Cage-Busting Leadership

CageIn Worthington our principals are organized in cohort groups of 5 or 6 principals which we call Communities of Practice.  Each Community of Practice is led by a Director and the group engages in professional learning together throughout the school year.  This year each of our Community of Practice groups is reading the book “Cage Busting Leadership” by Frederick Hess.

The premise of “Cage-Busting Leadership” is simple. It is true, that statutes, policies, rules, regulations, contracts, and case law make it tougher than it should be for school and system leaders to drive improvement and lead. However, it is also the case that leaders have far more freedom to transform, re-imagine, and invigorate teaching, learning, and schooling than is widely believed.

Cage-busting as described by Hess, is not about picking fights, attacking staff members, or firing people, and it does not give cage-busters license to alienate educators or community members. It is designed to empower leaders, free them from the grip of bureaucracy and routine, and help them become savvy leaders of a public enterprise.

In education we have a habit of not talking about what we want to solve for kids and how to solve it. We tend to talk in broad strokes. We want to fix schools, have better curriculum and raise math scores. But there is often a lack of precision about the problem, and this creates a lack of precision around the solution. For instance we’ll say we need more time on task, and we need more instruction, and that turns into longer years, more days, more dollars, more staff. And then people say, “we don’t have more dollars, and we can’t give you an extra two weeks.” The book teaches us to get more granular and ask, “how do we get more time on task for assessed math?”

Folks in any organization, public and private, are beholden to rules and regulations. And how leaders approach their work is a function of a mindset.   In Worthington we believe this is true.  Sometimes the rules and regulations seem stifling.  Often it is the cage we have put around ourselves that is actually stifling and there are solutions available within the rules if we are willing to look at things from a different lens, brainstorm new solutions, and have the courage to lead the necessary change.

The guiding light for a cage-buster is to make sure we are promoting great teaching and learning, and figuring out how well we’re doing the things that are important.

As a leadership team we are attempting to bust out of our cage.  Slowly some of the bars of our cage are beginning to separate.  I won’t promise that there is a grand explosion of the cage that will be noticeable by all on the horizon.  I will promise that we’re attempting to look at each part of our work and to seek creative solutions to make it better.

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