In Good Boss, Bad Boss, Robert Sutton shares the ideas of one of my heros, David Kelly, the founder and chairman of IDEO.  Dr. Sutton writes as follows:

David [Kelly] sees his job, or the job of any boss, as enabling people to experience dignity and joy as they travel through their workdays [Kelly refers to this as love; Sutton and I call this humanity] and to do work that keeps the lights on… David explains that great bosses work to strike a balance between love and money over time.

Once again, Sutton’s (and Kelly’s in this case) ideas have implications for schools–especially when we substitute academic achievement or testing for money.  An overemphasis on achievement, that sells humanity short, can create schools that look like dehumanizing factories for producing test takers, rather than places of learning, development, and joy.

Since the introduction of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), school leaders across the United States have felt intense pressure to turn their eyes almost exclusively toward achievement and testing. Post-NCLB testing is ubiquitious, and there is more than a little truth to Michael Fullan’s tongue in cheek renaming of NCLB as No Child Left Untested.

Nonetheless, the heightened focus on achievement has had benefits.  Since NCLB, schools are much more concerned with providing professional learning that actually leads to meaningful improvement in teaching and learning.  In many schools today, teams spend more time analyzing data, and many school administrators spend more time observing teachers. Today, educators, in a limited way, know more about how learning and teaching are occurring in their schools.

Unfortunately, test scores don’t tell the whole story.  Focus is important, but focus can be destructive when it becomes tunnel vision.  And tunnel vision is exactly what we have in too many schools today.  Leaders in one district I’ve met with, for example, told me they were only interested in reading and mathematics.  “You’re not even interested in writing?” I asked (not mentioning life skills, music, the arts, science, learning strategies, languages, and all the other learning a school could provide).

No, they said, “We are focussing all of our professional learning exclusively on reading and writing.”

When David Kelly describes the important balance between love and money, he sketches a teeter totter with a heart on one side and a dollar sign on the other, depicting the balancing act that good leaders must enact.  I’ve recreated the sketch below, replacing money with an A+, to symbolize achievement.  In far too many schools today, the scales are tipped, and too little attention is given to the human side of learning.

To get the schools our children deserve, we need to give at least as much attention to humanity as achievement as we do to testing.  This means leaders (superintendents, central office staff, principals and other leaders) need to treat teachers with unmistakable respect, listening more than talking, communicating their faith in their colleagues in school, providing meaningful choices for the professionals in their schools and meaningful professional learning that is delivered respectfully and effectively.

To get the schools we want, teachers similarly need to treat students with unmistakeable respect, listening more than talking, communicating their faith in their students. Teachers also need to create learning experiences that emphasize love as much as learning, and they need to teach children about empathy, equity, and respectful interactions.

Testing won’t go away tomorrow.  Standardized assessment is woven into the fabric of school today.  The best way to do something about testing, however, is not to throw up our hands in frustration, but by fighting for humanity. We can fight for humanity everyday we treat a colleague with respect, every time we create a lesson that makes children smile and want to come back for more.

When a balance between love and learning is realized, students will experience at least as much joy, dignity, and fun at school as they do test prep, drill, and rote memorization. More joy, dignity, and fun in our schools, that’s a fight worth fighting.