Enough with the Cliches

The business world has been a favorite model for education for many years.  Educators adopted the factory model as our structure early on and, ever since, we have looked to corporate America for our cues.  Whatever was heralded there we adopted for schools.  Rather than looking inside to examine our own successes, failures and challenges, we mimicked whatever language was popular in the business world.

The earliest phrase -- and a strong candidate for most frustrating --  uttered much too often in schools was LET'S NOT REINVENT THE WHEEL.  This stymied academic innovation throughout the 80s and well into the 90s. Anything new or creative could be dismissed as too much work.  Why originate anything at all when we could simply copy others? 

Then we had MISSION STATEMENTS, possibly the closest thing to actually reinventing wheels.  School staffs spent many hours arguing semantics and honing language to create beautiful expressions of their singular purpose.  Then we ignored them, except as document headers and to affirm they existed on accreditation reports.

In many organizations, the least innovative and least willing to adopt substantive changes are the leaders.  To admit this however would be sacreligious.  CHANGE AGENTS became the new label for school administrators and all those who questioned the latest educational fads were change resisters.  This concept of change theory -- change agents, early adopters and resisters -- might seem to fly in the face of not reinventing wheels, but in practice there was little innovation in the NEW PARADIGMS we proclaimed.

For those who found the nitty gritty details cumbersome, business offered WHAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE?  Tedious details -- those pieces that actually determined whether an effort succeeded or failed spectacularly -- could be ignored while we focused on the BIG PICTURE. 

COLLABORATION held great promise -- except for the pervasive barrier of siloed classrooms.  Collaboration takes time and interest in the work of others, along with an openness to learn from our peers.  Unfortunately few schools actually created the structures that encouraged educators to come together to solve problems and share tools of the trade.

Parallel to collaboration came WIN-WIN.  Could we get on with our business in ways that looked like victories for all sides?  Sometimes this meant compromise, an essential for all organizations.  But too often, it meant rolling over for powerful constituents.  Anyone who placed pressure on schools could be appeased in a WIN-WIN situation, where making problems go away took precedent over principles and consistency.

I'm not sure how many other districts chided the passionate to NOT GET YOUR PANTIES IN A KNOT but it had its day in my school district.  If someone within the district pushed too hard for or against anything, the problem might be the advocate not the issue. 

One of my favorites though would have to be EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICES.  Every educator has heard and likely uttered the phrase.  It comes from the very top, from No Child Left Behind itself and filters down through state departments of education and into school staff meetings.  We all ought to attend to those practices that are indeed evidence-based.  What always amused me though was how few educators had any patience for educational theory courses or educational research.  Perhaps for this reason, we were often duped by what for-profit education businesses pedaled as evidence, in order to push programs like Reading First! .

Today, every political pundit, every corporate guru and every educational leader utters the phrase MOVING FORWARD.   It's trite and embarrassing but perhaps harmless.  I've yet to figure out what it means exactly but comedian Julian Morrow may have nailed it:
Morrow said repetitive use of slogans was known in political circles as the vomit principle. "If you haven't said it so much that saying it again will make you vomit, you haven't said it enough," he said.
Not all of the cliches that drove educational thinking over the years were negative though.  I happen to think SITE-BASED MANAGEMENT worked well, empowering individuals at school sites to tailor services to their unique situations and populations.  An off-shoot of such localized decision making was the PILOT PROJECT that really did bring innovation to our trade.

And once our mission statements and visions were in place, schools were tasked with STRATEGIC PLANNING, a practical way of setting specific goals and concrete plans to achieve them. Had we found an effective way of involving everyone in not only writing the plans but monitoring them as well, our strategic plans might well have moved us forward.