PK-12 Schools are the most complex organizations in the U.S. economy.
Board members, administrators, parents, and policy makers must understand that the models of leadership and management that may be effective in other businesses and organizations have to be adapted to the extraordinary realities of educational institutions.
Schools are different!
Complexity isn't bad. It's just the reality of school leadership. And there is no denying that complexity is a critical factor in understanding and improving schools.
How are schools complex?From an organizational theory perspective, factors that produce complexity include:
- Multiple Stakeholders
Teachers, staff, students, parents, board members, donors, policy makers, etc.
- Multiple Organizational Structures
Divisions, grades, athletics, arts, clubs, parent organizations, etc.
- Multiple People Involved in Service Delivery
Administrators, teachers, staff, operations, volunteers, etc.
- Multiple Steps Required to Complete Delivery of Services
Don't even get me started...
The Complicated Nature of the Client Relationship
Let's explore the nature of the client relationship that PK-12 schools traditionally have with the families they serve. Depending on the number of parents/guardians involved, each one has a different perspective on whether the school's leadership is performing adequately.
In a two parent family, for example, each parent, as a client of the school, has his/her own lens through which school personnel and the school as a whole is evaluated. This "expertise" is primarily based on personal experience over the years and what appears to be common knowledge about schools in various media, social sources, and among friends and family. These sources of expertise often lack accuracy, but for many that is irrelevant.
Then, as the student progresses through elementary ages, he/she statistically becomes the primary decision maker around 4th or 5th grade. So now the school administrator and teacher has a pre-adolescent brain with limited capacity and experience combined with resolute confidence that is now relied upon to determine whether the teacher and the school is effective performing its role satisfactorily.
The extensive amount of time (about 1,000 hours/year) spent with the "client" is also a contributing factor, along with the emotional nature of decisions and communications. And when multiple parents/guardians are involved, it gets even worse!
What other sector of the economy has to navigate those conditions with nearly every client in their target market?
None. Nil. Zippo, Zilch.
Benefits of Accurately Managing Complexity
Why is this such an important topic? Because not understanding these structures limits the effectiveness of school policies and decisions. The benefits of accurately managing complexity are important:
School boards and administrators that cohesively manage complexity are more productive and achieve the highest returns on investment.
Schools that reduce complexity through clarity and consistency achieve lower operating costs and create the foundation for long-term success.
Schools that use a communication protocol and plan that respects the complexities of the school organization achieve a more joyful culture and higher engagement.
The bottom line is this:
Just because you went to a school
doesn't mean you know how
to run a school.
School Leadership and Management is far more complex than many parents, board members, policy makers, and pundits want to admit. Successfully navigating these organizational challenges requires an unusually high level of practical intelligence, emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, self awareness, and especially HUMILITY.