All that Jazz

“Perhaps replacing the metaphor of the school administrator as manager, CEO, orchestra conductor, or architects with the metaphor of the school administrator as leader of a jazz combo would be appropriate.” (Smith & Ellet, 2000)

The landscape of school improvement and change management is peppered with theories, approaches and suggested reforms. We rely so much upon external researchers, consultants and the frameworks and processes they offer it’s easy to forget that we really only need one thing to happen for richer student learning to occur; effective classroom teaching.

Of course, there are few things as complex as a classroom or a school. There’s a great visual representation of these complexities in Peter Senge’s book Schools that Learn reflecting the inter-connected influences that impact schools, one glance at the graphic is enough to make one’s head spin. This is the work we do, everyday and, with all this complexity, it’s not an accident that we look to the experts to help us. We see school systems as large, complicated entities with many players in need of coordination, direction and conducting, like an orchestra. We forget that we really only need one thing to happen for richer student learning to occur; effective classroom teaching.

I stumbled across a reference to an interesting article in Allington and Cunningham’s Schools That Work. The article by Wade Smith and Chad Ellett asks us to think of a school leader as more like the leader of a jazz combo. I’m not a great jazz fan, nor am I qualified to offer expert opinions on the aspects and components of jazz, but I do know that jazz requires creativity, the ability to improvise and a responsiveness to both the audience and the other musicians in the group. Wikipedia  differentiates classical music from jazz by noting, Jazz, however, is often characterized as the product of egalitarian creativity, interaction and collaboration…” Sound familiar?

I believe, for the most part, our focus on mandating standardized and prescribed practices  for assessment, planning and instruction in schools reflects a noble stance and is well-intentioned on the part of school administrators. However, I’m wondering if,  in doing so, are we focusing too much on the systems to the detriment of the classrooms? Are we orchestral composers and conductors trying to plow through a score when what we really need to be leading jazz combos?

This week I will pick up an instrument, join the band and teach a few lessons. This week, I’ll interact and collaborate with teachers to create something in the classroom. After all, we really only need one thing to happen for richer student learning to occur

This entry has been cross-posted on my personal blog thesmalleroffice.



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