The Importance of Mental Models

Map FinalImproving school culture really is a journey. A never ending one. And when setting out on any journey to a place we’ve never been before, the first thing we need is a good map. A good map is not just nice to have. It is essential. That’s exactly what a Mental Model is: a good map. Without a good map you don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know what the destination looks like, you won’t know when you arrive… and you can easily get lost!

Just why are Mental Models so important? Because, like the prisoners in Plato’s cave, very few of us are able to see the world as it actually is. Artists, mystics, poets, do catch glimpses. The rest of us see only shadows… and what our Mental Model of reality allows us to see. In other words, our Mental Models are an internal symbol or representation of our external reality. Like a map. Having the right mental model is like having a map to the cave.

The teachers and principals who most effectively increase the Rigor and Relevance in their schools have learned that the first, and most important, thing they need before beginning their journey is a new Mental Model of what a “good” teacher is. That new model should include a flexible framework to guide their journey, a framework they can use as a map to make decisions while moving forward. That is exactly what ICLE’s Rigor and Relevance Framework® provides.

What teachers and principals often need most is not more initiatives, programs, or tools… but better Mental Models to help them think more strategically about using the tools they already have. Dr. Richard Jones, describes it this way… “A mental model is an internal symbol or representation of external reality. The right mental model is like having a map to a city. Professional development in mental models introduces a framework, gives concrete examples, and encourages patterns of reflective thought and conversations to act consistently in these mental models.”

Creating real change in schools is a fluid process. Just like every student, every school has its own unique DNA. There is no single detailed blueprint to follow for success. However, there most certainly are lessons that can be learned from other schools. Dr. Bill Daggett has worked with schools and districts across the country for over 25 years to share best practices, conduct research, and support school leaders in facilitating changes that lead to measurable improvement… He says with some certainty that, “…changing Mental Models is one of the most important first steps”.

My new book, The Chemistry of Culture introduces The Culture Framework® provides a “Mental Model” that can be used to understand the development of a highly effective culture. This new framework can be used by school leaders as a map to guide reflection on the dynamic process of creating the 3 things needed for building a culture of learning and innovation: Trust, empowerment, and collaboration.

The Chemistry of Culture can be purchased now on Map Finalat: , or you can get a 20% discount direct from the publisher, Rowman and Littlefield at: using promo code RLEGEN19

About Jim Warford

Jim Warford is the author of, The Chemistry of Culture: Strategies You Can Use to Create a Culture of Learning. For 15 years Jim Warford was Senior Advisor and Keynote Speaker for the International Center for Leadership in Education. Jim is an author, speaker, Leadership and Instructional Coach. He was named in March 2003 as Florida’s first Chancellor of K12 Public Schools. He stepped down in September, 2005 to become Executive Director of the Florida Association of School Administrators, representing over 10,000 Florida school leaders. As a Senior Advisor for the International Center for Leadership in Education, he works with states, districts and schools to provide coaching and executive training and support to school leaders and their staffs. As Florida’s Chancellor, he led the creation and state-wide implementation of Florida’s Continuous Improvement Model, FCIM, which resulted in that state’s dramatic gains in student achievement and an 80% reduction in the number low-performing schools. FCIM remains Florida’s required intervention for all low-performing schools. As Superintendent of the Marion County, Florida Public Schools, he first implemented the Continuous Improvement Model district-wide. As a result, school grades went from three “F”, eight “D” and only one “A” school in 1999 to twenty “A”, 16 “B” and no “F” schools in 2003. Under his leadership the high school dropout rate was cut in half. He taught applied technology courses at the high school level for 17 years and created a Computer Graphics/Video Production program that won many national and state awards. He was named Vanguard High School Teacher of the Year three separate times.
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