Thursday, 2 October 2014

On Leadership and Role Modelling

There are two powerful ideas that stand out from my MBA studies so far.
  1. If you are serious about starting a business you need partners. This idea of real life collaboration can be applied in all sectors. For any project there are far too many things to accomplish alone. Success comes from finding and working with people that can share a vision, apply their myriad skills and make a project come to life. 
  2. Transformational Leadership is the most effective style of leadership for any organization. This method of leadership shapes both how I conduct myself as a leader and the lens with which I view the other leaders in my organization. 
Today I saw an example of Transformational Leadership, so that is what I am going to write about. 

Transformational Leadership.


While reading my news feed this morning I came across an opinion piece by Paula Simons called

Dentyne and Cheezies: Edmonton Public Schools’ boring expense reports are actually pretty exciting. At essence this is a story about transformational leadership. 


It is a story about the managers, executive directors and board members behaving in a way that maintains the public trust. Spending responsibly, acting with the knowledge that they are under the watchful eye of the public, while still completing the important work that has been entrusted to them.

This kind of article does not get written and this kind of behavior does not occur by accident. There is an active example that has been set by our leaders, and it is the perfect example of both idealised influence and inspirational motivation (two facets of transformational leadership). 

This is also just one example of how I have witnessed first hand the new leadership direction that possesses a tangible feeling within our board and throughout the district. 

Because there is a certain tone to this short post that sounds like pandering (really though I genuinely feel proud of my organization) I will offer one brief criticism. I would really like to see the individual consideration that is necessary for transformational leadership to be complete. My interpretation of this segment has always included getting out into the front lines of any organization. For me as an acting assistant principal it means getting into the classrooms and the student spaces. For our board, particularly the assistant superintendents, I hope it means more visits to the schools themselves. 

Friday, 5 September 2014

Reclaiming Youth at Risk, Part 1: The Seeds of Discouragement

I was given this book to read by my principal and it is lighting a fire in my thinking about the youth that we here at Westlawn so often encounter.

Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope for the Future by Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg and Steve Van Bockern is a profoundly aware book. The empathy that is helping create in me is shaping how I think about students.

The authors accomplish this shift in thinking by changing the language that is used when discussing troubled youth. Simply by shifting the language used I am forced to change how I think about the students.

I have taken the tables from the book and recreated them. I will use this image to guide the language that we, as a staff use when discussing students. 


I have never really written a book review, and that is not what I intend to do here. I want to record some of the ideas that really resonate with me. In this process it will help me record my ideas for future use, and it will also help me to understand what they mean a little more deeply.

Understanding that the students who actively work against our best efforts to help them are "relationship-resistant" and view "even friendly helpful adults with deep distrust" is so helpful in helping us not take their resistance personally. I have so often heard people say, "the student isn't making any effort, so I am not going to keep trying to connect with him/her." We need to recognize that they are pushing us away as a defensive reaction. We should not expect them to respond with gratitude or to reciprocate our care.

The first part of this book on "the seeds of discouragement" also points out "our tendency to attribute problems to the troubled individual" and respond with coerciveness and avoidance when that individual doesn't act how we believe they should be acting. How can anyone, the authors challenge, "reject a child's behavior without implicitly rejecting the child?" Using Negative labels (like in the table above) taints the child as a person. The solution to helping reclaim youth is to shift away from a language of blame and toward a language of empathy.

I can hear all of my less empathetic family members and colleagues raising their challenges now. This is not about indulging destructive behavior or allowing youth to get away with everything because of their upbringing. It is about recognizing that the defiance and disrespect is an expression of frustration and discouragement. There is something very powerful in this linguistic shift because it impacts our fundamental perception of the behavior. Try it, it creates empathy.

Follow this logic from the text. We want the at risk youth to change and adopt positive behaviors and thoughts towards themselves, others around them and their own future right? Overindulgence of the youth's destructive behavior won't work. Authoritarian control and an insistence on complete obedience won't work in changing the youth's behavior either. "Young people seek help only from adults they see as caring and nurturing." We have to change how we talk and think about these children in order to create a mental environment that contains genuine care and concern. That comes from empathy.

Friday, 29 August 2014

First week of 2014/2015 year

The students may not be here yet, but it feels like a full week of start-up tasks and activities has been accomplished. Yes, I will still have to come in for the weekend, but I did not want to leave school on the first week having already reneged on my promise to reflect through writing every week.

My mind is already stuffed with all of the things that I want to make sure I accomplish this long-weekend, so time to get writing about the past while it is still here in my memory.

What have I learned in this, my first week as "acting for" Assistant Principal?

  1. All staff need to be taken care of. Sometimes it easy to see what different team members need to feel involved and supported and sometimes it is not so clear. The key is, however, to get into each of their classrooms while they are setting up and find out how they are doing. I was able to feel which staff are excited, which are a little bit scared, and which ones need some real support. I was able to offer that help and, hopefully show all of these team members that my first priority this week is supporting and listening to them. This is probably why I will have to come in on the weekend to accomplish some of my other tasks, but I am so glad I did it. I can't catch-up on staff relations over the weekend, but I can catch-up on all of the less important items on my to do list. 
  2. Stay positive and responsive. This is really an extension of the first lesson I learned, but it bears repeating. It feels good to be a part of what all these wonderful teachers and teaching assistants are up to. I like that they will joke with me and keep me as part of their little groups. 
  3. Schools will run themselves. This isn't true of course, but it is amazing how many things just happen because of the people behind the scenes that just make sure they are getting done. I don't know how, but I do know that when the students arrive everything is going to smoothly. I also know who is responsible. 
This post seems a little empty for me, but I wrote it, and I will continue to take the time to reflect, no matter how much I want to get on moving out of here. 

Until next week when the students arrive and the real work begins!!!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

AIMSweb Report for Westlawn Staff 2013/2014

This is a report that I created for the staff of Westlawn school. It is a foray into whole school assessment data to inform programming.

Preamble

All results in this report indicate only that students performed better on the specific AIMSweb standardized assessments. There is no, as yet, indication that this will be reflected in teacher assigned grades, PAT exams or other, more general, measures of literacy and numeracy.

What was tested

There were four standardized exams that we used three times this year. All data in this report is sourced from these four exams.
Math Applications MCAP
Test of applied mathematics. There is an element of literacy in these questions. Questions typically ask students to use grade level numeracy skills to solve problems of varying complexity.
Math Computation MCOMP
Test of automaticity, speed and ease of recall when solving basic numeracy questions. Conversions, algebra, exponents, etc… There are no literacy requirements to answer these questions.
Reading Curriculum Based Measurement RCBM
This timed reading probe assesses a student's fluency and oral reading speed. There is significant research which argues that a student’s ability to read out loud is a key indicator of a student’s overall literacy level.
Reading Maze
This reading comprehension test measures how well a student understands a passage that they read silently.

On Percentile Scoring

All information is reported in Percentile Scores as measured against approximately 8000 Aimsweb students from the same grade level. Keep this in mind when interpreting scores. If a student is in the 50th %ile in September and they remain in the 50th %ile in June they have experienced the typical growth that should be expected. No change in %ile score indicates the growth experienced by that students peers. If the student experienced a 5%ile score increase, as reported in the attached spreadsheet that would indicate the student experienced typical growth in literacy or numeracy plus a rate of growth 5% higher when compared to peers.

No change in %ile score = regular and steady growth relative to peers.

  1. Impact of Learning Strategies Options

Students in the numeracy learning strategies class (taught by Mr. Makowsky) showed the most significant improvement in their numeracy scores. There has been outstanding growth (45.5 %ile increase) on the MCOMP assessment, and there has been significant growth (27.5 %ile increase) on the MCAP assessment. This growth far outperforms the growth of the whole school population (4.3 %ile increase, 3.5 %ile increase respectively). Data was drawn from students in the two grade 8/9 option classes in semester two.

%ile Change Measured in June Compared to Fall Score

M-CAP
M-COMP
Whole School
+ 3.5
+ 4.3
Learning Strategies Option Numeracy
+ 27.5
+ 45.5

Students in the literacy learning strategies class (taught by Mr. Greene) show some improvement in their literacy scores. There was significant growth (12.1 %ile increase) on the R-Maze assessment, but there was not a significant improvement on the RCBM assessment (5.1 %ile increase). This growth marginally outperforms the growth of the whole school population (3.1 %ile increase, 2.9 %ile increase respectively). Data was drawn from students in the two grade 8/9 option classes in semester two plus students in the grade seven option class from semester two.

%ile Change Measured in June Compared to Fall Score

R-CBM
R-Maze
Whole School
+ 2.9
+ 3.1
Learning Strategies Option Literacy
+ 5.1
+ 12.1
See Appendix One - Learning Strategies Option/Whole School Comparison

Implications for Next Year

We must continue the learning strategies numeracy class with as little alteration to it as possible. Mr. Makowsky’s program of instruction, general pedagogical technique and specific lesson plans deserve to be recorded, documented and duplicated where possible. Implications of his instruction on other larger scale assessments should also be analyzed and discussed by the math team.

Key Finding: Mr. Makoswky has developed a highly effective math intervention program.

Learning Strategies Literacy should also continue, but the focus of instruction should be altered. There needs to be continued standardized assessment of student reading comprehension levels. Too many new techniques should be avoided. It would be advisable to develop a specific program for instruction, document the approach and analyze results at the end of term one to see if there are significant improvement to student reading comprehension. Any study of this intervention, however, would require whole school data in order to have a comparative group of students (we need a control group).
  1. Impact of Homeroom Groupings.

We have called them homogenized, streamed and stratified, but whatever we decide to call them the data from AIMSweb assessments indicate that they do not work for all student levels. Surprisingly it turns out that the biggest impact has been for the lower level classes on their M-COMP performance (11.6 %ile increase). On the same test the higher level classes suffered a negative performance (3.6 %ile decrease). The middle group had a marginal increase in performance on the M-COMP (4.5 %ile increase). The M-CAP exam is worth mentioning as well because only the middle group had significant growth (9.2 %ile increase) while the lower and higher groups remained statistically unchanged (2.2 %ile increase, 0.9 %ile decrease respectively). There was no impact on the R-CBM or R-MAZE that is worth reporting. Data was drawn by grouping the 7-1, 8-2, 9-1 as the low group, 7-2, 8-1, 9-2 as the middle group and 7-3, 8-3, 9-3 as the high group. Keep in mind that the High Group scores were quite high in September(see graphs in appendix two), and that we moved high performing students from the low to the middle group and from the middle to the high group.

%ile Change Measured in June Compared to Fall Score

RCBM
RMAZE
MCAP
MCOMP
Whole School
+ 2.9
+ 3.1
+ 3.5
+ 4.3
Low Classes
+ 3.2
+ 3.1
+ 2.2
+ 11.6
Middle Classes
+ 2.3
+ 4.6
+ 9.2
+ 4.5
High Classes
+ 3.1
+ 1.6
- 0.09
- 3.1
See Appendix - Two Homeroom Grouping Comparisons

Implications for Next Year

There is no impact of this years homeroom groupings on these measures of literacy and numeracy. In the interest of studying the impact of homeroom groupings I would argue that next year we attempt full inclusion, heterogeneous groupings with an equal mix of high performing and low performing students in each class. We should then keep accurate measurements to see if this grouping of students impacts student performance on basic literacy and numeracy assessments.

My Point of View: based on the results of this year and using the same logic that led to homogenous groupings ie) let’s try it and see, I recommend that we eliminate the learning strategies homeroom classes and adopt a model of full inclusion.

  1. Assessment Plan for Next Year

We ought to keep the M-COMP measurement because it is easy to implement and measure. The math team has also suggested that we go back to using the CAT exam, but we would have to purchase the CAT IV.

The one on one RCBM assessment should be kept because it provides the most accurate picture of a student's reading ability, but it should be administered by the language arts teachers so that they experience the first hand knowledge that this test has to offer.

There is one more key finding that is difficult to pull out of the data, but that I can offer up based on my experience having every student read to me and then discussing their results with them. In the June exam after every student heard their RCBM score (and found out whether or not it had changed significantly since the fall), I asked them why they thought they got the results that they did. Indeed some students had remarkable growth, so I asked them to explain themselves. One common finding came up again, again and again.

Key Finding: Students that were reading on their own time, for enjoyment, had remarkable and significant growth on the RCBM assessment. This finding was universal, regardless of the students initial score on the September assessment.

The implication of this second key finding is that our literacy intervention plan should be built around the idea of increasing students authentic love of reading. For some, extrinsic rewards can help pull students out of their literacy deficit, but for most simply making the love of reading an often talked about value that is part of our school culture and assessment practice will be enough to increase literacy scores. Of course how to accurately track and record this will take additional research on which standardized literacy measures are better than AIMSweb.

Appendix One Learning Strategies Option/Whole School Comparison

These Graphs represent real %ile scores over time, not change in %ile score over time.




Appendix Two Homeroom Grouping Comparisons

These Graphs represent real %ile scores over time, not change in %ile score over time.


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Moving Forward with Project Based Instruction

Some fantastic Project Based Learning Ideas are floating around in the building today.
From correspondence with the teams this is what is on it's way to happening for PBL at Westlawn.

Math has identified certain units that lend themselves well to projects. They have also noted that there is a lot of potential in the higher stream classes for projects because, as far as teaching essential outcomes is concerned, they have been able to cover so much more this year. Additionally, they have identified some projects that can be beneficial for our 7-1 and 8-2 classes. This is what we can anticipate from Math:
  • Silly Students, Fruit Loops are for counting.  aka) don't eat the fruit loops
  • Plane Games. You need all Coordinates to Survive!
  • Space Station Shapes Station - Good possible link to science here. 
  • The Geometry of Westlawn School - A study using google maps and the building where we learn. Good Social Studies Geography Link here. 

Science is working on an exciting Grade 9 Space Based Research Project. All of us can play a role in getting all of  our grade nine students excited about research into Space. 
The Grade Sevens are also doing some kind of Plant Project. I don't have much detail yet about this one, but we can all talk to our grade sevens about agriculture, math and crops, or help find some poems and stories written about food (The Grapes of Wrath is probably out of reach, but there must be something). Maybe students can create LA objects that document whatever Plant Projects are being created! Great work Science, you are always a step ahead. 

LA and Social have dutifully assessed the writing of every single student in this school. That takes a great deal of mental energy, so thank you humanities team. I know they have some strong ideas brewing, and I can't wait to hear what they come up with. Grade Eights are studying the idea of social structure and global relationships through the Aztecs, so if anyone has some good ideas about how to turn that into an exciting project make sure you pass them along to humanities.

TLDR: 
Grade 7 - Fruit Loops Counting and Analysis and/or Coordinate Planes Games (maybe)
Grade 8 - Aztec something something awesome 
Grade 9 - Space, how could you not love learning about space?

You are all agents of motivation, doing noble work and it is beautiful!

These are Westlawn's Projects! Poster Created using Adobe InDesign 

Monday, 5 May 2014

The Role of Technology in Achieving the Vision of Inspiring Education

Imagine a connected district. An educational experience that flows through from kindergarten up to grade twelve. A connection that students keep through their post-secondary journeys and into their adult life.

Consider a space where administrators and teachers are able to share their learning accomplishments with the rest of the district and the world beyond. Why should there be a project happening at Jasper Place High School that the students from Westlawn don't know about and can't get involved in? If the students at Westlawn are hosting an event that involves their Filipino community why shouldn't they connect with the Filipino community at Afton and LaPerle? The connections between schools already exist, the catchments connect us, but they are not brought to the fore. This is how the catchment connections can be leveraged to bring together students, schools and communities and achieve the vision of engaging learners with their world and the technology within it.
Technology and the World of our students. CC licensed. 
Project Portals will highlight what schools are doing right. To motivate schools and administrators and teachers the project portal will call attention to the ground breaking work that is already being done at schools. The project portal can give prominence to the students that are doing things to understand their world and to change it. The project portal will offer guidance and ideas for other teachers that are motivated to helping their students do and achieve great things. With the portal we will be gathering the evidence that drives growth and say with pride to the world outside of education that, "these are our projects, this is our school board."
These are our Projects, and this is our School Board
How this can be accomplished is worthy of some elaboration. The first steps towards achieving this is to gain access into the schools and the thought makers within the school. The difference between my portal idea and other technology implementation plans is this isn't about technology. Technology will come in out of necessity. This is about schools creating projects that are real world and highly motivational. The technology implementation comes out of a necessity to do the job well and to be able to share the collective accomplishments. Schools will be encouraged to gather evidence of completion and, if possible, evidence of process to share in the projects portal. Classrooms would soon discover that a great deal of technology is needed to have a successful project.

The TIPS team, and the leadership responsible for implementation would have to be responsible for getting to schools to promote project based instruction, help teams of teachers visualize and implement project ideas. The TIPS team leader would have to be available to answer questions about and help generate ideas. If a teacher has a vision that she can communicate, the TIPS team leader should help her achieve that vision. Most importantly the TIPS team leader would be responsible for the hard work of documenting the journey, collecting evidence of completion, packaging the material so that it can be marketed effectively, and then delivering a Project Portal that is rich in inspiration and examples to the catchment and the school board.


After having encountered the ten competencies, that are contained in the ministerial order, it is easy to see how technology integration is critical. The answer to effective tech. integration and implementation is to help put the learning first and reveal the appropriate role of technology. Technology is the tool that connects, enables and empowers!

Monday, 28 April 2014

Project Based Instruction

After receiving some fantastic P.D. from Mr. Antoniw, social studies teacher at Kenilworth, our staff has become reinvigorated towards the idea of project based instruction. The question that I now face is how to keep this momentum alive. In the textbook for my Spring Session class SMO 652 Leadership Skills the author (Clawson) opens his work by stating that, "Leadership is all about managing energy, first in yourself and then in those around you." Using the management of energy approach to leadership I will now take on the challenge of creating, with my colleagues here at Westlawn, a culture of project based instruction.

First of all Project Based Instruction needs to be defined. What do we mean when we say project based isntruction? Here is one explanation, and it is quite complete.



Project based instruction should strive to be as real-world and ambitious as the video explains, but I want to assuage teachers here. PBI can be much less daunting in scope than the projects highlighted in the video. Students do not need to start out by changing the world. It would be ideal if they could try to grapple problems and projects that were very real to them and their community, but if the first couple stabs at it are confined to the classroom, grade level or school community that is definitely okay.

Secondly, I need to set some manageable goals for this endeavor. I will manage my energy by setting achievable goals that will be completed within a reasonable timeline. My goal is to help create, in this school, one project per grade level. It doesn't matter what subject, it doesn't matter what project. Projects could even be duplicated across grade levels. What matters is that by the middle of June every student has had an opportunity to work on some kind of project in one of their classes.


Finally, the teachers who will be implementing this need to be involved from step one all the way to completion. I have made the mistake in the past of creating projects for teachers instead of creating projects with teachers. I did this under the misguided intention that my colleagues wanted most of the work done for them, but this was a mistake because the teachers then have no ownership over the project. My process for making this happen will be as follows:

  1. Keep teachers inspired, motivated and thinking about PBI through use of the Westlawn Staff Site and email. 
  2. Invite teachers to brainstorming sessions. First one today after school at the school or maybe in my backyard if there is interest.
  3. Crashing the team time meetings to bring PBI to the conversation.
  4. More brainstorming sessions if needed.
  5. Support and involvement. Help with documents, create time for reflection with the teachers and getting into the classroom for short (10-15 minute) periods of time while the projects are ongoing. 
  6. Celebrate the completion of successful projects publicly. 
So here we go, wish me luck!



Monday, 7 April 2014

SMO Reflection Post #11: Connecting Management and Leadership

Before I jump into this week's topic I want to reflect on the grade received for my group's presentation and how it applies to some of the content covered in the course. The grade our group received points leads to a discussion about motivation. One of the most compelling ideas that I am taking away from this class is the over-arching, even all-consuming importance of motivation. Before anything else the employee must be motivated. So let us look at this class and the grade received as a potential tool for motivation, one that we can ascribe the characteristic of "pay."

In this class, then, the grade that we receive is our pay (I know that doesn't capture the reality of our situation, but just work with me for this example). The grade should motivate. I look at the grade I receive, and like so many other students, I want to know how it compares to my classmates. I do not how well I am being paid, until I know the grade of my classmates. This relativity of pay as a motivator is something that a couple of authors have discussed. Moss and Sanchez argue that employee performance evaluations should be compared to a standard, or a metric, instead of being measured against other employees. Okay that is fine, but in personal experience I am always measuring myself against my colleagues and against my classmates, isn't that culture? Rynes, Gerhart and Minette are arguing a sligthly different element of employee pay, and they highlight the importance of relative wealth in society. Having received this grade, and working in a field where everyone knows everyone elses relative pay, I conclude that knowing what everyone is making is very important for employee motivation. People earning more feel compelled to work harder for their pay, and people earning less are motivated to either achieve that higher position or they are content to work within their own category at the expected level of performance. Whether you agree with my conclusion or not is moot, what matters is that I now know the importance of pay for employee motivation.

Pay does matter, but only to a certain point. 
It is fitting that the last course material I encountered here in SMO 500: Managing People would reference author Daniel Pink. Leggett and Neill mention Pink's book Drive when they are discussing the importance of articulating a vision. That communicating purpose is a key aspect of a leaders success. I have been talking, probably too much, about Pink and Drive, ever since the start of the course. I can now say with confidence that he is completely correct in his findings about the importance of autonomy, mastery and purpose, but I can also look critically at his ideas because they lack certain ideas that are key to getting the most out of an employee. Pink does not discuss the need for extrinsic rewards, except to tell us how they often stifle creativity. I still believe that a transformational leader is capable of transcending the transactional needs of employees, but why would they? I will try to articulate this particular idea shortly, but for now I want to cover a couple of different ideas.

One of the biggest ideas that I will take away from this class is what a transformational leader looks like. Idealized influence, inspirational motivation, individual consideration and intellectual stimulation are nice big words, but what do they mean? I think they can be condensed into one clear statement that has come up time and time again in the course: When working with People, treat them like People. No matter what the position: janitor, professor, construction worker, administrative assistant, school administrator or any other position that can be named, it is a person. That person is an individual that wants to be doing something with their life. Is that person motivated soley by bringing home enough money to raise family? Fine, are they working in an environment where they can do it with dignity and a certain sense of pride? Can you, as leader make sure that they are? Do there goals go beyond the extrinsic? How can you, as leader, foster their ambition to do more? How can you as leader see the individual, understand the ir purpose, and communicate it to them effectively? People are not that difficuly to understand. Sure they are irrational, but they can be understood. People want to feel valuable, they want to contribute and they often want to be challenged.
Not sure who made this, but I found it here and I think it applies.
The big idea, that I take away from this course, that is really captured in the explanation of transformational leadership (which should really be named human leadership, preferred leadership, peak leadership, effective leadership or.... I guess transformational leadership is best) is that human management means being human about leadership.

I should mention the whole four drives that motivate as really missing the mark. They got so much correct, but they also missed so much. It was nice to finally read an author point to the individual manager (not ceo or company founder, but the guy or gal on the ground) as someone that makes a difference. I just don't understand how they could create a narrow category called comprehend to capture so many big human drives like mastery, autonomy and purpose. Like so much else in this coures, and hopefully a great deal of my analysis, the reward is in the synthesis of all these ideas. It just so happens that my next and final post will be a synthesis of all the ideas covered in class, my set of personal management practices.

Monday, 31 March 2014

SMO Reflection Post #10 Managing Transformation II: Leaders who Successfully Make Change.

Gordon Bethune, CEO at Continental from 1994 - 2004, was able to transform continental from an industry to joke to one of the top airliners in the United States. He managed the change that he knew had to take place. He did this thoughtfully and with purpose. The way that he achieved the successful transformation is why we study this case.

He lived the change efforts that J.P. Kotter describes in his article, "Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail." I could take a walk through Kotter's eight steps for successful transformation that Kotter has provided for us, pointing out how Bethune had accomplished each step from motivation through to institutionalization, but I want to talk instead about the essence of Bethune's success.

Bethune was successful because a) he knew his industry, b) he had a successful strategy that he was able to communicate and c) he was able to get the most out of his employees. These ideas have been covered to some degree throughout the course and cases studied, but a few things in particular stand out as new lessons that I can take from this case and as lessons that have been so often repeated that I am sure to never forget them. I will start with the latter.

Since day one of this class it has been made very clear that in order to get the most out of employees leaders must treat them as adults. Adults need to be trusted, they need to be given autonomy over their decisions, and they need to be treated with dignity and respect. Bethune trusted his employees and he let them know this by getting rid of security cameras. Bethune gave his employees autonomy and he symbolically burned the old order of management in the parking lot. Bethune gave his employees information when they deserved it, even when that meant they were being let go. Time and time again in this class there is a truth coming through - employees must be treated as adults.

We haven't talked quite as much in this class about strategy. That is a topic that is most likely more industry, or situationally specific. We are talking about managing people here, not about managing business plans. However, it is clear from Bethune's case at continental that his strategy was one of the primary reasons that he was successful. His employees knew this as well. He was able to communicate the needs to be maintaining fewer aircraft. He was able to help his employees focus on customer satisfaction, and he gave the employees the tools to communicate the needs of the customers.

Bethune also knew his industry. Gates is another perfect example of why having a leader that is an expert in the field as the leader can be the best way to ensure a sustainable competitive advantage. Skilling helps prove this argument because he entered an industry that he really did not know very much about. Yes, Skilling took Enron in another direction, but he did not really understand or respect their core competencies. Not every business or organization needs an expert in the field at the helm, but Bethune and others show that it certainly helps.

There are two other big ideas that fit together nicely, but not into the scope of what I mention above.

Much of this course unexpectedly took meaningful forays into the field of psychology. This makes sense to me now that I am at the end of the course because if we are discussing motivation, retention and maximum productivity of human beings, then of course you have to understand the human mind. Bethune and contintental reinforce the idea from class about the importance of an employees psychological ownership in an organization. Providing employees voice can be the most powerful method of getting important on the ground information from employees. Another interesting psychological take away from this case (sorry this paragraph stinks) is the importance of symbolic gestures. Burning books, unplugging cameras and hosting a house party are small investments of capital and energy, but they yield enourmous payoffs in the minds of employees.

Symbolic gestures and psycholigcal ownesrhip. Using these two forces and all of his other strengths it is no wonder that Bethune was able to motivate his employees, create and communicate vision, empower his employees, create short term psychologcal wins, consolidate his changes and institutionalize his new approach.