The Common Core: Is Your Change Real?

“Can’t we just make all of our decisions based on our experiences?”

This was the question of an educational leader during a professional learning session on transformation. She was a huge advocate for data-driven decision making in her school system; however, I observed that the conflict between the leader’s espoused theory and theory in use was unconsciously demonstrated by the school leaders she supervised. While all of the school leaders I observed posted signs in the offices about data-driven decision making and their conversations were laden with the term, when they shared their decisions, they made statements such as “I think,” “I feel,” “I saw” or “I heard.”

To be clear,

When someone is asked how he would behave under certain circumstances, the answer he usually gives is his espoused theory of action for that situation. This is the theory of action to which he gives allegiance, and which, upon request, he communicates to others. However the theory that actually governs his actions is his theory-in-use, which may or may not be compatible with his espoused theory; furthermore, the individual may or may not be aware of incompatibility of the two theories (Argyris and Schön, 1974, pp. 6-7.)

With the Common Core upon us, it is critical that we maintain a reflective stance on a daily basis to ensure that our communicated theory is the actual one in use. We want to ensure that authentic transformation for student achievement occurs because of our data-based actions.

Last week I shared a tool that school leaders could use to self-assess their leadership team’s actual practices as they relate to authentic transformation. As you progress throughout the school year, you’ll want to ensure regular reflective practice, and so, today I present a new tool with a new challenge.

Consider this 7-day challenge:

  1. Document the percentage of your student-achievement related decisions that you believe are data-driven
  2. Reflect daily for 7 days on 3 decisions per day that had an impact on student achievement
  3. Write if the decisions were based on actual and tangible data, an idea you had, your feeling, something you saw elsewhere, or something you heard
  4. If the decision was driven by data, note the specific data
  5. If the decision was based on any of the other factors, note which factor
  6. Determine the percentage of decisions that were made in each category in #3 at the close of the week
  7. Document the percentage of your student-achievemnt related decisions that were actually driven by tangible data

After completing the 7 steps, answer this: are you at, above or below your predicted percentage? If at, perfect! Keep moving forward. If above, even better! Keep challenging yourself. But if you were below, then it may be time to adjust your practices to move toward authentic transformation.

Transformation toward the 21st century school requires that we do what we say and we accomplish this by challenging our own thinking. So consider this: challenge your own thinking.



Argyris, C. & Schön, D. (1974). Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Transform versus Reform: Splitting Hairs

[Education] 1.0 is when we managed access. 2.0 is when we thought about school improvement and got pretty good at it. 3.0 is when we start to move toward a different, and we hope, transformed paradigm.

These were the words of Valerie Hannon, a director at the Global Education Leaders’ Program on the topic of redesigning education. Her statement caused me to reflect on two previous posts: one on resting on your laurels of high performance using NCLB expectations in a Common Core world and the other on authentic transformation.

Since the turn of the millennium, I have argued that instead of focusing on educational reform we should focus on authentic educational transformation, and particularly now to address the Common Core. Here’s why. At their core reform means,

to make changes in (something, typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice) in order to improve it

and transform means,

to make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.

Today I began purging my bookshelf and I noted several papers and books produced by high profile educational institutions with the similar theme of closing the achievement gap. I would argue that if we continue attempting to “close the gap” by simply making changes to an existing system, there is a high likelihood that the gap may never close.

Perhaps it is to time embrace authentic educational transformation, that is, making a thorough changes to the way we do education. Should you as  a leader decide to accept this challenge, allow me to be upfront: it won’t be easy.

Transformation occurs when leaders create a vision for transformation and a system to continually question and challenge beliefs, assumptions, patterns, habits and paradigms with an aim of continually developing and applying management theory, through the lens of the system of profound knowledge. Transformation happens when people managing a system  focus on creating a new future that has never existed before, and based on continual learning and a new mindset, take different actions than they would have taken in the past (Dasko and Sheinberg, 2005, pg. 1).

Last school year I coached a school leadership team through the process of embracing authentic transformation through the lens of a system of profound knowledge (SoPK). As a result, they experienced their highest gains in the history of the school. (Contact me if you would like to know their story.)

Therefore I advocate that if your goal as a leader is to facilitate equity in educational excellence through authentic transformation, you can do two things:

  1. Begin exploring your team’s position as it relates to SoPK by processing your thoughts using the resource below, and
  2. Expand your exploration with a progressive partnership.

Distinguishing between transform versus reform may appear to be an exercise in splitting hairs, but it is clear that reforming (improving) a system that was not designed to be functional in the 21st century may not be the answer. It’s time for Education 3.0. It’s time to transform.



Daszko, M. & Sheinberg, S. (2005). Survival is optional: Only leaders with new knowledge can lead the transformation. Retrieved from