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Two new mental models for schools and their implications for principals' roles, responsibilities and preparation


NASSP Bulletin, 83(611), 8-27. EJ604871
In this article, the author discusses three mental models of school organization and practices: the dominant model, the full-service community school model, and an emergent third model that combines these two. Peter Senge's (1990) concept of a mental model for an organization is used. The author also draws on his experiences from site visits, consultations, direct practice and research literature. A mental model is described as a dominant image so well accepted that it is taken for granted and viewed as normal, natural, and even superior. The dominant mental model for a school is informed by the metaphor of the factory assembly line where well-established professional boundaries and jurisdictions have been instituted and maintained between the schools and other providers of services that contribute to child and family well-being. The author says that today's school change theories and reform mandates reflect and reinforce the dominant model, and although they have merit, they are limited and incomplete for many schools, because they do not meet the needs of educators, children, and parents, nor do they allow principals to solve vexing problems. The second model discussed, the full-service community school model, combines the full service school and its plan for the reform of social and health services, with the community school idea and its plans for family support and community development. In assessing the effectiveness of the full-service community school model, the author discusses issues of sustainability, scale-up, the school's responsibilities, and improved learning and academic achievement, and concludes that there is still uncertainty about whether this should be the way to reorganize schools. The author then introduces a third mental model that integrates elements of the first two, but also transcends them. It is grounded in three related premises: a) schools, children, families and neighborhood communities are interdependent, b) collaboration is needed among schools and other institutions and between school staff, social and health service providers, parents, and youth leaders, and c) principals should invest time, energy and resources in community and family connections because they know they cannot be successful without them, but should choose the connections strategically with an eye toward building supports for children and schools. In this model, this broader concept of education is superimposed on the planning frame for school reform. The school community becomes the unit for reform, not just the school. This third model also brings expanded theories of teaching and learning: it requires teachers and other educators to know how to mobilize and benefit from other kinds of supports for learning and healthful development, including peers, families, service providers and community leaders. The author reviews some of the concrete benefits to schools of improvements launched in the community. Implications for principals, superintendents, professors of educational administration, and policy makers of operating under the second and third models are reviewed. For instance, to be competent in the third model, principals must be prepared in the first two models, but also be competent in collaborative educational leadership, anti-poverty strategies, family-centered practices, and advocacy for special needs students and their families. Finally, the author reiterates the need for pervasive changes in university preparation programs for school principals and superintendents.


copyright 2008 Free To Grow
Free To Grow is a national program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.