Understanding the Framework for Change
Understanding the Framework for Change
By Anthony Muhammad, Ph.D.
In order to start to adequately understand a phenomenon and affect a phenomenon, the development of a theoretical framework is necessary. E.P. Thompson wrote; “Reality is too complex to fully capture in abstractions. Every study selects particular aspects of the world to emphasize, necessarily leaving the rest in a shadowy background. In other words, we must choose what is generally called theoretical frameworks to guide our analysis” pg. 461(Thompson 2001). Frameworks help us understand how abstract ideas interact with one another and make things that are difficult to describe more rational and more easily analyzed. In the attempt to understand and intentionally develop schools into healthy learning environments, we will use the framework that I describe in the book Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division (TSC) (Muhammad 2009).
School Culture Players
TSC arranges the participants in a typical school culture into four primary categories: Believers, Tweeners, Survivors, and Fundamentalists. These educators have differing objectives and their differing objectives affect their behavior in unique ways. When not properly cultivated, these diverse agendas can lead to staff division and school dysfunction.
- Believers are educators who are predisposed to the ideas and programs that support the egalitarian idealism of education. They are willing, and in fact seek, the best professional models to support the universal achievement of their students.
- Tweeners are educators who are new to school culture. These educators are given a probationary period of two-to-five years to pick sides in the school tug-of-war. This group is critical to school improvement because, if high-risk schools do not retain qualified staff members, school reform becomes nearly impossible because long-term initiatives become impossible and there is no organizational memory.
- Survivors are educators with one purpose, survival. This group represents a small portion of educators who are simply “burned out” and so overwhelmed by the demands of the profession that they suffer from depression and merely survive from day to day. This group is much smaller than the other three and there is a general consensus that this group needs more help than can be readily accessed in most schools or districts.
- Fundamentalists are educators who are comfortable with status quo and they organize and work against any viable form of change. Their goal is to be left alone. They have many tools that they use to thwart reform initiatives, and without the proper leadership, they are generally successful. The fundamentalist’s personal needs and goals are more important than the needs of the students and the organization as a whole.
The interaction of these complex groups of individuals make school reform difficult at best and only disciplined and informed leadership is qualified to untangle this web and focus the school professionals on the singular goal of total student success.
Believers and Fundamentalists
The school reform research of Douglas Reeves, Mike Schomker, and Richard DuFour all agree that high performing schools have clear goals and high expectations for all students. In other words, they have a healthy culture. What is not clear is how did those healthy cultures develop and evolve? The TSC framework identifies two political groups called the Believers and the Fundamentalists jockeying for the control of the collective norms and expectations.
An analysis of the behavior of Believers and Fundamentalists reveal a real difference in philosophy and objective, and these differences drive their behavior. Jim Collins in his breakthrough work called Good to Great, identified why great companies and organizations consistently outperformed average or low-performing companies and organizations (Collins 2001). He describes the habits of great organizations in three processes: