Fanatical Discipline Leads to Educational Success

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PJ Caposey is the principal of Oregon High School, an adjunct professor in the educational leadership department for Aurora University, and he is currently pursuing his Doctoral degree through Western Illinois University. He is the author of Eye On Education’s book Building a Culture of Support: Strategies for School Leaders. He can be found on Twitter @principalpc, and he is a guest blogger for many websites such as Eye on Education, ASCD, Edutopia, and Test Soup. PJ’s other guest blog: Bridging the Parent-Teacher Communication Gap

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Education has arguably changed more in the past ten years than it had in the previous fifty. Different people meet change with different reactions. Some are in favor of each new idea that comes forth, some against, and some see the purpose in all of the change but are having a hard time stomaching the mass amount of change in such a short period of time.

In my experience, very few people in Illinois are less than overwhelmed with all that is taking place and also less than confident that each new mandate will mean an improved educational system for our students. Simply put, there is a lot of action and little to inspire confidence that it will end with the desired outcome. Therefore, the need for outstanding school leaders who are able to set vision and stay disciplined is greater than ever before.

In a time of perpetual change sometimes the best solutions lie in what has been a constant for years.

Two things immediately come to mind as educational stalwarts that have stood the test of time – and if used in combination I believe can truly lead to resounding school success: Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning and the Professional Learning Community (PLC) model as popularized by Rick DuFour and Solution Tree.

The philosophy behind the four questions that drive the PLC model are simple, yet encompass nearly everything within the educational process:

  1. What do students need to know and be able to do?
  2. How will we know if they do?
  3. What will we do if they do not know what they need to?
  4. What will we do when they already know it?

DuFour popularized this model after becoming entrenched in the Baldridge model (Illinois Performance Excellence in this state). To get to the core function of what needs to take place, the Baldridge Model attempts to ‘lean’ all organizational systems. This directly aligns with the Apple motto popularized under late-CEO Steve Jobs “Simplify.”

It is hard to examine anything in education that does not fall within the four questions of the PLC with a focus on critical thinking skills defined by Bloom’s Taxonomy. Everything from RtI, to PARCC or SmarterBalanced, to the increased emphasis on rigor (Bloom’s) through the Common Core State Standards fits directly in these two models or frameworks. Schools focused on the PLC model and rigorous instruction utilizing Bloom’s Taxonomy have no need to ‘initiative chase.’ Schools without focus or alignment will be continually chasing the next solution instead of staying aligned to what works in education in addition to other foci they have determined to be important to their schools or districts.

Great by Choice by Jim Collins

Great by Choice is a book that examines companies that have had incredible, sustained success. One of the characteristics of the companies that have been able to achieve sustained success is fanatical discipline.

Fanatical discipline is the ability to say no to opportunities that seem great and to instead stay dogged in the pursuit of what is important to the organization. Pursuing non-essential and unsustainable grant funding is an area schools often lose discipline. The perceived benefit of seeking ‘free money’ is often not weighed against how it fits in to the master plan and how the time and energy expended on the ‘free money’ will impact the primary goals of the organization. Simply put, great schools exhibit fantastic discipline and have the ability to say no, when most people would say yes. Those schools constantly chasing the next big thing will find the more things change – the more they stay the same.

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