Pilot Performance

"In the Crunch!"

Pilot Performance - "In the Crunch" was originally featured in The CEO Refresher and is reprinted with permission.


In times of turbulence, pilots are trained to adjust to potentially damaging situations by adjusting the configuration of their aircraft and their priorities. Managing through turbulence requires reverting to the fundamentals, to ensure the aircraft can withstand the blows and maneuver to clearer skies.

In education, the times are turbulent and an adjustment of priorities is the priority. The No Child Left Behind Act (H.R. 1) ensures a shift of priorities in education to the basics and fundamentals of reading and math. Additionally, a new fundamental has emerged - technology. H.R. 1 delivers an array of new programs, funding, and requirements to ensure technology becomes a fundamental of each student's learning experience. Clearer skies will emerge as every child has the reading, math, and technology skills necessary to successfully navigate their future.

Upon encountering turbulence pilots are advised to revert to VA - the maneuvering speed. This is usually well below cruise speed and is the prescribed limitation for full or abrupt movements to avoid structural damage to the aircraft. At this slower speed the pilot is better assured the ability to withstand the abrupt blows without sustaining damage to the aircraft and to maintain positive control through the temporary but potentially threatening encounter.

The maneuvering speed in education is now a slow and steady climb towards the utilization of effective practices to better enable the delivery of a quality education for students. H.R. 1, with its promise of an increase in flexibility and local control, an increase in flexible use of federal funds, and an increased focus on effective instruction, provides assurance of the ability of education to withstand and deliver positive change amidst the ever turbulent environment in which we live. 

The pilot’s priorities revert to the fundamentals. In any circumstance of disruption, severity, disorientation, or sensory overload, all pilots will likely hear the three words drilled into their brain by their first instructors and reinforced throughout their training - first things first - fly the airplane! The obvious priority is to have positive control over the aircraft, by adjusting to the appropriate maneuvering speed, properly orienting yourself to the circumstance, and maintaining or recovering positive control.

As the educator's priorities revert to the fundamentals of learning, a key component of the No Child Left Behind Act is an emphasis on reading. It's called the Reading First initiative. Recovering positive control over the future of education includes the recovery of practices, based on sound scientific research, that are proven to enhance reading instruction for all children. If children cannot read, they cannot learn to capacity. First things first - Reading First.

The inherent principles of managing turbulence in flight are that of making the necessary adjustments to maintain structural integrity to withstand the blows, and then restoring positive control and positional awareness to chart an alternate course to your destination. And in these difficult and challenging circumstances the pilot reverts to the fundamentals of flying the aircraft first, and then determining the next best course of action.

The call for higher standards and accountability in education also calls for improved teacher quality and preparation to better manage the turbulence of our changing environment. The refocused priorities of H.R. 1 calls for greater teacher support of concerns and issues such as classroom discipline, freedom from frivolous lawsuits, choice in staff development, and classroom size.  H.R. 1 addresses these, as well as other issues, to restore positive control and positional awareness to chart the course to higher performance where it counts - in the classroom. “Perhaps the single most important factor in how much a child learns at school is the presence or absence of a good teacher.” - William J. Bennett, “A Few Lessons Public Schools Need to Learn,” May 15, 2001.

A turbulent environment for business demands a similar set of adjustment by the CEO as the pilot-in-command. In Managing In Turbulent Times Peter Drucker advises that “an enterprise has to be managed both to withstand sudden blows and to avail itself of sudden expected opportunities. This means that in turbulent times the fundamentals have to be managed, and managed well.”

A key fundamental according to Drucker, is managing for liquidity and financial strength. “In turbulent times, the balance sheet becomes more important than the profit and loss statement.” The minimum liquidity needed to stay in business becomes something like the maneuvering speed to avoid severe structural damage.

“Concern for sales and market position, innovation and earnings, has to be balanced with concern for financial strength, solvency, and liquidity. Liquidity by itself is not an objective. But in turbulent times it becomes ... a survival need.” In turbulent times the priority is structural integrity and survival.

A turbulent environment for the business of education demands a similar set of adjustment by the Chief Learning Officer, the administrator, as the pilot-in-command. In promising change in education, management of the process is through accountability. "...in turbulent times the fundamentals have to be managed, and managed well." In the accountability model, the school report card becomes the 'balance sheet.' The 'profit and loss statement' indicates strengths and weaknesses of a school's progress towards reaching the overall goals of the model. We deal in futures, and in turbulent times the priority for survival is measurable growth - better defined as student achievement! 

In turbulence it is critical to have the fundamentals handled exceptionally well - and when in doubt, or suffering severe blows, disorientation or sensory overload - fly the airplane first and foremost! This most definitely means dealing intensely - with complete attention and awareness - on the fundamentals for survival. It also implies suspending or deferring attention from the host of other activities until a sense of positive control and positional awareness are re-established.

Fly the airplane first and foremost! At the school level, this most definitely means dealing intensely - with complete attention and awareness - on the fundamentals of reading, math, and technology for survival. It also implies suspending or deferring attention from the host of other activities until a sense of positive control and positional awareness are re-established. 

"Our education system is a fundamental component to guaranteeing the long-term competitiveness of the American economy." --John Boehner

Henry K. and Bettina


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