Buy-In vs. Ownership

Before I begin with the content of this post, I would like to take a second to bring attention to the recent school shooting at Arapahoe High School in Colorado. May God bless that community, and peace to infiltrate everyone affected.  I cringe when I see reporters interviewing students and children after these horrific events (especially the day of).  In my opinion, it feels exploitative and is easier for the media to manipulate stories in sensational ways. I also cringe when I hear media members try and draw comparisons from one school shooting to another.   I would encourage the public, especially educators, to read Columbine by Dave Cullen. This author shatters multiple myths and perceptions about the shooting at Columbine High School, and is one of the only people that was able to interview the principal, the families of victims, the survivors, and the parents of the murderers: even referencing journal entries by these individuals. This book encourages the act of not feeding into media and agency misinformation immediately following an event of this magnitude.

I would also like to advertise my two favorite Oklahoma education blogs.  A View From the Edge by Rob Miller and okeducationtruths, both are incredible educators and advocates for Oklahoma education.  Their blogs encouraged me to create Excellence in Mediocrity. 

And now for today’s post: Buy-In vs. Ownership.  I had to write extensively about the vision-sharing process in one of my graduate classes this semester, so I won’t bore you with a lengthly description. For this post’s sake, I will define vision-sharing as the process that a leader of an organization involves various stakeholders in the: development, communication, implementation, and continual stewardship of the organization’s vision.

My professor provided the class with various articles reinforcing the importance of effective school leadership. One of these articles was authored by, Tony Wagner (2001), and is titled: Leadership for Learning An Action Theory of School Change.  Wagner compares two approaches for implementing a vision: buy-in and ownership.

Buy-in occurs when a stakeholder of a school is asked to adhere and implement the vision and goals that the leader has established.  This strategy diminishes teacher and other stakeholder motivation, because the teachers were never involved in determining what is important for all members of the learning community. If you are a teacher, it is comparable to when we forget to engage students as active learners, and hope that they inherit the love of the subject from us.  It eliminates creativity and motivation, and fosters confusion and resentment.

Contrarily, ownership establishes relationships and fosters commitment to the shared-vision.  Ownership utilizes teacher, parents, administrator, and community members’ expertise. The stakeholders are a part of all phases of the shared-vision: development, communication, implementation, and continual stewardship.  Wagner describes ownership, by allowing stakeholders to “own” the problem and solution, instead of  being, “coerced into buying someone else’s”.

Relating this to Oklahoma’s education landscape, let me first state that I do not know State Superintendent Janet Barresi (JB) personally, so my opinion solely reflects what she has cast upon me as a stakeholder.  I would say that JB is choosing the “buy-in” approach to implement her vision, but I think that this would be a compliment.  It actually feels more like the “visionary leader” is running a dictatorship… it’s her way or no way.

Barresi has had countless opportunities to create ownership in our state.  In a time when our nation’s education system is undergoing monumental change, Oklahoma needs a leader to collaborate with the experts in the field. Instead, we have seen our “leader” belittle and berate the profession, and even degrade higher education professionals that have dedicated their careers to the research of education. JB has never been a classroom teacher, by the way.

I’m not going to cut-down charter schools, because I know some amazing and outstanding educators that are employed by these institutions. However, there is not statistical data that would support that charter schools outperform public schools.  We, as JB’s opposition, will certainly claim that our “leader” wants to privatize our education system and move towards an increase of charter schools. I wanted to learn more about Barresi, so I researched her campaign website: which reinforces her vision to privatize and “charterize” public schools. The bio-page references her participation in establishing a charter school that, “… now serves 350 students and has a waiting list each year”.  JB’s goal is to conduct public education, in the way that she conducted  charter school business.

JB’s biography brags that the charter school that she helped establish, “has a waiting list each year”.  Having a waiting list implies that students are being turned away.  Does it not seem ridiculous that our state’s highest education position, established an organization that turns away students? Being a special education teacher, I have an issue with charter schools, because they reserve the right to reject entrance to students with significant disabilities or students with severe emotional and behavior disorders. All of my current students would have been turned away from these charter schools.

I believe that our public education system is the greatest invention of our society.  Public schools educate all people: not turning away a single student. This is amazing to me. On a daily basis, we educate the poor, the rich, the athletic, the differently-abled, the convicts, the students with medical fragilities, and everyone in between. We educate the student as an individual, and our “leader” is trying to take that away from us.  She is taking this away from us through privatization and the increase in standardized testing: which does not increase the likelihood that a student will become a productive member of society.

JB  told teachers that, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the unions or anyone else in the education establishment lose another generation of Oklahoma’s children”. Well JB, I’m one of that generation’s students, and I’m not lost. I’m actually doing pretty well.

Maybe I was wrong about JB’s ability to develop “ownership” of our education system.  I think that she has created a sense of “ownership” from the stakeholders…but in her opposition.  Ms. Barresi, I would suggest that you “buy-in” to what is best for the students of Oklahoma, because the teachers, parents, administrators, and community members are beginning to create their own “ownership”. Our shared-vision will prove to be in the best interest for Oklahoma’s students.

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3 Responses to Buy-In vs. Ownership

  1. Karen says:

    Impressive. We’ll said.

  2. Cari Manzer says:

    Interestingly enough, at my conference this past weekend, we talked a lot about buy-in… However, I think rather than “buy in” which is or can be temporary, we need “believe in” and ownership in the process along with autonomy. You are doing a service to the community through this blog. Well done!

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