I felt like Jean Luc Picard (Star Trek) after completing a recent program with a Beijing public primary school. The administrators of the school, aka the Borg, were mandated by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education to implement a very intricate teacher observation system. However, after a number of years, this system had failed to produce its intended results, something was wrong and the usual suspects were the teachers. Data rich, information poor. Sound familiar?
The administrators, like the Borg, annexed technology and knowledge of other alien species for the Collective via a process of assimilation. My consultative process allowed me to peer into the organisms of the state school system to understand how they crafted a very sensitive process inspired by Western education practices. As I reviewed their observation forms and gleaned anecdotal information from the administrators I began to see all of the various influences that contributed to their system. The Jean Luc moment occurred when it became painfully obvious that the administrators were focused exclusively on the system and not the intended benefactors. In fact, what they felt they needed were more tools, such as rubrics and protocols.
The Administrators understood why teacher observation was important and were very familiar with the literature that evidenced the effect teacher observation can have on student learning. What they failed to appreciate, though, was that peer observation was a form of transformative collaboration, not transactional. To be fair, school administrators in the West are guilty of the same thing.
My clients had devised a very transactional system that mandated how many observations they should participate in, what they should be observing and how they should share feedback. The system was Western inspired with Chinese characteristics. Every year the teachers participated in this process and played their part dutifully, including sharing what they observed. Teachers went through all the motions, but the administrators were not seeing any marked differences in teaching practices.
From a systems perspective all of the boxes were ticked. Chinese culture, and its grounding in Confucian philosophy, can largely be credited for the fact that teachers fulfilled their obligations. However, despite the fact that Chinese school administrators can rely on the obedience of its teachers, they still can’t produce the benefits of transformational collaboration; in this case changes in attitudes and behaviour. Regardless if the culture is communal or individualistic, masculine or feminine, low or high power distance, we can only influence other peoples attitudes and behaviours if we have a shared purpose, grounded in an understanding and appreciation of each others values and beliefs.
What the school wanted to annex from me was a sense of purpose with a touch of inspiration. What I wanted to give them was a team building. They felt the presence of a foreign expert demonstrating the process and sharing insights would spark the Collective’s ability to learn from one another. I felt that their teachers needed to develop greater awareness about themselves and those they work with. So, what would Jean Luc do?