Self-Reflection: The Foundation for Improvement

The true path to improvement begins with an honest analysis of performance and schools are no different. Unfortunately, the anxiety caused by recent accountability initiatives like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) have made schools, school leaders in particular, afraid to be truly self-reflective for fear of affecting ethos or image. This reluctance to critically self-analyze is understandable given the public scrutiny and criticism that educators have been subjected to over the past several years. Many schools find themselves trying to project a positive public image, even in the face of very disturbing facts for mere survival in a hostile environment. This reality has to change because if we are to create the types of transformational schools that we need, educators must feel comfortable critiquing their performance in order to improve.

In the popular and oft-quoted book Good to Great, Jim Collins outlines the variables that distinguish Great companies from Good companies. The first thing that Jim Collins notes is that Great companies confront what he refers to as the brutal facts. These facts or data are evidence of areas of low performance. Collins points out that high-performing companies hunger for this information in order to pinpoint opportunities for improvement and aggressively attack these areas in order to maintain an advantage over their competition. Steven Covey also addresses this issue in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In this book, Covey identifies the difference between the Circle of Influence and the Circle of Concern. The Circle of Influence embodies the issues that can be controlled and improved, while the Circle of Concern contains those issues beyond our control that we complain about, but do not have the ability nor influence to change. Covey points out that when a person focuses on what they can control, concerns become smaller and influence grows. The evidence is clear, when honest self-analysis is at the core, growth happens.

School leaders must have the courage to break through this barrier and engage their staffs in honest dialogue about their reality and lead them in strategizing on continuous improvement. Even high-numbers of students achieving a proficient score on a state assessment is not nearly enough for a school to stop focusing on improvement. There is not a school or organization on the planet that does not need to improve, and the truly great ones recognize this fact. I encourage my fellow educators to stay focused and push your school to higher and higher heights! Your students deserve it and our society and world need it.