Even the best organizations can suffer from ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). In his 2001 book, Good to Great, Jim Collins uses an analogy that illustrates how organizations succeed and fail based on what they focus on. He calls this phenomenon the Flywheel and the Doom Loop. He paints a vivid picture of pushing a massive metal disc weighing 2,000 pounds. With effort, there is eventually a point where the flywheel gets easier to push, a breakthrough period where the momentum kicks in.
Collins connects this analogy to organizations that succeed after a cohesive effort focused on growth. It comes with consistency and a commitment to clearly defined principles and goals. The “Doom Loop” is what happens when the organization is tempted to change direction. Picture trying to change the direction of the 2,000-pound flywheel. Progress must slow down for the turn to begin or the wheel will fall over. Momentum is lost and, in many cases, organizations stall.
This is the current state of many school systems across the United States. Two and a half years after the signing of ESSA, we continue to wait for its impact at the local level. The flywheel is stalled. In the meantime, states are developing new rating systems and local school systems are rolling out their plans to meet the new guidelines. It is a huge responsibility.
One of the by-products of modern school reform is that the number of people with their “hands in the pot” has increased. This creates challenges that reach directly to the classroom level. School districts, in their attempt to meet the needs of all children, are all over the place with their initiatives. Organizational ADD leads to school districts doing many things to support students, but none of them particularly well.
Schools must support students through holistic approaches, but their focus and efforts should be their choice. Our role as administrators should be to make sure that the “toolbox” that teachers use is filled with every tool they need to help students. Once we’ve done that, teachers should be empowered to use those tools at their discretion. We must stop micro-managing our schools and our teachers. If we get stuck in the “doom loop,” it is the students who will be run over by the flywheel.