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"The system of education is broken." I hear this same statement over and over again, but I want to know what it will take to fix it. Thankfully, some have realized that we must get past blaming the elephant in the room on teachers, administrators, districts, and even policymakers. We have gotten past simply acknowledging the various issues plaguing education to finally naming the elephant: it is a system issue. So now that we have named the core of many issues, it is time to find some realistic and implementable solutions.
What is a Flat Organization Structure?
I was having a conversation with my friend and colleague, curriculum designer Tina Starks, about the persistent systemic problems in education. She mentioned the idea of a "flat organization." I had never heard of it before. The Forbes series "The 5 Types Of Organizational Structures" defines it as an organization where "there are usually no job titles, seniority, managers, or executives. Everyone is seen as equal."
I decided to do some more research. In "5 Leadership Attitudes From Flat Organizations," Rawn Shah and Erin Casali provide some key features of a flat organization that could make the education system much more functional. Of course, changing any organization to a flat structure brings up big questions. As Shah and Casali write, "How can that even possibly work? Who leads the vision and direction for teams, departments, and the whole organization? How does leadership take shape?"
Similarly, I wonder how this would work in education. Would we have principals? Who would make decisions about budgeting, staffing, and curriculum?
Shah and Casali lay out five fundamental principles of successful flat organizations. These principles are "autonomy, adaptability, transparency, trust, and communication." Examining these principles shows what could be possible if we reimagine education. We should take the best ideas from the flat organization structure and apply them to this broken education system. Of the five principles, there are two that I think are particularly relevant to educators. These are transparency and communication.Should We "Flatten" Education? Click To Tweet
Open: "Everything Is Transparent"
One of the biggest complaints I hear about education is a lack of transparency. Educators have questions that are rarely answered, and we are left confused on many levels. It would be so refreshing to actually have all the information about everything we need to know as stakeholders in this system so that we could have the ability to give input and provide feedback. According to Shah and Casali, in flat organizations, "People from entirely different teams can chime in with experienced feedback even if they aren't involved in the specific project, adding value, perspectives and raising the overall quality." Teachers are a vital part of this team. We have the experience and expertise to help fix this broken system, but we rarely have a seat at the table. In my experience, teachers are left out of important decisions, including how budgets are allocated, which curriculum to adopt, and more. It is a shame. Teachers could help if just given the opportunity.
Teachers aren't the only ones who would benefit from transparency. Parents also continually ask for more transparency and greater communication. Involving all stakeholders, including parents, community members, and students, would lead to a more effective system for all. A flat organization in education would ensure everyone is in the loop about policies, procedures, and protocols. Everyone would understand the reasons behind policies and how they would be equitably implemented. With true transparency, there would be little room for the confusion which often plagues the system of education.
Share: "Communication Is Oxygen"
Another huge complaint I hear about education is a lack of communication. This metaphor equating communication to oxygen is so insightful. Without communication, educators cannot breathe comfortably in this system. The lack of communication is debilitating. It can suck the life out of teachers who have given the majority of their lives to this profession. The lack of communication deprives teachers of the information they need to be successful. Educators on every level need communication to be able to function effectively. Sarah Styf stated in her article How Education In America Is Like the Wrong Pair of Running Shoes, "Teachers and administrators at all levels should be a part of every conversation from local school boards to state legislatures." Being a part of every conversation is the first step to opening the lines of communication.
Shake, Break, Dismantle, Reimagine and Reinvent the Status Quo
Everyone agrees that something must be done to fix this broken system of education, but few agree about what that something involves. Looking at the structure of education itself might be a good place to start. Adopting aspects of the flat organizational structure could reimagine and reinvent a system that needs a complete overhaul.
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