The California Tenure Case, Part II: Sociocracy in Schools

The California Tenure Case is evidence of just one of the systems failures in education that could be resolved with the use of sociocracy in schools. The adversarial nature of the administrative structure and imposition of standards  in education pits teachers, the school administration, unions, and state and federal governments against each other in a wars that none of them can win. Even the concept of winning ensures that the system will fail.

Conflict weakens and eventually breaks a system. Sociocracy in schools would produce a harmony of shared goals that supports productivity and is lost when each domain begins competing against the others. The education of students becomes a battle in which the students have no ability to compete. It’s a battle over students in which students have no voice. And the teachers have no power and all the responsibility.

Sociocracy doesn’t need unions to provide job security or autocratic managers to ensure quality performance. In The Netherlands, Works Councils, similar to unions, are required in all workplaces of more than 35 employees—unless they are organized sociocratically. Sociocracy is considered to protect both workers and employers rights better than Works Councils and sociocratic organizations are exempted from the Works Council requirement.

Sociocracy in Schools

In a school that is governed by the principles of sociocracy, the teachers work collaboratively to design educational programs for their students, educate themselves on a continuing basis, develop new methods for teaching, and involve students and parents in a program designed to meet both the external education requirements and the student’s interests and abilities.

The emphasis is on policy and program decisions  as equals while preserving the hierarchical structure that is most efficient for daily functioning. That means teachers and the administration meet together as equals to determine school policies and educational program decisions which are then executed on a daily basis by the principal who is responsible for implementation.

The teachers are organized in teams by responsibilities.  Within local, state, and federal mandates, teams are delegated responsibility for the curriculum, teaching materials, and classroom practices in their area: Grades K-3, social studies, math and sciences, etc. The divisions depend on the size  and purposes of the school. . The leaders of each team, their elected representatives, and the principal serve as a general management team.  The principal as general manager ensures that the policies the teachers have made are carried out and the school is also meeting local, state, and federal requirements.

In sociocracy, transparency prevails so financial records are open. As policy decisions, teachers also formulate and consent to the budgets for their areas. Transparency is essential to build trust and to ensure that all members of a collaborative process have full information.

Distributed Power & Consent

Distributed power is a fundamental principle in sociocratic governance.  Those who are responsible for the work, make the decisions that directly affect how they do it. This both relieves eh principal of an overwhelming number of decisions and moves them to the context in which they will have the most effect. School standards, policy, and program decisions that affect the whole school are made by the general management team, which is composed of the leaders and representatives of each of the teams,. Those that directly affect the teams are made by the teams.

Teachers and administrators discuss policy and program decisions as equals and the consent of all members of the team is necessary to implement them. Consent is often felt to be impossible in a working situation, and in many other situations as well, but combined with other sociocratic principles and methods it works very well and produces a strong sense of harmony and mutual respect. One key to making it work is that the work process is based on (1) moving forward and (2) testing decisions. If all members of a team can’t consent to a discussion or are hesitant about it, the team will test it to obtain more information.

Testing policies and educational programs is a part of the work process which is based on planning, doing, and measuring. The emphasis is on making a satisfying  plan (one that is both satisfying and sufficient), put it into practice, and measure results. Results are then evaluated in the next planning meeting, leading to a new or improved plan that will then be implemented and its results measured.

Integral Education and  Peer Coaching

Sociocratic schools do not use tenure to protect teachers rights or to ensure that good teachers stay. Instead they develop good teachers by providing educational opportunities and expecting teams to learn about new developments and best practices in their fields. Teachers are given  access to ongoing education, control over their classrooms, and independence in teaching methods. Student progress is measured and used to design educational programs for them. Sociocratic schools trust the teacher’s ability to educate students in a collaborative process and provides the support and materials for them to do so.

In sociocratic schools,  teachers and teachers’ aids have responsibility for their own and their colleagues’ continuing education. They evaluate and coach each other, building on their strengths while correcting weaknesses. The team is responsible for meeting their own standards, the standards of the school, as well as requirements of subject-based education associations and government requirements.

Upgrading our knowledge and skills over a lifetime is important for everyone but particularly important for teachers. Some skills are gained in the classroom, but content changes. In a five-year-period the sciences change dramatically, for example. It takes continual updating in all fields to keep up. They need more than teacher training days allocated to learn administrative systems and state laws. They need real eduction. Businesses do this for their employees on a regular basis.

Education is about more than tenure and it is a shame that teacher’s unions have spent so much money on salary and tenure fights, and their own survival, to the exclusion of other benefits that would serve teachers more comprehensively.

Click here for a copy of the decision from the Los Angeles Times.

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