Professional Development

Blankstein on Creating a ‘Failure Is Not an Option’ Culture

By Liana Loewus — March 24, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Live from the ASCD Annual Conference in Philadelphia

In a jam-packed post-lunch session, Alan Blankstein, author of Failure Is Not an Option: Six Principles that Guide Student Achievement in High Performing Schools, gave a fun, if hurried, presentation on creating a school culture that breeds successful students. He kicked things off with a true demonstration of what engagement can look like—getting the audience of mostly administrators up and clapping (and even swaying their hips) as he danced down the aisle to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” He went on to explain the importance of using interdisciplinary, multi-modal instruction to keep kids involved. Overall, he said, “I’d rather teachers lose the curriculum than lose the kids.”

Not a bad start.

Blankstein then discussed the conditions necessary for building “a failure is not an option culture.” They are: 1) Teachers pursue a clear, shared purpose for all student learning; 2) teachers engage in collaborative activity to achieve that purpose; and 3) teachers take collective responsibility for all student learning.

That third condition is often the hardest to accomplish, he said. Blankstein, president of the non-profit Hope Foundation, described a situation in which one teacher who struggles with teaching fractions has a teacher across the hall from him who knows this is his weakness. The teacher across the hall listens in, and when her colleague begins teaching fractions, she goes to his room and offers to switch classes with him for that lesson. In this scenario, the students do not miss out on effective instruction even for one lesson. It’s a bit of a stretch, as I see it (do any teachers really know exactly what their colleagues are doing at any one moment?), but it highlights the benefits of an open-door policy and a collaborative rather than competitive culture.

Blankstein also briefly outlined the steps schools can take to get to that open-door policy: Teachers identify the observable indicators of effective instruction, norm the indicators, create their own rubrics for effectively evaluating instruction, and eventually start doing schoolwide learning walks with all that in mind.

Several times throughout the session, Blankstein brought up his own troubled background—including the years he spent in a group home for boys and his ensuing struggles with drugs—presumably to illustrate that good teachers and schools really can turn children’s lives around. “He’s still my favorite,” I heard an attendee remark on the way out the door, to affirmations from those around her. Seems Blankstein makes a compelling case.

(Editors’ Note: Alan Blankstein will be a featured speaker at upcoming Education Week Leadership Forums on Scaling Up Student Success in Jersey City, N.J., and Columbus, Ohio.)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Professional Development Opinion Developing Success Criteria With PD Participants to Engage in Deeper Learning
Success criteria show educators how we believe they will be successful at the end of a lesson. Let's involve them in the process.
5 min read
Professional Development Opinion 4 Essential Elements Needed Right Now to Engage in Leadership Coaching
Leadership coaching is growing, but there are some important elements to consider before anyone engages in a coaching relationship.
6 min read
shutterstock 1586195833
Shutterstock
Professional Development Return of the In-Person Edu-Conference: Elementary Principals' Group to Meet in Chicago
Registration for the organization's first in-person conference since the pandemic started is keeping apace with that of previous years.
4 min read
Abstract blurred image of attendees in seminar room or conference hall and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. new normal life concept.
Pratchaya/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Professional Development Some Kids Had a 'Choppy' K-12 Experience This Year. ISTE Will Explore Solutions
Big themes at this year's online-only ed-tech conference will include acceleration and finding K-12's way in a new, more virtual world.
2 min read
Image of a student working on a computer from home.
iStock/Getty