How's your alignment? by Kevin Jarrett

How's your alignment? by Kevin Jarrett

{Cross posted on Welcome to NCS-Tech!}

Anyone who owns a vehicle will probably be able to recognize this picture. It's a car's front tire, unevenly worn due to a bad wheel alignment. It's a great metaphor representing something I've been thinking about a lot lately, as I have grown personally and professionally, and have had time to reflect on my own vision and mission as an educator in terms of the larger context of my school.

photo credit: renaissancechambara

I'm fortunate; things are pretty good here. We have a new superintendent, our former elementary principal, now guiding the ship. Our new elementary principal is settling in as our instructional leader, getting to know us, making his presence felt, making sure we know what his expectations are - and that he's there for us. Sure, there are times when I wonder about a particular issue or two, but by and large, we're directionally correct - on the right path, headed where I think we need to be. But enough about me. How about you, your school, your district?

photo credit: Ballistik Coffee Boy

Hillary Clinton's now-infamous "3 am phone call" ad was the talk of the 2008 presidential election for quite a while. Politics aside, the mental image resonates for me. Imagine it's 3 am and YOUR phone rings. On the other end, it's President Obama. Or Arne Duncan. Or your state Governor. Or CNN, The New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Associated Press. (Hey, education reform is on EVERYONE's mind right now.) Seemingly oblivious to the time of day, they want to know:

"What are your top three priorities as an education professional today?"

What would you say? Hold that thought... Now, what if the same call came to your principal? What would they say? Or, your superintendent? How might they respond? See where I'm going with this? The answers would of course be different - the question is - how much would they have IN COMMON?

This, to me, is the essence of alignment: how our personal priorities match up with those of the organization as a whole. If you had several chips - one for you, each of your colleagues, your administrators ... and had to stack them based on the amount of overlap (or commonality) that exists in your top three views, how tall would the tower of chips get? Clearly, in order to stand at all, the amount of overlap would have to be very significant. Otherwise, you'd be left with a messy, unorganized, random pile. Seems to me the same is true for any organization - including our schools.

photo credit: dcJohn

We in the edublogosphere often decry the progress schools are making relative to the role of educational technology in our schools today. I don't know anyone who is totally, completely, 100% satisfied with the way their district leverages edtech in the classroom or supports it with high-quality professional development. We wring our collective hands about this; wonder about the impact on our kids' future competitiveness in the global marketplace; ponder looming budget shortfalls and funding problems; obsess about the impact high-stakes testing has on our ability to teach the way we know we need to; the list goes on. But here's the reality - how many of these issues we are so concerned with are also at the top of our school's priority list? If the variances are significant, you can be sure that lack of alignment will take its toll over time. It will wear you down, impeding your effectiveness as an individual (not to mention the organization as a whole). You'll burn out, and the organization will, at best, struggle to achieve. Fortunately, those of us lucky enough to have a classroom of our own have a secret weapon in the fight against burnout. A weapon of such incomprehensible power that it can overcome virtually any amount of discord or conflict. A weapon each of us uses every day, in one way or another. A weapon so simple that it has existed since the dawn of educational time.

photo credit: Looking Glass

That weapon: our own classroom doors. I don't know about you, but, I'm the most aligned - as close to 100% as one can be - when I'm teaching. In fact, when I'm teaching, I'm more than 100% aligned. I'm 1,000% aligned, meaning my weekly interactions with the 525 human beings known as my students do much more than get me back to an even keel. They supercharge me, powering me through the day, carrying me through meetings, administrivia, difficult conversations and more. These interactions give me superhuman strength. Phenomenal power. Endless endurance. (If you ever wondered where I get the energy to start my typical workday at 3:30 am, now you know.)

photo credit: Picture Perfect Pose

A closed classroom door can be dangerous, though. It doesn't deal with the root cause of the problem - poor alignment. To work on that, ask yourself some questions:

  • What is my district's mission, expressed in terms meaningful to me as an educational professional?
  • How can the things I am passionate about support that mission?
  • What can I do to make my instructional leader more successful?
  • What do I need from my instructional leader to be more successful?

photo credit: Marcus Vegas

We live in a world of vivid, seemingly infinite color, not binary black and white. Every district has in its own place on the "spectrum of innovation." Districts have limited resources, especially with regards to technology, and can't be all things to all people. Decisions have to be made, priorities must be established, budgets set and observed. As members of these organizations, it's our job to understand our district's mission and how we can support and move our districts forward in the complex environment we live in. But in the end, a lot comes down to us personally and the choices we make: what do we need to do that we're not doing? What do we need to stop doing? How much of the situation you face every day is a result of YOUR contributions (or lack thereof). In Scott McLeod's words, "why aren't you having a bigger impact?" In a perfect world, our priorities are the district's priorities; or, enough of them are for us to feel truly valued, respected, and part of something greater than ourselves. In a not-so-perfect world, when that alignment is so far off that adjustments can't be made to correct it, the only solution is to interpret that image above - the hand reaching for the door - in another, more figurative way: it's time to move on ... and find another organization that's a better fit. Now, don't go resigning from a tenured position on MY account - this is, after all, just a blog post - but I think we should all monitor our alignment and make periodic adjustments. Otherwise, we'll eventually look like the tire pictured at the top of this post - worn out and unfit for the job we're supposed to do! Hope this helps, -kj-