Q is for Quality

Q is for Quality…

… the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something.

This may be a little too academic for some of you, and if it’s not your cup of tea, move on, but first. let me tell you one thing:


In this post, you are getting the final chapter in my latest book, This Teacher Talks. The Collective Quality Concept for Change in Schools is offered as a way to improve the quality of schools and education. Here is the final chapter in its entirety.  Graphics have been added.

And so it ended. Twelve years in public school. Years of joys and sorrows, ups and downs, and events that in no way could have been foreseen. I grew in many ways. I grew in my understanding of teaching. I grew in my understanding of how school cultures worked. I grew in my appreciation of beloved colleagues. I also grew more intolerant of those who would stand in the way of quality teaching, those who would compromise, and those who would let politics dictate their decisions. I grew in my convictions. I grew more certain that only quality knowledge, quality relationships, and a collective quality of moral imperative could transform a school and guide it towards making a real and positive difference in the lives of not only its students, but its faculty and staff as well. I not only became convinced of this, but I also was convinced that the lack of these criteria could create an all-encompassing anguish for students, faculty, and staff. This was the result of my dissertation study – that teachers could be change agents given certain circumstances. Those circumstances, quality knowledge, quality relationships, and a quality of moral imperativeness formed my model for school improvement known as the concept of Collective Quality Concept for Change in Schools.

Although the narrative in Part Two shows that focus on the individual is important when attempting to bring about change in a school, it is that individual’s relationships with others that are critical for a change process to actually occur. There are systems and webs of relationships in all institutions, and schools are no exception. Each school is a system, and operates within larger systems of county and state districts. This fractalization, or forms created from pattern repetitions on different scales, continues as state boards of education operate within the nation and the nation within the global education setting. This is beautifully illustrated when Wheatly (1999) relates the butterfly effect of meteorology: that even a flap of a butterfly wing in Tokyo can affect a tornado in Texas.

Through research and personal experience, I came to the conclusion that change can and should take place among faculty and staff in schools where the climate among adults is less than desirable. It is unquestionable that students are affected when this is the case. In my research, I leaned heavily on the work of Michael Fullan for drawing my conclusions. He and others have written for decades on the subject of change in schools. (Fullan, 2003). He distilled his work into lessons for change in schools in his book, Changes Forces with a Vengeance (2003). He described eight lessons that should be applied when expecting change in schools. It was on lesson seven that I focused.

“We must mobilize three social attractors: moral purpose, quality relationships, and quality knowledge.”

              Pairing Fullan’s lesson seven with Darling-Hammond’s (1997) declaration that successful implementation of innovations cannot occur in the absence of positive teacher support, I was able to code and analyze my research to develop my Collective Quality Concept for Change in Schools. The three concepts of moral purpose, quality relationships, and quality knowledge cover a vast amount of content. Each deserves its own exploration. Fullan addresses moral purpose in his own words, stating:

It is larger, more collective, where individuals are motivated to make their own day-to-day contribution, while at the same time seeing themselves connected to others, not just locally, but beyond. It is, in a word, “Moral purpose writ large” which as it turns out is both a goal in its own right, and equally important, a vital means to reach new horizons (p. 10).

His explanation of quality relationships is no less full of meaning:

We also know that quality relationships, once they do develop, inspire great loyalty. Studies of courageous actions in war indicate that it is not so much moral purpose that lies behind putting your life on the line (although that can be part of it), but the more tangible presence of loyalty to your buddies. Quality relationships, in other words, are even more important than moral purpose, which is another way of expressing the power of context (p. 35).

            Finally, quality knowledge is by no means the least important of the three. It invigorates the other two. Fullan states:

The third set of social attractors is quality ideas: knowledge building, knowledge sharing, and constantly converting information into purposeful knowledge use. Content does matter, since there is no point in having moral purpose and great relationships without them being fueled by great ideas (p. 35).

            After being immersed in the data and context of this narrative,  I became convinced these concepts hold the key for bringing about change in schools. Quality moral purpose and quality relationships are the two capstones that must be built on a solid foundation of quality knowledge. The figure on the next page presents a visual image of this concept.

The Collective Quality Concept for Change in Schools

           While I found that some teachers might influence a few other individual classroom
teachers to change, a much more collective, intensive, and inclusive atmosphere of change must be present to effect large scale changes in an entire school. Thus, it requires a moral purpose, dedication, and concentrated effort of a majority of the faculty, not just a few leaders, outstanding though they may be. The second capstone of quality relationships was a significant factor in terms of quantity and intensity of data. The extremes of both positive and negative relationships are revealed in part two of this narrative through the day to day interactions between faculty and staff members. It is clear that harnessing the power of positive relationships has great potential for bringing about change in schools.

The foundation, actually functioning as a prerequisite, is quality knowledge. This must undergird the moral purpose and relationships. Quality knowledge is exhaustive and collective, held in common by all. It must include knowledge of the context, the students, pedagogy, and history; and it must include the skills necessary for communication and understanding.

This collective quality concept for change encompasses these three beliefs:

  • Quality knowledge as the base on which all individuals operate equally, including skill sets for communicating that knowledge in the context of quality relationships.
  • Quality moral purpose, including a fierce dedication and loyalty to improvement.
  • Quality relationships must exist between and among all levels of individuals in the local school setting. Not everyone likes everyone, but a mutual level of respect, including honest communication, and consideration is imperative.

How does all this jargon translate to what needs to happen for our schools to change into places of learning, excitement, diligence, and collegiality? The knowledge base is key. Teacher education programs must improve their selection of candidates. Just because someone loves children and wants to work the same schedule as when their own children are in school does not indicate they have the moral imperative it takes to be a good teacher. Teacher education candidates should undergo rigorous evaluation to determine their level of dedication. Beyond that, those in positions of hiring school personnel should look more deeply than just a candidate’s qualifications on paper. Does their track record indicate integrity, commitment, and a fierce dedication to do whatever is in the best interest of the children?

                Programs should not only provide subject area content and the pedagogy needed to impart that content to students, but they should instruct teacher candidates in other needed skills, including organizational skills, working collaboratively with others, communicating effectively with others,  and maintaining their own sanity in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Teacher education programs and school district personnel need to make it clear that a teaching degree is only the beginning. A career in teaching requires ongoing professional development that is geared to the population and context of the school. There is an old tale about the teacher or principal with 30 years of experience. Have they actually had 30 years of experiences or have they had the same year of experience over and over 30 times?

Administrators and teachers alike must be freed from the tyranny of state and federal mandates. Even within local districts, there may be differences in schools that preclude district wide mandates. It is not just students who don’t fit into a one size fits all category. Teachers and administrators are sometimes expected to perform miracles through robotic teaching strategies and programs. The adage that “all children can learn” has done innumerable damage. Yes, all children can learn, but what are the givens? Exactly what and how much can they learn and at what rate and under what conditions?

Administrators should be required to go back into a regular classroom for a full year about every eight years. Many administrators have never held the role of regular classroom teacher. They have been coaches, special area teachers, special education teachers, even support personnel such as speech therapists. These are all important, but it is the individual self-contained classroom teacher who is the most critical element in educating students. Brief observations of classroom teachers cannot portray the overall atmosphere in any given classroom.

Finally, we all must remember that children are children. I often hear statements like “Kids are so much smarter these days” or “We never learned that when I was in school.” Step back and take a look at biological milestones. Given no disability, babies learn to walk around the age of one and talk around the age of two. Children lose baby teeth around the age of 6.  Puberty arrives around the age of 11-13. Of course there are always some outliers, but these milestones have not changed in eons and are fairly consistent in all cultures.

Are kids really smarter or do they know different information? When teaching the book Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder to fourth graders, I had to constantly stop and explain vocabulary and activities. Present days children do not know that butter is churned from raw milk or that meat can be preserved by smoking. My students were amazed when I relayed to them that I never went to school with black children until high school, and did not know why I referred to their wooden clips as clothespins. Yes, they can operate a computer or cell phone, but not a radio or record player. My argument is that children are children, and we must all hold on to the quality knowledge that pushing down curriculum will not necessarily help our children learn more or faster. Children still have the intellectual developmental milestones that they always had.

Sound overwhelming? It is. Sound impossible? It is not. If enough of those of who know what really goes on inside our schools will be bold enough to speak out, if educators, parents, and concerned citizens will acknowledge the problems, demand action, and be willing to take steps to insure collective quality change in our schools, no child will ever again be forced to plead and beg not to be made to go back into a specific classroom.


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