Motion Leadership: SVUSD becomes change savvy
“Motion Leadership, the Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy,” is a slim, engaging book by Michael Fullan, published in 2010. Louann Carlomagno, superintendent of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD), gave copies to her district office leadership team, and to the board of trustees, and urged them to read it. If you are fascinated by government and believe that all politics is local (per Ben Franklin and Tip O’Neill), this book provides a glimpse at SVUSD’s evolving leadership style.
“Skinny” is explained in the book as a term coming from a World War II commander who needed the essential picture – and in a hurry. He said, “Just give me the skinny.” In Motion Leadership, “skinny” becomes the briefest list of essentials possible. Consider page 16: “The skinny is about ‘simplexity’ – finding the smallest number of high-leverage, easy-to-understand actions that unleash stunningly powerful consequences.”
Carlomagno has continually voiced the district list of essentials “for all” since she took the reins:
• Pre-school (or Jump Start, for now) for all.
• Third graders reading at grade level.
• Fluent English language learners by the end of grade five.
• Ready-for-College Prep Classes by grade nine (which includes the successful completion of algebra)
• Successful completion of college and career-ready requirements by grade twelve. We have A-to-G requirements in place and we are working on the career-ready requirements this year.
This collection of what Motion Leadership calls a “very small number of gems,” represents SVUSD’s five-year plan, as presented at the Sept. 13 board meeting by Curriculum Director Lynn Fitzpatrick.
Motion Leadership states, “The size and prettiness of the plan is inversely related to the quality of action and impact on student learning. … Focus on the right priorities, attend to relationships – but get to action sooner, and treat it as a learning period.” This is in a section explaining “ready, fire, aim” – the Motion idea that it is most helpful to start, evaluate, adopt widely what is working, stop what isn’t working, evaluate, repeat.
Author Fullan offers historical events as snapshots of Motion Leadership. At the turn of the 19th century, explorer Ernest Shackleton found his South Pole expedition doomed as ice destroyed his ship, leaving 29 men with few supplies, stranded. But with “passion, love and care for his people, empathy, problem solving, perseverance, transparency, and clear and realistic communication,” Shackleton was able to motivate and save the entire party.
Jonathan Jansen became the first black person to oversee the University of Pretoria (40,000 students and 2,000 staff) as South Africa transformed following the election of Nelson Mandela as president. In “Motion Leadership,” Jansen describes his version of skinny. We must, he says, reorganize the politics of emotions that energize behaviors. The change strategy, he insists, cannot create victims, the problem must be named and confronted, and leaders must exemplify the expected standards of behavior.
This book writes of simplexity – insight on the other side of complexity. How does an enterprise take on a daunting set of conditions – with hundreds of critical and necessary responses – and move forward with confidence? That is moving through complexity to the actionable “small number of gems.” SVUSD now focuses on monitoring them, offering targeted interventions, growing into best-first instruction, and enabling articulation through collaboration.
The school district has the leaders, teachers and community necessary to succeed at Motion Leadership. Keep in mind that this is a mission measured in five- and 10-year increments. As Jim Harbaugh is to the 49ers, so is Carlomagno to SVUSD. Sonoma is fortunate to have her. She models “Motion Leadership” in keeping with the book’s statement that, “When a lot of leaders do this simultaneously and they cultivate it in others, it becomes a revolution.”
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Gary De Smet is a trustee on the Sonoma Valley Unified School District board.