To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.
In the U.S. we value individual effort and accomplishment. The idea of a meritocracy, of individual hard work paying off, is a cornerstone of our democracy and our economy and is instrumental to America’s identity. Many people and organizations have gone fast based on this value. However, if we want to secure the future of our country and our children, we need to go both fast and far. This will require both individual commitment and collective action. To go far in the future, we must go together.
From beating the odds to changing them.
Almost daily we read about, or witness, examples of individuals, families, and/or organizations beating odds stacked against their success. Stories about overcoming poverty, handicaps, and disadvantages are, indeed, inspiring. We need to keep hearing, telling, and seeing them. However, what we need now more than ever in education is to change the odds for children, and the adults who work with them, everywhere. Odds are changed for children when they are prepared well for school and schools are prepared well for them. Odds change when students are guaranteed the support systems they need in schools and outside of schools. Odds change when curriculum is engaging, relevant, and applied. Odds change when every student is guaranteed high quality instruction every day, every time, in every learning opportunity, and by every adult or technology to which they are exposed.
First the science, then the art.
We read, hear, and talk about the art and science of teaching. Both are necessary. Neither, by itself, is sufficient. We need a balance of both. If we are initially over weighted on one side or the other of this balance, let it be the science of teaching. We know much about cognition and pedagogy. We need first to execute well on existing know-how about learning and teaching, then bring all of the creativity and artistry characteristic of great teachers.
Balancing art and science in education is not only an imperative for teachers—the same is true for leaders. There is substantial evidence of the influence of leadership on the quality of schools, teachers, and learning. My own research on leadership reinforces the importance of balancing telling with listening, directing with supporting, answering with questioning, stepping up with stepping back.
Know your people as well as your change.
It is cliché to say that nothing improves until something changes. Why is it then that we see so much change and so little improvement in education? I’ve learned that it is because leaders of change often know a lot more about what they want to do than they do about the people they are asking to do it. It is as important to know about the process of change, and the people who will be affected by it, as it is about what to implement. Knowledge about the “it” of change, without knowledge about the “who” of change, is a recipe for blame, disappointment, and missed opportunities.
The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.
Dr. Waters is the President and Chief Executive Officer of McREL (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning). He joined McREL in 1993 as the Deputy Director following 23 years of service in public schools. He was appointed President and CEO in 1995. In his 23 years in the K-12 system, serving as a superintendent, assistant superintendent, high school principal, assistant principal, and teacher, Dr. Waters established a reputation as an innovator and leader of education improvement and reform. He has written numerous articles on the topic of education leadership and co-authored School Leadership That Works, published by ASCD in 2005 and District Leadership That Works, published by Solution Tree Press in 2009.
During his tenure at McREL, Dr. Waters has served on the Board of Directors of the Council of Educational Development and Research and the Board of the National Education Knowledge Industry Association. In 1993 he was appointed by former Governor Romer to serve on the Colorado Commission on Higher Education as a representative of the 4th Congressional District. He was reappointed in 1998 to a second term as an at-large Commissioner, representing all of Colorado.
Dr. Waters has a BA from the University of Denver, and an MA and Ed.D. from Arizona State University. He has been recognized as a Distinguished Educator by the Kettering Foundation and is a recipient of the Equity Excellence award presented by the Colorado Institute for Gender Equity. Tim Waters has dedicated his life and career to designing and leading schools to ensure that all children acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed in the new millennium.