Public education is a wonderful creation of human society. However, in our times, it’s troubled by two main obstacles, illustrated in a metaphor and a mathaphor.
#1 Obstacle: The Tower of Babel Effect
Like people on the Tower of Babel, school decision makers (including teachers, parents, administrators, researchers, government policy makers, textbook authors and publishers) all speak different languages—even though they are speaking English. They is due to the fact that they have:
- little opportunity for collaboration, and
- very different viewpoints, purposes, and expertise.
#2 Obstacle: The 19 + 1 = 18 Effect
The Mathaphor: School quality is 19, add a new demand (+1), school quality goes down to 18.
Explanation: Ever-increasing demands on teachers leave them less able to address their students’ learning needs or to collaborate with colleagues. So, school quality goes down. Then, desperate new policies are mandated every year-–too quickly for teachers and schools to keep up. It’s a cycle of increasing negative outcomes. Over three years, the process looks like 19 + 1 = 18 … 17 …16.
A Proposed Remedy: the 30/30 RoundTable
A 30/30 RoundTable is proposed for busy schools. This carefully designed activity relieves these two main obstacles in that:
- 30 people have equal turns to give their viewpoints in 30 minutes, reducing the Tower of Babel effect by increasing communication.
- There are no new demands because educators use it for their own purposes in their own existing groups–perhaps weekly in classrooms and monthly in meetings.
For More Information
My new book, New Hope for Schools: Findings of a teacher turned detective, explains these and other obstacles, remedies, and more. More details on the GEMS RoundTable can be found in blogs, posts and pages on this site. My website, gemslearning.net, describes RoundTable and other programs and offers author demonstrations, consulting, and workshops.
For a half dozen centuries now, science offers useful laws for how things behave, that is, the hard sciences, such as chemistry, physics, and math. We know how to make water of one part hydrogen and two parts oxygen. We know about the laws of gravity. We know that 9 + 1 = 10. On the other hand, science offers conflicting models for how people behave. Thus, there are the soft sciences: psychology, management, education, and sociology. And there are the soft social systems, such as families, schools, and workplaces.
In our postmodern times, there is an even greater imbalance in our technological and social advances in instructional theory and methods in schools and workplaces. I group technological advances as those advances in our understanding of how things behave. Social advances are advances in our understanding of how people behave.
ONE REASON for the enormous imbalance is that we do not yet fully understand that Things, People and Outcomes have very different behavioral laws and predictability– as clarified in TPO Theory, (TPO refers to Things/People/Outcomes). Otherwise stated, we are still struggling with the principles and applications of the old directive paradigm, the new collaborative paradigm, and a unifying systems paradigm.
A SECOND REASON is captured in the figures below, using a scale metaphor. The first image below illustrates that many decades ago, institutions (e.g., schools, corporations, governments) were relatively balanced.
It is important to assert that the imbalance is not due to modern ignorance in the soft or social sciences. A great deal of knowledge is available regarding learning and performance theory, and a great many advances have been made. On the other hand, it is true that this large amount of knowledge is not adequately unified, but dispersed among a variety of fields or disciplines.
However, the imbalance is additionally due to the amazing gains that have been made in the last fifty years in technology. Today, modern institutions (e.g., schools, corporations, governments) are experiencing growing pains due greatly to amazing one-sided growth and a resulting massive imbalance. These topics are developed more fully in my book, New Hope for Schools: Findings of a teacher turned detective. See also my website gemslearning.net.
Schools of today, and especially large urban schools, are scorching hot topics! So are discussions of the urban school superintendent’s role. An interesting interview and article on NPR entitled The Short Shelf Life Of Urban School Superintendents  clarified different points of view regarding their role. I will briefly identify them and link them to a systems and thermostat approach to management.
Superintendent as Reformer
Deasy, former superintendent of LAUSD, spoke of reform-minded superintendents as wanting “to shake things up quickly.” Regarding how much time it takes to turn around a struggling district, Hornbeck, superintendent of the Philadelphia schools in the 1990s, suggested four years:
“The first year … is hiring and getting a team in place. The second year provides baseline test scores and time spent developing a plan. The third year is for putting that plan in place, and the fourth year provides scores that should be expected to show improvement.”
In the big picture, such reformer points of view may be shortsighted.
Limitations of “shaking things up.” Urban school reform as shaking things up is flawed. I explain this in a “mathaphor” as the 19 + 1 = 18 effect. Example: If school quality is 19, add a new demand (+1), school quality goes down to 18. The explanation: Ever-increasing demands on teachers leave them less able to address their students’ learning needs or to collaborate with colleagues. So, school quality goes down. Then, desperate new policies are mandated every year-–too quickly for teachers and schools to keep up. It’s a cycle of increasing negative outcomes. Over three years, the process looks like 19 + 1 = 18 … 17 …16.
Limitations of district test scores. District test scores are a weak indicator of real success. Experienced teachers have comprehensive goals for their students–including learning, performance, and appreciation—of their subject matter. Otherwise stated, this means students’ cognitive, psychomotor and affective development (CAP)– their head, hands and heart (HHH). In contrast, emphasis on district wide test scores can reduce the meaning of learning to the student’s ability to:
- select the best answer among five choices (cognitive/head),
- bubble in circles (psychomotor/hands).
Superintendent as Laissez-Faire Manager
Many superintendents simply trust the expertise of their administrators and teachers. In busy urban schools, where educators are overburdened with nonstop demands, this is a very appropriate approach. Matt Wunder, the CEO of Da Vinci Charter schools, discussing teacher evaluation and building good school programs said: “I just hire good teachers and then get out of their way.” 
Superintendent as a Systemic Change Manager
Drummond proposes “Perhaps what a superintendent can do is create an environment (stable leadership, adequate resources, freedom from labor strife) that will allow the people who actually make a difference — teachers and principals — to do their jobs. That is, if they’re given enough time.” Before building on Drummond’s “systems’ views,” I want to clarify that the important factor is not time, but the superintendent’s assumptions or paradigm. In other words, if we still assume that the sun revolves around the earth (an old paradigm in astronomy), no amount of time will result in improved understanding and results.
A Systems Paradigm and Thermostat Metaphor for Instruction/Management
The old paradigm assumes that learners (i.e., students, staff) are empty vessels to fill, that the leader (i.e., teacher, principal, superintendent) is the sole agent. In reaction, an emerging not-fully-specified new paradigm understands that learners are active agents in their learning, and the leader’s role is unclear or laissez-faire.
A systems paradigm subsumes the old and new paradigms and clarifies dual agency: The leader is agent of the design, delivery and adjustment of the policy/agenda/subject matter; and the learner is agent of pickup and mastery. Thus, adjustability is the key to effectiveness. The old paradigm empty vessel metaphor, perhaps the reformer, is thus replaced with a thermostat metaphor—a more useful visual for a superintendent. Fig. 7.5 from my book illustrates.
The thermostat metaphor is also valuable as it illuminates three modes for the school leader (superintendent, principal, teacher)
- OFF: School is not in session– Open the windows and let in refreshing ideas and consider new policy;
- ON: Manual: School is in session and resources are being distributed–Close the windows to avoid excess heat or cold entering and losing resources;
- ON: Auto: Resources delivered, let people do their work– Watch that the environment remains in the optimal range (cf:, 67 – 72 degrees) and adjust on need.
 Retrieved 10/21/14 from: http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/10/21/357629164/the-short-shelf-life-of-urban-school-superintendents
 Gabriele, S. (2014). New Hope for Schools.
Testing and assessment are hot-button issues nationwide. Most everyone has strong feelings on standardized testing, the common core state standards, and accountability. I would like to point out the benefits and the problems surrounding these issues in light of some key assumptions about learning and mastery.
Making Explicit some Key Assumptions (and CAP, HHH)
Learning and mastery is complex. First, knowledge and skills are acquired when the learner is able to (cognitively and physically) and wants to (affectively) achieve them—when there is an adequate match of the input to the learner’s CAP–cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains. More simply, we could say that successful instruction, testing, and policy need adequate match to the head (cognitive), heart (affective), and hands (psychomotor) of each learner.
Second, all people are learners. Thus, the first principle–learning depends on the match of the input (test, task, policy, or lesson) to CAP or HHH applies to all people. Students, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, and policy makers, have different degrees and areas of mastery, experience, and skill.
Common core standards, test scores, and accountability, whether nationwide or even statewide, are helpful for the big picture. Common core standards and accountability criteria set a standard or ideal for educators. Standardized test scores allow researchers to have enough data to make general comparisons and conclusions.
The common core standards and assessment policies have often resulted in educators feeling pressured to apply them immediately without proper alignment with HHH. One teacher told me her story. Her district administrators rushed to create worksheets to go with the common core standards and assessments for her grade level. The worksheets are over her students’ heads (cognitive/head mismatch). She has to spend all her time covering the difficult material (psychomotor/hands mismatch). The students do not feel successful, and the teacher is not able to use the wonderful textbooks and stories that engage the students (affective/heart mismatches).
Standardized text scores are not useful to assess real learning and mastery. In fact, overdependence on them is harmful. It could be argued that multiple-choice exams test only two things–whether a student can use a pencil to make bubbles, and whether he or she can guess the best answer between five alternatives. Tests and assessment at the classroom level are more important for developing the whole learner (i.e., CAP and HHH).
Accountability is complex as well. The most successful schools are learning communities, where students and teachers are able to develop meaningful and satisfying experiences with the subject matter and each other. When there are too many demands from the outside—whether, government, state or district policy—individual educators need to address these demands at the expense of their students, and the classroom and school community suffer the consequences.
I have a two-pronged solution for this discussion. First, let high level policies be ideals and guidelines–rather than mandates–for educators on the front lines. Educators can then apply them appropriately, at their own rates, according to their own expertise, without decreasing school or classroom quality. Second, let educators add regular 30/30 RoundTables–weekly to their classrooms, and monthly to their meetings. Such RoundTables would serve as a user-friendly, refreshing new way to develop their goals and subject matter and to gather everyone’s thoughts and experiences.
Come celebrate with Sue Gabriele as she introduces her new book New Hope for Schools: Findings of a Teacher Turned Detective. Learn how her “RoundTable” can unshackle and revitalize schools and workplaces.
At the event, Sue will share some of her findings and solutions with us. Bring your own copy for Sue to sign, buy a copy at the event, or just come learn more about her work! Ask questions and share your views. More info? See the press release.
Please RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org to help us plan for refreshments and seating. Your guests are welcome too!
Hosted by: Toyota Auto Museum, ASTDLA, ISPI-LA, GEMS & Farmstand
The RoundTable: Good for Knights, Better For Students
New guide aims to help educators foster whole school improvement from within
LOS ANGELES – Imagine looking at an electrical power strip overflowing with cords rapidly causing it to burn out. Unfortunately this image applies to modern teachers and schools more than we may like to think. Ever-increasing demands, from the school, district, state and federal levels, leave teachers and principals with little time to focus on students’ needs.
“This is not a fault of teachers,” Susan Farr Gabriele, Ph.D. said. “The issue is systemic and requires a substantial change. A change I want to help implement in a new and simple way.”
Dr. Gabriele was a teacher in Los Angeles for over twenty years before deciding to return to graduate school, so she could research new answers to the problems facing public education. Her new book, “New Hope for Schools,” is the culmination of her research that aims to help teachers and administrators foster systemic change and renewal from within.
“The term school reform is generally associated with the fear of expending too much time and energy on costly, flawed programs,” Dr. Gabriele said. “I have created a simple new tactic called the RoundTable that can be inexpensively, easily and quickly added to any already occurring programming or meetings.”
These RoundTables are designed to allow 30 participants to give and hear every individual’s viewpoint in 30 minutes around their own topics, in their own classes and meetings. RoundTables can increase learning, communication and engagement amongst staff and students. Dr. Gabriele also provides hard research and a three-pronged approach that any school can utilize to create a better learning environment for students.
For any educator, parent, student, administrator, scholar, researcher or policy maker interested in education reform and the improvement of schools, Dr. Gabriele wants to help.
For more information please visit http://www.gemslearning.net
“New Hope for Schools” By: Susan Farr Gabriele, Ph.D. SC-ISBN: 978-1-4917-2723-2 SC-Retail price: $32.95 Available at barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com.
About the author
Susan Farr Gabriele, principal of Gabriele Educational Materials and Systems (GEMS), earned her Ph.D. in human science: social and institutional change by researching and creating the RoundTable program. Dr. Gabriele consults in schools, workplaces and learning communities across the nation and internationally.
The 30/30 RoundTable is elegant–defined as simple and ingenious. It is simple because it is cued by a one-page script or RoundTable guide. It is ingenious because it is user-friendly and systemic: It serves the whole school without being a burden added to staff’s heavy workloads. Specifically, it:
- serves everyone in schools in their already existing groups–weekly in classrooms, monthly in meetings (faculty, PTA, district, etc.),
- lets each group use topics for their own purposes,
- is adaptable as groups’ purposes change or evolve,
- allows participants to hear 30 viewpoints in 30 minutes around subjects important to them.
What Educators Say about the RoundTable
“I am so excited about the RoundTable. I tried it in my class with undergraduates in their internship. It went so well. I even had two students come to me privately and tell me how much they appreciated that way of dealing with curriculum.” PEGGY GILL, Professor of Educational Leadership, University of Texas at Tyler
“The RoundTable made space for people to connect … in a way that no amount of free time, meal breaks, or presentation question periods seemed to do. To the question I often ask myself, ‘Is there anyone else out there?’ The RoundTable gave me a definitive ‘Yes!’ What a joy and relief!” PAMELA BUCKLE HENNING, Associate Professor of Management, Adelphi University, Garden City, New York
“It speeds up the cumulative learning needed for effective action plans.” SHARON PETERSON, Consultant, Small Business Development Center, Hawthorne, California
What 4th Grade Students Say about the RoundTable
“I was proud my literature got better just by doing [the Roundtable)]. I like myself better because I know now that I could find the little details instead of like the bigger, easier to find details.”
“What I like about the RoundTable is that everybody gets a turn to say something and everyone else is listening and quiet when you talk.”
“Well, I learned more to express how I feel about something and not to be that scared in front of people because I was really shy … now I’m not shy and it made me express more of my feelings. Now since I’ve done the Roundtable a lot, it’s helped me like overcome my fears. It’s helped me a lot.”
“… getting into the middle [of the year] I started actually saying what was deep down inside.”
The 30/30 RoundTable has been used in several 4th grade classrooms for 14 years. A circle is proposed, but we have learned that it works even without changing the room set up (Figure 2). This makes it even easier to use!
Use the RoundTable and let me know how it works for you! Use it at your school: weekly in your classroom, monthly in meetings–faculty. PTA, and so forth, Use it monthly at the district level and higher: in principals’ meetings, superintendents’ meetings and state or federal policy making meetings. Use it daily in annual conferences or summer staff development.
Ever-increasing demands on schools, especially teachers, reduce their time and ability to respond to students’ needs (the 19 + 1 = 18 effect) or collaborate on school problems (Tower of Babel effect). The 30/30 RoundTable (see also GEMS RoundTable) creates time for communication and collaboration on users’ own topics, without adding to educator workloads.
What does the 30/30 RoundTable look like?
A 30/30 RoundTable is a carefully designed 30-minute group activity that allows 30 people to give their views and hear views of all others on topics of their own choosing. A one-page leader’s script allots five minutes to basic readings/guidelines and the topic of the day. This leaves 25 minutes for individual comments, time divided equally among all present.
In a weekly classroom RoundTable, the teacher leads the first few sessions. Then, when ready, students take turns leading. By the end of the year, all students are offered an opportunity to be RoundTable leader. In a monthly staff meeting, the RoundTable designer or principal, (i.e., formal leader) leads the first one or two meetings, then staff members lead, one turn each.
The RoundTable’s multiple interacting benefits are especially important in busy schools and workplaces. Like a Swiss Army knife-or more pc, swiss utility tool :) — the RoundTable has countless uses and fits into a small space.
- The RoundTable session accelerates learning of two-plus subject matters at once.
- User’s choice: the subject matter of classrooms—English, social studies, science, and so on—or the agenda in staff meetings.
- Communication awareness and skills—It increases opportunities and skills in leadership, shared leadership, values clarification, diversity appreciation, equity, authenticity, and self-reflective listening and speaking—especially important in learning groups or classrooms. In meetings or planning groups, it helps build the cumulative knowledge needed for effective action plans.
- Results include increased engagement and community spirit. Hearing 30 peers viewpoints increases awareness, understanding, and respect—for self and other.
Like a Swiss Army knife, the RoundTable fits into a small space from many points of view. It requires little time, space, energy or money. It is contained in a one-page script and folder. A RoundTable is a small portion of classes and meetings: 30 minutes weekly or monthly. The Guide is user-ready, but easy to modify. After very few coaching sessions, users can run their own RoundTables.
In sum. The user-friendly, multipurpose 30/30 RoundTable helps schools address their own concerns and respond to their own students. Instead of more outside demands on schools, the RoundTable is a simple seed for systemic school renewal from within.