Your answer to these two questions could change your school forever

Dennis SparksTo what goals would you aspire for your school if you knew you could not fail?

What type of school would you create if you didn’t know what role you would play in that school and you would be in that role forever?

I don’t know where or when I acquired these questions, but I have found over the years that they evoke incredibly important conversations in the school community about purposes and barriers to creating wonderful schools.

The phrase “if you knew you could not fail” in the first question acknowledges that our fear of failure often prevents us from aspiring to do all that is possible.

The second question requires that we put aside self interest to consider the perspectives of others in creating schools that would be wonderful places for everyone who learns and is employed in them. For instance, it asks teachers to consider the characteristics of a school in which they would want to be a principal or a student—forever.

Fear of failure: Leaders address their fear of failure by recognizing that worthy goals and important learning demand that we risk failure. The only alternative is the safety of our comfort zone, which ensures the status quo.

Leaders ask the school community to do the same by inviting it to participate in a deep, honest, and sustained conversation about its aspirations and fears.

Multiple perspectives: It is essential that school communities examine problems and their solutions from multiple perspectives. Such a process requires that the views and experiences of each role group be elicited and fully explored.

Addressing fears and incorporating multiple perspectives enable the creation of schools in which all young people and adults are successful and surrounded by supportive relationships.

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2 Responses to “Your answer to these two questions could change your school forever”


  1. 1 Tom Whitford February 27, 2013 at 7:25 am

    Excellent post Dennis and they are questions that I think I will start to raise with my staff. We appear to be a school stuck in the status quo and I worry that student disengagement is one of our biggest obstacles to overcome. What can we change to get our students back? I have had to many students say they don’t like to read anymore. Scary. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

    • 2 Dennis Sparks February 27, 2013 at 8:20 am

      I appreciate your comment, Tom. You are describing a common and perennial challenge of school leadership. The tension between “good enough” and continuous improvement exists in our personal and professional lives as well as in our individual activities and collective work. I hope these questions stimulate conversation that perturbs the status quo.


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