Collaboration and Justice Potter Stewart: Can the Department of Education “Principal As CEO Model” and the Union “Defend Contract Rights Model” Be Reconciled?


There is general agreement that principals, parents and teachers working together is desirable, State Ed Department regulations establish School and District Leadership Teams and the regulations are now embedded in the new governance law.
Management supports collaboration within the Jack Welch/Bill Ouchi accountability framework, working together with parents and teachers as long as the arrow of accountability does not detract from the ultimate responsibility of the principal.
The union sees collaboration as the elected union chapter leader sitting at the table as an equal partner.
So, how do we define collaboration?
Perhaps the same definition as Judge Potter Stewart used to define pornography,

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so.
But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.
[Emphasis added.]
Justice Potter Stewart concurring in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964)
The “I know it when I see it” test.
I’ve visited Eric Nadelstern’s former school many times, a truly collaborative environment, a staff, supervisors and teachers, working together to drive an effective educational team approach to teaching and learning.
I was a guest at an SLT meeting at JHS 234, the principal, Jeff Lotto told the team, “I really don’t think it’ll work, but everyone else feels strongly about it, let’s give it a try and monitor progress.” The issue has faded in my memory, but the attitude of the principal made an impression. Trust in the opinions of teachers and parents: a true collaborative spirit.
On the other hand, a principal at an SLT meeting spending the entire meeting surreptitiously texting and not participating in any discussion.
The union can be equally at fault: the principal at a middle school and the staff agreed that the kids were too disruptive moving from classroom to classroom. The principal asked the teachers to spend a few minutes during passing in the hallway chasing the kids into their classroom. About a third actively participated, about a third intermittently and the final third complained to the UFT Chapter Leader, the suggestion was “hall patrol” and prohibited by the contract. The Chapter Leader, with the support of the union middle management vehemently complained to the principal. The Chapter Leader told the staff if anyone went into the hallways they were undercutting the union. When the principal asked for other ideas the Chapter Leader responded that wasn’t the job of the union, the union simply enforced the contract.
An accountability driven school system in which 97% of school received grades of “A” and “B” is laughable, the true Lake Woebegon effect. While some are critical of “testing,” let’s remember, we have been testing kids for as long as I can remember, Diane, when did city-wide testing begin in NYC? We argued over norm versus criterion-based tests, the accountability function was at the district level. Schools purchased “test sophistication” materials and practice, practice, practice for the months before “the test.”
Now, goals, objectives, printouts, interim assessments, predictors, inquiry teams, all designed to improve scores on tests, and, effectively discouraging any innovative thinking and any collaboration.
While collaboration may be a tool in achieving a goal I have never seen such enmity toward  principals and the Department leadership from teachers.
In an excellent article in the AFT magazine American Educator collaboration is described,
When teachers advise each other, consult with experts, think deeply about new ways to teach the material, and examine in a systematic way …. They are working in schools that have the structure and systems in place that make collaboration meaningful.
Randi Weingarten and Eric Nadelstern agree on more than they disagree. How do we free Eric from some of the misguided policies of Joel Klein and free Randi from decades of a tough, defend the contract, conflict driven culture of the teacher union? How to we get Randi and Eric, and Michael, to collaborate?
The easiest road would be to negotiate salary increases and nothing else, the pitted, twisting, road would be to take on the issues that divide management and labor and use the contract to move a system closer to the culture that Eric established as a principal with his staff.
It will take courage and is risky for management and labor. Too many principals lack collaborative skills and use the threat of U-ratings to impose their ideas and too many teachers fear anyone peeking into their classrooms.
Real leaders are risk takers and I hope that Randi and Michael and Eric take this window to leap across the abyss and move a school system in a different direction.

One response to “Collaboration and Justice Potter Stewart: Can the Department of Education “Principal As CEO Model” and the Union “Defend Contract Rights Model” Be Reconciled?

  1. Pingback: Remainders: AFT gets into the teacher evaluation game | GothamSchools

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