Out of Alignment?

I “just happened” to sign up for Richard Elmore’s HarvardX course “Leaders of Learning” when I saw an announcement about it a few months ago … and then time passed, and I’d almost forgotten about the course when I “just happened” to get a reminder email a few days ago.  My first thought?  “Too much to cover and not enough time!”  But then I looked at the introductory video again and realized I did want to explore the course materials to some degree.

I’m glad I did!  At the end of the first unit, Dr. Elmore includes a short self-assessment, using a framework called Modes of Learning, that allows participants to see where their personal theories and beliefs about learning fall on a continuum between Hierarchical and Distributed, and between Individual and Collective.

I wasn’t surprised to have a “perfect” score of 0% in the Hierarchical Individual quadrant of that matrix.  But I’m eager to see the implications of this style for the upcoming units on Modes of Leadership, Modes of Organization, and Modes of Design of the physical learning environment.  I have a suspicion that this profile may explain a good bit of my discontent with the hierarchical, isolated, and isolating aspects of factory-model schools.

What happens when you’re out of alignment?  If you’re a car or car part, trouble is pretty sure to follow if you don’t get realigned soon … and that’s why, after a few days of a mysterious grinding noise from the air-conditioning system fan, I’m writing this post in the waiting room of my favorite local auto-repair place.  To my untrained ear, it sounds like something is caught near the fan, but I’d rather leave the investigation and potential repair to better-trained eyes and hands.  Last night, I discovered a much smaller alignment issue in a pair of shoes I’d set aside because I thought they needed major repair.  They don’t!  The repair needs are simple and obvious, the risks are few, and the owner of my long-time favorite local shoe-repair place has closed up shop to enjoy a well-deserved retirement.  So sometime in the next day or so, I’ll see if I can get top and side back into alignment; I may not even need a needle.

But sometimes it’s harder to correct an alignment issue.  What if there’s a deep misalignment between your core values and the core principles of an institution you work closely with?  How do you know if it’s better to realign yourself with the institution or find something different, something more in line with what you value?

Having just recently read the Heath Brothers’ book Decisive, I’m wary of simple-looking, yes-or-no choices.  As the authors point out several times, such choices are rare.  It’s often possible to reach an “AND” solution that features the best of both alternatives, or a compromise that leaves everyone relatively pleased with the process as well as the outcome.

And that’s what I’ve been trying to do, from the inside, for the past several years.  I’ve been trying to find an “AND” solution that provides both joyful learning community and steady paycheck, both meaningful things built together and desired scores on Those Great Big Standardized Tests.  It’s important work, and I’m glad I’ve been able to do it with some success.

But what happens when you still feel out of alignment after that?  What happens when the sense of misalignment keeps gnawing at you, when it feels like the hard-fought “AND” solution is one mandate away from destruction?

What happens when it feels like you can’t align yourself with That Organization anymore?

It feels like a solution is just beyond reach, just beyond where I can see.  And it feels like a joyful learning community has formed around me, encouraging me to discern and take next right steps.  But in the end, as George pointed out in a recent Google+ comment, change-makers are like the Little Red Hen in one of my favorite childhood stories.  When those metaphorical Other Barnyard Animals in your life talk about how “somebody” should “do something,” you can either join the crowd or take the action.  And taking action is important, but scary and isolating … a different kind of isolating from the daily grind of factory-model schools, of course, but still isolating and scary to contemplate.

I need to talk to some people and take some steps in the next few days.  That much is clear.  But who is on the list of people to talk to, and what specific steps need to be taken?  That’s still really unclear, but I’m learning to align myself with the power of ideas whose time have come, to trust that things will become clear at the right time even when that’s not my preferred time of yesterday, please.

I wonder what new discoveries and insights, and what new forms of alignment and realignment, await us all today and in the days to come!


Published in: on July 9, 2014 at 2:14 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] to time, by Greater Powers That Be to Somewhat Lesser Powers in the kinds of organizations that Richard Elmore describes as Hierarchical Individual in leadership style and organization … the kind I […]

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