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Tuesday, August 17, 2010 - Problems with the commons? Use Lean to solve them
Dr. Shannon Flumerfelt, associate professor of Educational Leadership and director of Lean Thinking for Schools

On June 2, 2010, the results of the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and mathematics, as well as history, social studies, science and technical subjects were unveiled with the goal of preparing students for careers and college against international benchmarks. This state-led initiative was coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers and required involvement by many organizations and educational stakeholders.

The standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but do include, for example, instructional delivery system design based on interdisciplinary responsibility for literacy and media and assessment/evaluation approaches conducive to differentiation by developmental needs of students. Each subject/competency area in the standards has a unique approach to content progression as well as scope and sequence, varying from increasing levels of content mastery to thematic arrangements to spiraled curricula. In fact, the curriculum initiative is designated as a platform for standard-based instruction to drive school reform to better prepare students for success.

As a large majority of states have adopted these measures rapidly over the past two months, it is clear that the Common Core State Standards will require considerable effort from most districts on several fronts for implementation. As educational leaders are formulating their responses to these new standards, many are determining the extent of their ‘problems with the commons.’ Concerns about the high degree of academic rigor of the standards, the aggressive achievement levels required of students, the inadequate preparedness of teachers, and increased accountability for administrators are voiced.

If your district has or anticipates having ‘problems with the commons,’ then Lean thinking can help by providing tools for better problem solving and by driving thinking to higher levels of possibility. Instead of panicking that the curriculum is not aligned to the standards and scrambling to implement alignment first, Lean approaches are somewhat different. For example, instead of cutting the budget in one area in order to hire more instructional coaches so that the curriculum can be realigned as quickly as possible, Lean thinking first determines what problem actually needs to be solved by root cause analysis.

So, let’s say you know that your mathematics curriculum is misaligned against the Common Core State Standards; Lean applications require as a first step, an initial debriefing on why the curriculum is misaligned in the first place. This is important because if you can figure out from a process perspective how the curriculum became misaligned, then you can correct the source of the problem rather than working around it continuously while trying to implement the newly realigned curriculum.

A common Lean tool called the A3 and a newer tool called the CX, are two instruments that can accomplish what is needed. And once you understand the source of the problem on a deep level, then, as the core issue is addressed, you can better determine if you actually do need those instructional coaches for realignment and get that job done in a more informed manner. Lean approaches give you the ability to address two dysfunctions at once: the immediate project problem of realigning curriculum and the more complex process problem of maintaining a rigorous and relevant curriculum.

So, if you have any ‘problems with the commons,’ use Lean to navigate change to greater possibility. The Pawley Lean Institute has equipped school administrators with Lean thinking and tools to foster better uses of district resources, to nurture collective efficacy, and to promote common methods for solving problems. If you are interested in discussing your Lean leadership learning needs, contact Dr. Shannon Flumerfelt at