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Saturday, July 08, 2017

Effective Communication: Developing Schools

I am often chided for over-communication. Words such as creates tension and overwhelming are used to describe my communication. I've thought a lot about this over time as I write and work to make positive change in schools. I know that good strategy and process related to communication are important when it comes to making positive change.

So as I prepare to begin another school year, I want to think about my communication and how I might speak and share in ways that elicit greater support, listening, and positive development.

Avenues for Idea Share, Discussion and Debate
Currently, in my opinion, the avenues for idea share, discussion and debate in my learning community are outdated. Often information is not shared or shared without good lead time or inclusivity, hence information is often blocked from the greater learning community. This lack of transparency, timely share, and inclusivity, in my opinion, hinders the positive development possible. In many ways, people who share don't recognize the lead time needed to digest, discuss and question new information. Good information share takes into consideration that when new information has time to simmer, there's greater ability to discuss and discern that information with depth.

Though, on the other hand, some will say it's important to "manage the message" which means to think ahead about who should know the information, and what information should be shared. I feel that "managing the message" often leaves some in the know and others outside of this share thus creating in-groups and out-groups when it comes to information, progress and development. This kind of share supports the development of cliques and stands in the way of good community building.

Hence, I'm a fan of inclusive, transparent patterns of timely share, discussion and debate. I believe it's important to share the news of new ideas, ongoing efforts, and analyses of efforts completed. This kind of three-prong share keeps everyone informed, included, and invited into the systemwide efforts.

To advocate for better avenues of share, I will meet with our new superintendent of schools soon to share my ideas. I'll also work with my local union to promote greater, honest information share related to efforts that impact students and teachers. And, I'll ask questions and share ideas as they arise via email and meetings now, and hopefully via a better idea share avenue later if one is is created. Recently I recommended that the system use Twitter as one way to share ideas related to systemwide development and learning.

Effective Meeting and Discussion Protocols
Fortunately our system has embedded the use of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) which means that we have regular time to meet with those we work closest with to teach children well. We have been able to forward many good ideas via this collegial vehicle. I believe that we can better our protocols for PLCs to create greater ability to inclusively and transparently debate and share ideas. Protocols that I believe will lift up our PLCs include the following:
  • Notifying PLC members if you plan to attend a meeting, and what you hope to discuss at that meeting. As it stands now, some infrequent members do let us know that they're coming and what they hope to discuss while others surprise us by showing up unexpectedly with an agenda that we're not prepared for. These surprises often lead to discomfort and less productive meetings.
  • Listing agenda links and information prior to the meeting so that attendees are able to preview data, articles and other information ahead of time thus saving the important collegial time for the discussion.
  • Listening to all points of views rather than following only one individual's ideas or focus.
  • Continuing to take good notes and share the notes from the meeting to all interested colleagues
Full Disclosure of Metrics
Currently only a few have the full picture of the metrics by which our programming is initiated and developed. While I do believe that individual teachers' names should be safeguarded with regard to metric share, I also believe that all metrics without names should be shared so that teachers can compare their student data and information to that of other schools, groups, and classrooms. The ability to fully analyze data helps educators to develop their practice in ways that matter. When data is not fully shared, this creates obstacles to good development and trust. Fortunately the state of Massachusetts openly shares multiple data points with educators and the general public which is helpful.

Inclusive Program Development
As it stands now only a few are involved in program development while many classroom educators are left out of this creative, dynamic process. Many who develop our programs have little or less time working with students, hence the voices of those who work regularly with students, classroom teachers, are often left out of the equation in holistic and meaningful ways. I feel that program development is over-managed thus leaving out the voices of all educators (a few voices are invited in, but the invitation is typically tightly scripted). I believe that program development should be a more inclusive process that respects the voices and choices of all members of the learning community including students, teachers, family members, staff, administrators and community members.

As I learn and think of new ideas, I readily share. My share is rarely responded to with any depth or interest by those that lead me. Instead, I am more frequently chided and demeaned for sharing ideas--ideas which may "cause tension" as one administrator remarked. It's been many years of sharing with little response hence a bit of a gap has been created, a gap that requires a bridge.

So in the days ahead, I'll create that bridge in the following way:
  • Sharing questions and ideas with the new superintendent to see what he suggests in this regard.
  • Working with my local, state, and national union to look for better ways to forward ideas and create more inclusive, transparent communication processes and avenues.
  • Looking for ways to back up my ideas and work with greater analysis and evidence. 
  • Working with others to create more efficient, streamlined threads for idea share, debate and discussion.
Fortunately our union has added two new contractual points to move in this direction. They have added a stipulation that new initiatives are first discussed with an inclusive systemwide team, and that our current evaluation system is reviewed and revised so that it is more efficient, inclusive, and effective. Both of these efforts will develop what we can do to create greater teamwork, transparency and inclusion. 

I look forward to developing communication in ways that matter in the days ahead. I welcome your ideas and thoughts in this regard in the meantime.