Friday, January 30, 2009

You can't push a rope.

It is hard to fully understand everything that is going on in every state. So it came as a surprise to me yesterday when I was in Springfield Illinois that the demise of Governor Blagojevich was written in stone long before the unanimous vote was taken. As we walked around the capital, it became very clear that the sin of selling Obama’s senate seat was just a miniscule tip of the ice burg. Apparently his approval rating had fallen to 18% BEFORE the FBI press conference about senate seat for sale. He didn’t even come to the capital during the session much and almost nothing got passed last year due to his arrogance and inability to play well with others. The hatred for this man in the state house on both sides of the aisle was just amazing.

It sounds very familiar – certainly not as extreme – but familiar. The Bush administration became known for bullying, steamrolling and pretty much the “my way or the highway” mentality. No collaboration and nothing of substance accomplished.

One of my favorite leadership lines from Navy training was that you can’t push a rope. You have to lead. It is refreshing to see many in the Obama administration, especially Secretary Duncan, establishing some basic leadership in their departments as we head into these incredibly difficult times. I am very impressed that Duncan went around, met people, and promised to listen. We are absolutely desperate for leadership in education and leadership is not defined as pushing one agenda – it requires people to listen and collaborate.

It is clearly evident that Pelosi and Reid skipped the leadership seminar that the rest of the Obama team went to. No collaboration there and it already creating problems for the administration. The Democrats have a great opportunity to lead this country out of serious issues, and they are going to fail miserably because of these two.

For our own work, I am struck by the times we are able to collaborate with teacher groups and the one group that will never work with us. Early on when I took over as president, I relied on the constructive criticism of the national AFT teacher quality team. (AFT does NOT endorse our program – they do not blindly condemn it either). Because of their input we introduced a policy to be totally transparent and publish everything, we strengthened the program with additional resources and we increased the studies on our teachers. I consider them invaluable in making this a better program. In the end Joan Baratz-Snowden who retired as head of teacher quality for AFT joined our board of directors to continue the progress we have made. They call me with any questions about our program to make sure they are accurate. As Rob Weil told me: “you are a learning organization and we can always work with that”

In Missouri, the Missouri State Teachers Association are neutral on our program. They knew the state had to do something and worked with us to create a bill that was stronger for Missouri and still met the needs of our potential candidates. This collaboration has resulted in over 850 enrollments in Missouri in 9 months of which 425 are in math and science. They listened to us and we absolutely listened to them.

On the Pelosi/Reid side of collaboration for us is the NEA. No constructive criticism, no meetings to discuss ways to improve – they don’t like us and no matter what we do, they will never like us or work on improvements. Unless we develop a college of education program, we are out. Heck it has been 20 years and they still hate TFA.

I do believe that collaboration is on the rise and hopefully the administration will not get discouraged. They should continue to look for ways to strengthen our country by working together. And hopefully the Reid/Pelosi/NEA “my way or the highway” attitude will go the way of the Blagojevich’s of the world.

No comments: