes.
    And administration? Administration was, is and always will be a powerful guard of current order. This is the deepest nature of the administration.

  7. Chris, I'm glad Joe re-tweeted this. There are so many conversations that stem from this it's hard to know where to start. And the comments are all right on. The other question is how much are admin. scared of parent push back? I think parent engagement is a huge piece here as well. And having the right conversations so that they are also open to change.


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