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Monday, October 29, 2012

Leadership and Imagination

A failure of imagination is a circumstance wherein something seemingly predictable (particularly from hindsight) and undesirable was not planned for. (Wikipedia)

When we put a student on a school bus and do not prepare him or her for managing that challenging environment, we are demonstrating a failure of imagination.  In a previous posting, I described the differences between the school environment and the bus environment and they are very different worlds.   Not only do we fail to prepare students for riding the bus, we inadvertently make it more difficult to successfully manage it.  We teach students to function in a controlled environment supervised by adults whose job it is to focus on students.  The bus is anything but  a controlled environment and is supervised by an adult whose main job is to DRIVE THE BUS.  No wonder students often take the bus ride as their opportunity to take this "freedom" and apply their own order and control.

It is very much like the Lord of the Flies where the students set up their own set of rules.   It is not surprising also that some students who might feel like they have very little control over their own lives will use the bus environment to meet their social needs by demonstrating how they can control  and dominate other students. It is also not surprising that students who don't have this need to control others (most of them) and might know that bullying is wrong,  have few strategies for how respond to these situations.  Some kids might by chance have the confidence to stand up to bullying.  Most students however can be at a loss about what to do and many in fact just feel guilty and inept when they fail to stand up to bullying.  If you add the fear factor whereby students feel that they will be the next target, it is even harder to expect them to do anything other than protect themselves.

As educators we should be able to predict that riding the school bus presents significant challenges for all students.  It is easy, however,  given so many other things going on in the school competing for our attention, to think that unless something bad happens and comes to our attention, that all is well on the bus.  We should know that leaving what happens on the bus to chance is not a good idea.  We should know that not seeing or hearing about problems is not a reliable indication that there are no problems.  The standard method of addressing bullying on the school bus is a glaring example of a failure of imagination.

"Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?"- Robert Kennedy paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw

Perhaps the failure of imagination is ignored because we educators are not able to "dream of things that never were and say why not?"  Our failure to sufficiently address the bus problem is our failure to envision the possibility of the bus being anything other than what it is.  Sometimes some problems are viewed as so intractable that we just keep looking for ways to fix them and fail to imagine that the status quo is not permanently fixed in place.

As say this from experience as a presenter.  Very often when I try to articulate how school culture could really change, the response I often get is a question about how to fix the status quo.  It is liking continuing to fix leaky pipes or faulty electrical systems in a building that should be abandoned.  Once you move to a new building plumbing and electrical problems happen a lot less-the whole experience of living that new building is radically different-a different set of problems and opportunities.  

For example I recently did a webinar about the Peaceful School Bus and received a question about how to handle a fight on the bus.  That is a good question and a real problem but it was a leaky pipe type of question and not related to the new building I was trying to describe.  I recognize that it is hard to see the possibility of something other than the status quo, but my key point is that real and substantive progress will only happen when the school community starts to "imagine" that another, better way is at least possible.

Leadership is really about cracking open the door ( even a  little bit) so that the "why not"  is visible to everyone.  Positive change comes toward walking in the right direction toward the new possibility (the why not) rather than just trying to fix the problem (the why).

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