Educational Leadership: How blame keeps us paralyzed

“The stance a leader takes with respect to blame is…a key determinant in whether a team, department or whole organization will have a culture of learning from mistakes.”

Educational Leadership: Are we playing the blame game in our schools?

MGet Abstract service sent me an overview of this powerful book that has me intrigued — it has me wondering about education —do we play the blame game to our detriment?

The Blame Game is an excellent book for educational leadership to understand how to create a culture that gives credit and doesn't blame in ways that harm improvement. How can you learn from mistakes? You can -- but not by blaming everyone in sight. This is a lesson education needs to learn now.

The Blame Game is an excellent book for educational leadership to understand how to create a culture that gives credit and doesn’t blame in ways that harm improvement. How can you learn from mistakes? You can — but not by blaming everyone in sight. This is a lesson education needs to learn now.

People want educational leadership to help us through hard problems. But what if it isn’t your fault?

The whole melody of education right now is blaming everything but ourselves for where we are right now. The economy. The students today. The teacher education programs today. The parents today and so on… But perhaps we can learn something from organizations that succeed ANYWAY — even with problems.

“Companies that accept collective blame for poor performance instead of blaming factors “out of their control” “achieve higher stock prices over the long term,” according to a study of 21 years of annual reports from 14 public companies. Investors appreciate self-examination that results in corrective action. Organizational leaders who consistently blame external factors eventually cause investors to doubt those executives’ ability to navigate the rocky economic terrain.”

So, this tells us that by blaming conditions, by blaming the modern student, by blaming anything else but ourselves and our own system is detrimental to our long term success. Hear this… if we continue to blame others and not take responsibility we will continue to have problems in our schools, in our homes, and in our lives. Blaming others makes us helpless to do what we can do to improve things. (I recommend this book for superintendents and principals because it gives you the how-to’s on making your organization one that gives credit and improves.)

For example, like the person who blames genetics for being overweight while absent-mindedly spooning ice cream out of a gallon jar while watching a CSI marathon, unless you admit it with your lips and take action – you’ll never get that weight off your hips. There is always something we can do. Genetics is part but not the whole part.

No one wants to hear us blame society for the condition of education. Because let me tell you something, WE ARE ALL INHABITING THE SAME SOCIETY. And yet some are succeeding and some are failing. The fact that some schools are successful — some poorer schools included— means that there are still outliers. There are people succeeding ANYWAY — even with all these things to blame. Why? They are controlling what they can control to make their school a better place.

Do the best you can with what you have.

  • Aren’t you glad that Winston Churchill encouraged the English people to “never, never, never give up?
  • Aren’t you glad that Abraham Lincoln kept swapping generals until he found one who would get the job done so slavery could be abolished and the US could be reunited under one flag?
  • Aren’t you glad that Ghandi was able to make it yet another day without eating in order to bring attention to the oppression of his people – thus saving thousands of mothers from losing their children in escalating violence because he was willing no longer to eat? It wasn’t Ghandi’s fault that people were arguing, yet, he took his people’s burdens upon himself and did what he could do even to the detriment of his own body.

The great heroes of history are those who often took blame for what they did not do — shouldered the burden that was not their fault and did something about it anyway.

Turtles move because they slowly head in one direction every day and, increasingly, because protectors keep their plodding from being interrupted. Increasingly educational leadership protects the plodding of teachers in the school so each teacher, each administrator, each person can play their part. You are what you do every day. You head in the direction you step towards with each step.

Turtles move because they slowly head in one direction every day and, increasingly, because protectors keep their plodding from being interrupted. Increasingly educational leadership protects the plodding of teachers in the school so each teacher, each administrator, each person can play their part. You are what you do every day. You head in the direction you step towards with each step.

It isn’t your fault that the problem is there. It is your fault if it stays there and you attempt to do nothing about it within your sphere of influence.

  • I think of William Wilberforce denying his political ambitions to boldly pursue the eradication of slavery in England and her colonies. He wasn’t a slave owner yet he took the blame and set about righting the wrong. He shouldered a burden and went about trying to change things.
  • I think of Nelson Mandela reading books and setting his mind free while held in senseless captivity. He didn’t get bitter, he got better. He worked to change things.
  • I think of Paul Brand, working with people who had leprosy in India while people told him he was wasting his time.
  • I think of Mother Teresa finding yet another dying person in the gutter, bringing them to her hospital so they could be cleaned up, loved, and treated kindly so they could die with dignity. No one was an untouchable to her.
  • I also think of that Mama Turtle in the picture above putting one flipper ahead of the other so she can lay her eggs, cover them, and head back out to see. If you’ve ever seen a video of these majestic animals, the mother has tears streaming down her face as she endures the process. It reminds me of being a Mom and being a teacher.

I think of educational leadership emerging through blogs, Twitter, and online media of all sorts who are writing about problems, exposing injustice, and sharing what works every single day. Do you know that even liking something important to education on Facebook is playing a part in sharing best practices? One of the best things we could do for education is for good educators to become social media activists on behalf of the profession they love. Average every day teachers are sending ripples through education on a national and even international level when they write, create a video, or do something profound.

The blame we must share in education

We’ve lost the individual beauty of the individual child and tried to manufacture education. This is education malpractice on a global scale. This is wrong because we don’t make widgets, we shape children – these are two fundamentally different things. Productivity, money, and trade are all discrete fiscal things but to even think that test scores can be compared in a meaningful way and that such a thing as a number can actually distill whether that students are creative, self confident, and persistent — all measures that increasingly mark success more deeply than memorization of facts — then we are sadly mistaken.

But here in the US, we’ve lost control of children’s behavior in our society to the point that teachers are afraid, parents are afraid, and no one will tell kids no. In many places we’ve outlawed corporal punishment (which is a good thing) to the point that we’ve forgotten to hold anyone accountable for anything at all. (Just read one of Rafe Esquith’s books and you’ll see what I’m talking about.)

In many schools, expecting homework to be done is a joke. Some kids are so poor, they only have one pencil for the school year. We’ve lost trust but we’ve also lost our expectations that many students can be so much more. Education can be more.

These things are wrong and it needs to stop. Schools should be safe places where mutual respect flows from the faucet of human dignity. We should be personalizing places where students can choose courses of study and have at least one thing they look forward to during their day besides PE.

But these problems are so much bigger than me!

Really? You can do absolutely nothing?

  • You have no classroom where you can help personalize learning and work to reach as many kids as possible?
  • You know no parents that you can encourage?
  • You have no Twitter account or Facebook or email where you can encourage people to do the right thing for this generation?
  • You have no way to share the nobility of teaching to a world that needs to see that there are still adults sacrificing their lives that a future generation might have hope?

Really. If you’re in education, I promise you, you can do something. And something is better than nothing. This is our time. This is our responsibility. These are our communities. We have no one to blame but ourselves.

Because blame is not a game. It keeps us from doing what we can do right now today. Refuse to play the blame game. Every classroom, every student, every teacher matters.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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