Things I Know 96 of 365: We need organization, not organizations

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.

– Peter Drucker

When I was teaching in Florida, we handed out a little booklet to students every year. The cover was light blue and covered with print. Slightly larger than a billfold, the booklets listed all of the social services available to students and their families within the county. Pages and pages of organizations in almost-illegible print.

Every once in a while, I saw the school’s guidance counselors or social workers pull out these little guys to look up a contact for a student.

Never, not ever, did I see a student using the book. By the end of the year, I’m certain few of them knew where their copies were.

For many government and non-profit organizations, this was their only way into the schools.

I was thinking about those booklets last week when someone asked me what I wanted to do with my a degree in ed policy and management.

“I don’t want to work at a non-profit,” I said, “And I definitely don’t want to start a non-profit.”

Everywhere I turn, someone is starting an organization to solve one educational dilemma or another. More often than not, I meet someone who’s starting or going to work for an organization that sounds remarkably similar to another organization someone else has started or gone to work for.

I’ve seen the booklets. We’ve got the organizations.

We don’t need more organizations or government offices. We need to do things better, not more things.

Working at that same school, we partnered with the local Big Brothers, Big Sisters office, recruited community members and set up a “Bigs Training” at the school. Adults interested in mentoring our students came in one night and were trained on mentoring, our school’s culture and filled out paperwork for the required background checks. They were even fingerprinted on site.

We didn’t need to create a new program within the school. We connected with the extant programs and brought them to the school. The school community, the local community and the non-profit community came together within a school.

This is what school should be.

Much of what I admire of Jeffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone has to do with the braiding of resources to better serve the community.

That type of braiding need not take a multi-million dollar influx of cash. We can do this better. We can do this more intelligently.

The odd school intrepid enough to connect these dots should not be the exception. State and local offices should move to simplify the process.

I’m not suggesting they should prescribe what services schools or districts provide. We’ve had quite enough prescription.

Creating pathways, though, that more efficiently connect educators and the children and families they serve to the organizations established to make life better will pay tremendous learning dividends.

In the vast network of public services, each school should function as a hub – connecting families with the assistance they require.

Ninety percent of the children of this country make their way through our public schools. While non-profit offices often struggle to find points of contact with the populations they’re designed to serve, those same populations are compelled to be in school each day.

We don’t need more organizations to serve those in need. We need more organization in how we serve those in need.

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