Dynamic Stability: A Model for Transformative Leadership

John Conwell, Superintendent, Unalaska City School District

With the launch of Alaska’s Education Challenge nearly a year ago, a diverse group of Alaskans took on the daunting task of taking a close look at the current system of public education in Alaska. Focused on five general priorities, Challenge committees are tasked with providing suggestions for transforming Alaska’s public education. Implementation of the Challenge committees’ recommendations will require superintendents and principals to provide innovative and transformative leadership for their districts and schools.

In his recent book, Thank You for Being Late, Thomas L. Friedman writes about the rapid rate of change in technology, the market, and the environment. To manage accelerated change, Friedman advises leaders of organizations to practice dynamic stability. As explained in the book, “dynamic stability” is the concept that an object’s stability is enhanced by momentum. For example, think about how we learn to ride a bicycle. We don’t learn by sitting on a stationary bike. Rather, we learn by having someone run alongside to stabilize the bike, then offering a push and a reminder to pedal fast and steer straight!

During these uncertain and challenging times in public education, policy makers and educational leaders in Alaska may wish to consider applying the principle of dynamic stability to their transformation efforts. While stability increases with momentum, it is also imperative to gauge the level of change being imposed on a system to avoid throwing it out of balance.

Transformative leaders may sometimes be referred to as “turnaround specialists” or “change agents.” Under dire circumstances, these types of leaders may be needed. However, in many schools in Alaska, there are well-established instructional practices in place, being delivered by dedicated and skilled educators who are led by thoughtful and deliberate administrators. These schools will benefit from leaders who promote dynamic momentum with an eye toward enhancing an already stable system.

Promoting and leading transformative change in schools requires leaders with a sense of balance and a feel for how much change is too much. While an educational leader who is satisfied with the status quo risks having students fall farther behind, the leader who plows ahead with implementing the latest and greatest innovations will risk staff burnout and disillusionment. The transformative leader will understand what level of positive change the organization can tolerate without completely derailing the train.

Alaska’s system of public education faces challenges not found in other parts of the country. But we know we cannot allow these unique obstacles to stand in the way of our providing all of Alaska’s children with a world-class education. Our current system is not obsolete; it does, however, require dynamic leadership to create the momentum for maximum stability and success. Alaska has those dynamic leaders. Many are members of ACSA!