VUCA and Educational Leaders

VUCAThis school year I am participating in the Pennsylvania chapter of the Education Policy Fellowship Program. We meet monthly as a group and hear from informative speakers on issues related to education policy. In October, we spent a day at the US Army War College in Carlisle, PA. It was a fascinating day hearing about leadership  from the perspective of those in the military. In one of the presentations on preparing strategic leaders, we were introduced to an acronym, VUCA, to describe the challenging environment we live and work in:

  • Volatility – We live in a world of rapid change driven by an overwhelming volume of information.
  • Uncertainty – Our environments are characterized by our inability to know everything for certain, making it difficult to predict outcomes.
  • Complexity – Multiple parts/components of a problem make it difficult to understand.
  • Ambiguity – Different interpretations of events are further blurred by cultural differences and diversity of thought.

As educational leaders we are operating in a similar environment to those working in the military. What is our changing landscape, our VUCA? Teaching. Learning. Governance. Policy. Funding. Leadership. Careers. Technology. And on, and on. As strategic leaders, how do we buffer the effects of the changing landscape on our principals, teachers, students, parents and community? How do we make the space for innovations to happen in a VUCA environment?

I find myself asking these questions in my role as assistant superintendent and one of the people managing the seemingly endless array of policy mandates from PDE: educator effectiveness (including teachers, principals and specialists), PA Core implementation and new testing, new graduation requirements including remediation and alternative assessments such as the yet unveiled Project-Based Assessment. And anything else they push down the pipe. I find most of these initiatives needlessly complex (…this is how we evaluate educators in Pennsylvania…), thoughtlessly implemented, and a huge distraction from the conversations and work we ought to be doing in our schools and districts.

As I’m learning more about how the policy bureaucracy operates, I struggle with putting my energy into (1) working to change the bureaucracy or (2) finding ways to minimize the negative impact at the local level. Either way, it seems to be a lose-lose. How do we as educational leaders turn this from an either-or into a win-win, managing the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the current environment?



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