Ed Johnson of Atlanta is a devotee of the Deming philosophy, which is the opposite of test-and-punish, compete-or-close, no excuses discipline.

He shared an example of Deming in kindergarten.

What?!  Kindergartners learning Deming’s PDSA to solve their “big problem?!”  Ha!
Well now, some kindergarteners have a “big problem” on their hands and it is a problem of their own making, apparently.What is the kindergartners’ big problem?  “Not following directions.”

Imagine that.  Kindergartners not following directions.  Lordy, lord.  The sky must be falling.

In the short video at the link below, watch and listen to kindergartners talk of four categories of causes of their big problem, talk of the four categories having been listed on sticky notes, and talk of each sticky-noted category having been annotated with the why’s of the causes of their big problem.

Then see each kindergartner’s over-time data collection sheet and hear them talk about how they “all worked together” at getting their data “colored in” their individual data charts and understanding what the charts say.

The four categories of causes (stated as positives) giving rise to the kindergartners’ big problem are:

  • I can be respectful
  • I can be safe
  • I can focus
  • I can look like a learner
Kindergarten Students Share About PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) Process(03:44)Fortunately, instead of imposing a KIPP charter school-like “no excuses” environment that would very likely cause the kindergartners to reason and believe THEY ARE THE PROBLEM, and instead of making the kindergartners fearful only to very likely make them adopt a self-protective behavior that rationalizes the problem lies outside themselves, the kindergartners have a servant leader-teacher making it possible for them to learn to own their big problem and to begin learning to learn to cooperate and collaborate to achieve continual improvement with respect to gradually lessening effects the problem spawns.

Who are these kindergartners?

The kindergartners attend Olmstead Elementary School, a public school in the Urbandale Community School District (UCSD), Iowa.

Olmstead Elementary School’s mission is: “Hand in Hand, Reaching Success!”  The mission shows.

It seems UCSD began a Deming-inspired journey of Continual Improvementnearly a decade ago, in 2010.  Certainly, Deming’s PDSA Learning Cycle would be an integral aspect of such a journey.

Notably, the UCSD 2018-2019 Strategic Plan Poster lists “Continual Improvement” and “Systems Approach” as core competencies of the district, along with “Culture of Collaboration.”  These three core competencies are, of course, highly interdependent—that is, any one of the three core competencies is pretty much meaningless without the other two.

Notably still, the mission says nothing about getting children “college and career ready,” starting in kindergarten, for Pete’s sake.  Nothing about becoming “globally competitive.”  Nothing about the school aiming to become “high-performing.”  And it says nothing about competing on the basis of standardized test results.

Want to bet on which children and schools are likely to achieve such outcomes as natural consequences of what they do versus which children and schools are unlikely to achieve such outcomes as explicitly stated pursuits of vision, mission, and goals?

Charleston County School District (CCSD), South Carolina, might take note of UCSD and go visit that district instead of bothering with Atlanta Public Schools, where the leadership promote destroying public education and public schools with school choice and charter schools.  Without question, since 2014, with a top-heavy TFA school board hiring Harvard-trained Meria Carstarphen as Superintendent, Atlanta Public School’s core competencies have come to be purely ideological in nature, including free market-style school privatization, Happy Meal-style school choice, charter schools, a culture of competition, strengthened racial segregation, and “black” schools as practicing sites of behaviorism and Taylorism.

Besides, it appears Charleston County School District also does Deming’s PDSA.  Well, how about that?

It really is not hard to understand why so-called achievement gaps remain greatly intractable.

Poverty?  Yes.  But also what Deming calls “Forces of Destruction.”

An excerpt from Unfolding Leadership:

  • “To me, [Deming’s] forces of destruction have to do with the boundless ways in which the human spirit is denied. On one hand this involves big stuff like racism, sexism, or homophobia. I was rereading Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail (thanks to the Servant Leadershipblog) and was struck by MLK’s description of the loss of “somebodiness” from institutionalized societal inequities.
  • “And on the other hand, there are also less obvious attacks to the human spirit that come in countless if smaller, daily ways. These are largely forces of judgment and criticism, some overt, some frustratingly subtle. I believe the outcome of these attacks, whether subtle or overt, whether small or big, is development within people of a fundamental defensiveness and need for self-protection that limits what they can believe about themselves and respect about others. This defensiveness crushes out awareness, and with it, compassion and connectedness.”
Fortunate for the future of our country, kindergartners attending Urbandale Community Schools District, and similar other public school districts, are learning to not only lead us away from the Forces of Destruction but to dissolve them.Lucky us.

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
Atlanta GA | (404) 505-8176 | edwjohson@aol.com
I say: Show me children not ready for kindergarten and I shall show you kindergarten not ready for children.