President’s Corner

When Good Isn’t Good Enough

by John R. Lawrence, president, AASA

On most, if not all days, I am asked the question, "Read any good books lately?" It is something often asked of educators. I rather like the question. It takes my mind away from the more pressing concerns confronting our nation and profession.

The problem is that like many of you, I don't seem to find the time to do nearly as much professional reading as I want. Moreover, when I do find the time to read, it always falls at the end of a long day and after a few pages … well, you know the sleepy conclusion.

I am a long way from being a book reviewer, but if you asked me today about the last good book I've read I have a ready answer. The book is Good to Great by Jim Collins, a consultant in corporate learning. Given to me by a friend, the book sports a bright red jacket, but more striking are the lessons of its content and the messages within for school system leaders.

Good to Great is actually written from a corporate perspective. In fact I doubt the author meant for the tenets of his work to be applied in our nation's public schools. There are exactly 300 pages in Good to Great, but the writer captured my interest in the opening six-word sentence. It stated simply, "Good is the enemy of great." The rest of that page and the following 299 delivered compelling case studies depicting distinctive leader styles credited with elevating good private-sector companies to the microscopic list of truly great ones.

In America thousands of consummate educators tirelessly work to create great schools. They know that good is the enemy of great because they live the mantra every day. They are caring paraprofessionals, passionate teachers and visionary administrators. These exemplary professionals could write a best seller on what constitutes great schools, but they don't have the time. They are too busy helping children.

However, if time would allow us to ask our nation's best educators to share the bullet points of their wisdom, the items below might reflect at least some of their thinking on the differences between good schools and great ones. They might tell us that:

* Conscientious educators who view public education as a noble career staff good schools. Conscientious educators who view their engagement in public education as a calling staff great schools.

* Good schools make good decisions for children by thinking of each one as our school’s child. Great schools make great decisions for children by thinking of each one as our own child.

* People who work with children to the full extent of their hands and their heads characterize good schools. People who work with children to the full extent of their hands, their heads, their hearts and their souls characterize great schools.

Clearly the current landscape of public education makes the transformation of schools from good to great more formidable than ever before. States across the nation are reducing public school funding. The No Child Left Behind Act represents a demanding federal presence, and poverty still grips many schools in America. To ignore the extent to which these additional challenges retard the pursuit of great schools would be Polyannish. However, to meet today's external mandates will take most of what we have. To soar beyond them will take even more.

The quest to create great schools always will rest on the moral consciousness of great educators. At least now we know the enemy—and it is good.

John Lawrence is president of AASA.