Thursday, March 31, 2016

THE Low-Cost Airline

Herb Kelleher was the driving force behind Southwest Airlines back when it was growing from a fringe regional air carrier to the powerhouse that it has become today.  I read once that when one of his employees suggested that they could add a particular service to their operation, he asked,  “How will that help us be THE low-cost airline?”  You see, he insisted that above everything else, Southwest was “THE low-cost airline.”  It worked pretty well for him and for Southwest.

Have you ever read your school’s mission statement?  I’ve read a few in my time.  To be honest, I can’t begin to recite even a part of one that I’ve read.  No doubt, they’re the product of great discussion, full of wonderful ideas and ideals.  But, I think, they may be lacking the singleminded imperative, and thus the driving force, that Herb Kelleher’s mission statement expresses.

What I’m suggesting is that every school, at every level, should have a short, relatively inflexible, mission statement.  It should be so clear that every decision could be evaluated against it and the direction would be clear.  Take a statement like, “Our purpose is to teach every student to be a learner.”  I chose my example because of my recent study of what’s known about learning from the cognitive sciences.  When I ran the idea by a teacher-friend, he said that he liked, “We make every student feel successful.”

With “Our purpose is to teach every student to be a learner…”  as a mission statement, we’d ask of any subject, program, or activity, “…how does it make our students better learners?”  New curriculum, old favorites, and external programs would have to pass the filter of the school’s mission statement.  It might mean that some old favorites would have to be rewritten in such a way that not only content was being taught, but it was being taught in a way that taught learners how to learn as well.  Or, if that wasn’t possible then the old favorite would have to be abandoned, not because it wasn’t in some way a positive for kids, but because it just didn’t fit the mission of the school.

Understand that I’m not saying that schools should rush to embrace “my” mission statement.  What I am saying is that a mission statement should be short and abundantly clear.  All members of the school community should buy in. Then, all members should be willing to make sure that everything that is taught clearly passes the scrutiny of the school’s mission.  Every member should be able to both recite the mission statement, to explain it, and to justify any curriculum within the dictates of that statement.  That would truly change education.

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