Sunday, August 17, 2014

Part 1: Why before How and What

I recently completed serving as a facilitator of a multi-day workshop intending to support the implementation of a district initiative. I had the good fortune to work with a group of highly-motivated, exceptional school administrators whose ability to collaborate is clearly a strength. In this entry and the next, I will document the process we followed to identify a strong set of outcomes extremely likely to create a successful rollout by securing a strong focus, commitment, capacity-building, and monitoring system.

Last spring, the administrative team identified a research-based program, Caring Schools Community© (CSC), to implement at grades K-6 in the fall. A recent review of the district’s history identified at least three past K-6 programs that began in a similar manner that included district expectations for principals and teachers. Sadly, these efforts faded without ever knowing the amount of teachers utilizing the program’s resources or impact of the effort. In these cases, implementation began with a “what we are going to do”. Yet this approach failed to generate enthusiasm and staying power. Adding to the mix, each time the district invested significant financial and time resources, and the plans called for the same with CSC. 

While efforts to improve how students interacted with each other have always garnered support, the need to significantly impact student behavior has never been greater. With harassment and bullying on the forefront of the public’s mind for numerous reasons including increased internet access, school districts are tasked with getting this right. It is no longer acceptable to act from the mindset that “boys will be boys, and girls will be girls.” A research-based program with two ½ day trainings, CSC needed a strong implementation plan in order to influence classroom instruction and student behavior. I realized that something different needed to be done for CSC to have an impact and not end up on the “this too will pass” pile.

Simon Sinek (2010) laid out a simple plan for gaining support by first focusing on 'why' by asking for your beliefs, your purpose. Begin by answering 'why' rather than 'what'.  So the admin team temporarily put aside the ‘what’ (CSC) and looked at the ‘why’. And what they found was remarkable!

Conversations among the team led to the surfacing of the belief that by respecting and valuing differences, the feeling tone at a school, or school culture, would improve. The team shared its belief that school needs to have a safe and supportive setting. So despite already having selected the ‘what’, the team reflected on the ‘why’. In other words, the problem involved improving school culture. We now needed a bridge from the belief to the action.

That passage involved identifying how we would accomplish this. Further discussions grappled with a common challenge, surfacing strategies that could serve as indicators of success.  During this time, the team recalled the long-standing focus, school attendance, to help them to formulate the operational problem- students were missing too much class time due to behaviors that occur outside the classroom. So with dialogue and debate, the team established that it wanted to reduce lost instructional time due to harassment and bullying and in so doing this would indicate improvements in school culture. That was a remarkable awareness and something that would not have become apparent without describing the problem and focusing on beliefs.

Next up: How the team went from ‘identifying the problem’ and ‘how to address it’ to ‘what it will do’.

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