The Self-Organizing School: Chapter 3

The prospect of being able to “…come up with new learning, innovations, solutions to problems, and better ways to address…” our schools needs while avoiding the ongoing and sometimes disruptive “top-down intervention” (as cited in Bain, 2007, p. 43) is an exciting one. I don’t have to think too hard to see that the six design principles might influence how I teach. For example, school-level schema seems applicable in the way that I handle the electronic book setup. Learning and using the same strategies as others may be more helpful than the way I’m currently setting up the e-book (it’s the hard way). The same methods are used with most publishers in terms of setting dates, choosing which assignments will be used, and how to highlight and add/delete materials, so I can see this as a valuable principle. Simple rules made me chuckle. I tend to have reasonably complicated rubrics in my classes. In my mind, I’m making things clear, so that students can go step-by-step to complete a writing project. For the most part, this has been true. However, I have gone toward the more complicated to the degree that it may be time to simplify the rules of some assignments. In my class, I reason out that having precise guidelines can also protect my grading from scrutiny (and it has as students don’t question when I take points off – it’s clearly on the syllabus). Unfortunately, the benefits do not outweigh the learning curve. I spend considerable time covering the rubric and addressing some confused looks. I will be rethinking those structures.

Embedded design struck me less on a personal level and more on our department structures. While there are system-wide rules and beliefs, we have different practices (and most importantly beliefs) depending on departments. In my current position, I will be focusing on teaching practices, but I can see where it is highly essential to embed beliefs, incorporate actions, and integrate organizational beliefs into the teaching and learning designs (Bain, 2007, p. 49). The similarity of scale also takes me away from a personal level of change to a departmental issue – that is using “comparable methods and tools as they execute their respective roles” (p. 52). At first glance, the word automaton came to mind, but similarity may increase implementation integrity and help lead to long-term sustainability.

Emergent feedback is of interest to me because I’m transported to sitting in the office listening to my annual evaluation. The evaluation is the only feedback employees get outside of being contacted when a problem occurs. Feedback should be integrated (as Bain explains) in every aspect of the organization. It would be good to talk to ourselves more often outside of evaluations, grade reporting, and others. On a personal level, I will be exploring students helping to set their “…performance goals and engage in regular sharing about their growth toward these goals…” (p. 54). I have never really considered that since I go by the course goals/objectives.

The bottom-up approach in dispersed control speaks to me as the author claims that “…they permit the ready flow of feedback to all levels in the school” (p. 55). That’s an exciting prospect that we (teachers) might be the initiators of communications that flow upward. I imagine the way our network of emails work and how that might look in that particular communication realm. That seems far out of reach when I consider this one. While I realize that this is far more complicated than sending emails – the dispersed control deals with networks and collaboration which can be a complicated process. Email is merely the first thing that came to mind. I think that one change that can occur (independent of a planning process that we don’t have right now) is that teachers can collaborate more and send information up the ladder. It is unlikely that will change the current way things are done but could still be beneficial.

My favorite takeaway from this particular chapter is that “…capturing what works at one level and scaling it up…” (p. 59) may lead to effectively implementing programs/practices at the school level. This assertion gives me hope. Starting smaller usually is easier to manage and to maintain the integrity of implementations. As a future leader, I will keep that thought with me and pull it out when it’s time to begin change.

On a personal note, I got more out of this chapter than I got out of some of the others. Of course, that may be because we were explicitly asked to think about personal changes. I feel like my “ah ha” moment was moments (plural instead of singular). I’d read one of the principles and think – yep, I need to work on that or that I need to know more about it. I touched on that in some of my post above.

Bain, A. (2007). The self-organizing school. Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

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