Updated: Apr 27, 2020
Public education has seemingly lost its vision for quite some time. As Jim Collins explains the concept of the fox and the hedgehog in his book Good to Great (2001), he writes that “the fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing” (Collins, p.90). This description of the fox is unfortunately very comparable to public education. Although we value student success there have been several things that have gotten in the way of achieving this success. As an educator, I see that we believe in the success of students as a number one goal, however, we have become an organization of too many avenues on how to achieve this success. These avenues have instead hindered student success as teachers must hurdle the many barriers that have been placed in front of them instead doing the much needed work that is needed in the classroom.
Public education has great potential during this time of change to be successful if we use this time to reflect, listen, and push the reset button. We have many obstacles to overcome and we must first and foremost deal with the inevitable facts without making excuses. We are not succeeding in the classroom to the level that we are able to and there are many things that stand in our way that are hindering this classroom success; however, we can be successful at creating effective teachers that will impact student learning.
Jim Collins (2001) explains that the major difference between a successful organization and one that is merely mediocre is that successful organizations “retain faith that [they] will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties; and at the same time [they] confront the most brutal facts of [their] reality, whatever they might be” (Collins, p.86). I have faith that public education can be effective again if we confront our brutal facts. We need to question each of our processes and procedures as a way to truly understand the usefulness of each. According to Collins (2001) this is the first step to making changes.
This will take much collaboration and an understanding that each of our voices is as important as the other. This does not mean we will agree on all things; it does, however, mean that we must all be willing to roll up our sleeves and fight the fight to make us successful. We must all collaborate and debate each process as we talk about each of our successes and failures. This will allow us to move into a culture where “the truth is heard” (Collins, p.78). We must discuss what obstacles are hindering us as we begin our journey of change.
Collins (2001) explained that the fox “knows many things” and is “able to devise a myriad of complex strategies” for overtaking the hedgehog. (Collins, p.90). Day after day the fox waits for the perfect moment to pounce on the hedgehog. The hedgehog however, is always triumphant. You see the hedgehog “knows one big thing” and this vision guides everything he does. (Collins, p.91). We must begin the process of changing our organizations from those that act as foxes, where we allow many tools and methods to distract us, to those that behave as hedgehogs, where our one true goal is the guiding force of every conversation. In order to do this, we must begin by identifying what is essential to our success and we must ignore all else.
According to Jim Collins (2001) in order to be great we must ask ourselves “what are [we] deeply passionate about?” (Collins, p.96). I truly believe that we, as educators, are passionate about helping students fulfill their highest potential, finding their purpose, and being successful members of society no matter what career path they choose. This may sound idealistic; however, at the core of our being, student success is our ultimate goal.
Student success is not defined by a number on a test, by how a student compares to other students, or what college a student is accepted to. Student success is defined by the ability to think, by the ability to work with others, the ability to find their place - whatever that place may be- in this ever changing society.
We are not succeeding in the classroom to the level that we are able to and to "hear our truth" we must begin listening to those that are put on the front lines to educate our students- our teachers. Without highly effective educators, we will not create successful students. Our organizations have a large turnover yearly. We have to identify why we are not retaining our teachers and begin addressing each of these issues. We must let all voices be heard. This epidemic has created a unique situation in which stakeholders all over the U.S. have a newfound appreciation for what teachers deal with on a daily basis.
Without the retention of effective teachers we will find ourselves fighting the same battle yearly in order to create successful classrooms. We must leverage this time of unity to bring voices from all stakeholder groups to the table so changes can be made. What procedures and processes do we have in place that we can change to assist teachers in getting back to simply teaching? We must evaluate every process, every procedure, every method that is utilized in the classroom. If they do not directly impact creating students that are creative, critical thinkers, that are collaborative, well rounded, members of society we shouldn’t be doing utilizing them.
We need to identify what our teachers are dealing with daily that hinder them from doing the work they were called to do- teach.
Teachers have become so overwhelmed with keeping up with the various duties called upon them that many are unable to focus on the true goals of teaching. They have become so worried about writing lesson plans in a particular format, examining data just for the sake of data, and even completing specific forms during Professional Learning Communities just to prove their accomplishments that instead of being able to focus on students, these tasks have become the focal point of teaching. We have more resources available now than ever and we have instituted several different strategies in the classroom. All of this is supposed to assist teachers in ensuring student success, however, the myriad of strategies and tools are often utilized with little training and very little long term implementation consideration which has left teachers unsure of what strategies are truly successful. Districts have created what Jim Collins would call foxes out of their teachers.
Teacher effectiveness and student achievement is the core passion and goal of teachers, parents, administrators, and even politicians. Now is the time to bring all voices together to evaluate our education system and identify howe we can make changes to ensure that we work together to meet our unified goal. I believe we have been given a unique opportunity to impact the future of education and break down barriers for our teachers and students. I am not naive in believing that this will happen overnight, or that it will be an easy process, but I do have faith that there is nothing that can stand in our way for creating more effective teaching and increasing student achievement.
We, as educators, have proven that we are passionate about the work of educating students and we will do whatever it takes to make our organizations strong, successful places of learning. I believe now is the time to come together and begin to reshape the vision of education. We must be open to thinking differently, allowing our students and teachers to be different, and accepting change in order to create successful classrooms which will result in more effective teaching and higher student achievement.
Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap and others don't. New York, NY: Collins Business.
Dr. Melissa K. Jackson,
Educator, Servant Leader, and Instructional Technology Innovator