I had the pleasure of co-authoring a book with Mark White (@MarkWhite55) titled, Leading Schools in Disruptive Times: How to Survive Hyper-change. In it, Mark White and I introduce a problem-solving framework we call, CAT: Cope, Adjust, and Transform. CAT helps school leaders successfully deal with change, especially the sudden disruptive events that often are sprung on schools without warning. In the CAT framework, school leaders do the following:
1. Recognize the disruptive event and cope with it immediately. When a crisis occurs, the goal is to resolve it as quickly as possible, usually within hours or days of its inception.
2. Adjust school practices and operating procedures in the days and weeks after the incident to prevent its reoccurrence or to handle it and other disruptions more efficiently.
3. Continue to transform lead staff through a process to adopt new philosophies and change school culture through study and reflection in the months after the incident. The ultimate goal is to transform thought processes, and adaptive strategies will be deepened in the future.
You would be hard pressed to talk to a teacher, secretary, or school administrator who would say we are not experiencing some disruptive times in education. Since 2008, public perception of educators, in general, has been less than favorable. One might say we face one disruption after another, yet we continue to find ways to meet the needs of our students, engage parents, respond to community desires, and do what is best for all stakeholders.
We explore seven disruptions educators face today and describe how to apply the CAT framework to each one. The disruptions are as follows:
1. The emphasis on student safety, including the fear of school shootings, the laser-like focus on social/emotional development, and efforts to combat high-stress levels in today’s students and families.
2. Accelerating technology advances that change how students learn and how schools operate, including the influx of smartphones, wearable technology, and the impact of social media.
3. A system of reform efforts such as A Nation at Risk, No Child Left Behind, Common Core State Standards, and the Every Student Succeeds Act that has resulted in complex school accountability ratings that drive instruction, learning, hiring practices and budgeting.
4. The generational challenges that occur when baby boomers, Gen Xers, Gen Yers, and millennials work together in the teaching force, and Gen Z’s demands and Gen Alpha that are leading to new types of teaching methods and spaces.
5. The explosion of knowledge and getting students global-ready, including the challenge of teaching global skills in a rigid, test-driven curriculum and attempting to answer the question, “What does it mean to be educated in the 21st century?”
6. Dealing with increasingly complex diversity issues, including racial tension, ethnic differences, political polarization, and LGBTQ issues.
7. The growing demand for transparency by parents who want access to school information, including 24-hour access to student grades; their need for prompt responses from educators to their questions and demands; and their constant examination of the school’s curriculum, clubs, and overall grades.
In the book, we share stories from 21st school leaders and educators who have faced one or more of these disruptions, we highlight what they learned, and emphasize what they would do differently in the future. Through their stories, the reader can reflect on their daily work using the guided questions and CAT Framework activities at the end of each chapter.
I encourage you to use the CAT framework as a guide to handling disruptions at your school and to share how you are embracing these disruptions on social media by using the hashtag, #CopeAdjustTransform. We need each other, and one of the best ways to learn from shared experiences is to connect with your PLN through #CopeAdjustTransform. I look forward to celebrating with you as guide your students and staff through these disruptive times!