A School Review Process Illustrates the Chaordic Stepping Stones in Action

stepping-stonesThe chaordic stepping stones provide a powerful planning framework for small initiatives and for large comprehensive projects but there is very little that has been written about them to illustrate how they work together. Jerry and I use them explicitly and implicitly in our work. I was recently  involved with a school review process for the Halifax School Board that provides a lovely simple example to demonstrate the chaordic stepping stones at work.

The stepping stones are: need, purpose, principles, people, concept, limiting beliefs, structure, act/practice and harvest. We often describe purpose as the invisible leader and describe this process as being front-end loaded as it can take a bit of time and conversation to get to clarity.

In 2016, the Halifax School Board changed its approach to community consultation for school review processes. Shape Shift Strategies Inc. provided hosting support for the first completed review process, called historic by a member of the school board, using a new approach.

Need

Need is the compelling reason for doing anything. Sensing the need is the first step to designing a meeting, organizational structure or change initiative that is relevant to the people and organizations involved.

In this example, in the previous 18 months, a boundary review had been completed for Eastern Passage and the neighbouring school district and a decision had been made to build a new high school for the Eastern Passage Family of Schools. When the new high school is built it will be configured for grades 9-12, removing the grade 9’s from one of the existing schools. There are four affected schools in the Eastern Passage area with varying degrees of utilization of the buildings, from greatly underutilized to having a portable classroom due to over utilization.

There was a need to look at utilization of the schools and grade configurations to look for more optimal usage across the schools.

Purpose

Purpose flows from need and guides the way for the best possible work to be done. Achieving clarity on purpose can at times be challenging but well worth it and, from any need, multiple purposes could flow.

In this case, a School Options Committee (SOC) was appointed by the School Board and the purpose of its work was to design a process for community input into the decision making process around grade configurations and school utilization, to identify options for consideration by the community and to offer a recommendation to the school board.

Principles

The SOC operated with several principles. Some of them were with respect to the operation of the committee and some were to guide decision making.

Two of the principles: operate with shared responsibility and shared leadership. Among other things, it meant that the SOC did not appoint or nominate a chair of the committee. It also meant that every member of the SOC who wanted to would be part of presenting and hosting at each of the community engagement sessions. This carried right through to presenting the final recommendation to the school board.  Although we were informed that one person could present to the school board, as one member of the committee said, “We don’t roll that way.”

There were also a number of principles that guided decision making for the recommendation. There were two that were primary. They were: more optimal usage of each of the affected schools and minimal disruption to students and the community. There were some options considered – like creating a French only school and making each school a Primary to Grade 5 school that could provide good utilization of buildings but would have caused disruption across the community. The final decision involved a boundary change that directly affected only 30 families.

Another principle that guided decision making is that the process would be informed by data and by knowledge available through school board resources.

People

“If it is about us, don’t do it without us.”

IMG_2995There were a number of different groupings of people the SOC needed to be mindful about including in the process. It started with the SOC itself being representative of the four schools under review. Parents, students, staff of the schools were all invited to be part of the process. The SOC used a variety of means to try to ensure that the community was aware of the process and had an opportunity to contribute, whether it was in the community consultations or through email or social media.

Children were welcome, a principle not widely known for the first consultation and so a few parents stayed home. When they were encouraged to come and bring their children with them, they did.

Concept

The higher level concept for the review was a process that had been decided in a province wide policy. There would be a community process and it would include three engagement sessions. The first was to inform the public about the new process. The second was to offer options and the third was to present a recommendation. The structure of those community gatherings was not predetermined, nor was the format for the SOC meetings.

Limiting Beliefs

There were an interesting array of limiting beliefs that showed up throughout the process, often both in the committee and the community. A few of them were:

  • A belief or concern that the school board actually had it all figured out and had already made a decision
  • The sentiment that one of the four schools was the best one.
  • Additionally, this “best” school houses the French Immersion program and there was a belief that out of area parents sent their kids to French Immersion so they could be in that school

Structure

Once the concept has been chosen, it is time to create the structure that will channel resources. It is in these conversations that decisions about the resources of the group: time, money, energy, commitment and attention are made.

The design for each of the community consultations was different. The first one used a world café format to introduce the process and ask parents what was working that they wanted to see continued in the schools and anything else they wanted the SOC to consider as options were being discussed. The second community meeting used a modified form of open space technology as each of the options were set up as an “options station” and parents could visit each of the options and provide their thoughts and questions. The final one took the form of a presentation and then a “round robin” conversation, ensuring that the variety of perspectives in the room could be heard.

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Act/Practice

The ongoing practice within the structures agreed upon and designed is important. This is the world of to do lists, conference calls and e-mail exchanges. The invitation here is to practice working with one another in alignment with the designs created.

The SOC had regular meetings usually intended to last two hours. Notes were taken, community consultation designs were created and many hours were consumed in becoming informed about decision making criteria, data and other things relevant to make data informed sound decisions about school configurations. The SOC also had a check-in and check-out practice for each of its meetings.

Harvest

Harvesting is about making meaning of the work, telling the story and feeding forward the results so that they have the desired or intended impacts in the world.

It was decided early on that graphic facilitation would be part of the overall harvest and Susan MacLeod did an awe inspiring job of this. The graphic facilitation work was included in each report as well as used as part of a slide presentation bridging community consultation 1 and 2.

Reports were created for each community consultation. Short evaluations were completed, compiled and shared for each community consultation. Meeting notes were posted for the committee but also for the school board and community to view. A final recommendation was completed as well. These are all forms of harvesting used throughout this process.

Iterative Process

Working with the chaordic stepping stones provides an iterative planning framework and process that has participants continuing to check back with each of the stepping stones as plans and implementation emerges and changes. Are we still working to need and purpose? Do we have all the right people given where we are in our process? Are there new limiting beliefs that have emerged? Does our design still work? How do we continue to make meaning of our experiences? Has the need changed now that we have been doing some of the work? Are our principles holding strong?

Where are you in your process?

Risky and Courageous – Stepping Into Community Engagement Differently

It is a risky and courageous thing to step out of a usual way of doing things to engage others, engage community, differently and this is exactly what the Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB) is doing as it embraces a new school review process. I had the pleasure of being the facilitator for the Eastern Passage School Options Committee (SOC), with the support of Susan MacLeod with graphic facilitation, in what HRSB Board members and the Metro News called “an historic first recommendation under the new school review process”. (There is another process ongoing at this time for Citadel High.)

Metro News – School review suggests reconfigured grades in Eastern Passage _ Metro News

The whole experience has been a beautiful example of the classic dynamic tension that emerges when an organization or group makes a decision to move to more collaborative, engaging processes from more traditional, top-down driven processes where there has often been little room for strong collaboration to emerge or community voice to truly be heard.

The biggest question, the biggest learning is around what does leadership look like now? The biggest unknown is how much guidance, support and structure to provide so the process and the committee is well supported and has expertise and data to draw on when it comes to making evidence based decisions and how far to back off to let the SOC do its work?

As our friends at the New Jersey Education Association say, we are leading through learning and learning our way into new process, new relationship and new ways of engaging.

The SOC was mandated with reviewing four schools in Eastern Passage – one junior high school and three elementary schools – to look at grade configurations and school usage. This review became necessary because of previous reviews that recommended a new high school be built in the area with boundary changes to support that development. The new high school will take Grades 9-12, removing the Grade 9s from the junior high, resulting in an underused school and an opportunity.

It was clear that HRSB was committed to acting differently. Staff came to SOC meetings and community conversations when invited. Even the first meeting was different. Well, the very first one was just the SOC. Meeting each other in a new way, reviewing the mandate and beginning to imagine what engagement could look like.

When HRSB staff were invited, it was a meeting of curious equals. Where are we, where do we want to go, how will we get there? HRSB staff answered questions (lots of them), and shared knowledge and expertise that was critical to decision making about optimal school utilization. They provided excellent behind the scenes support on many different needs – publicity and meeting space being two. And they stepped back to leave the decision making process in the hands of the committee. The committee stepped up.

There were three community conversations. Your Voice Matters was the theme. Before, in between and after, the SOC met to design process, plan meetings, review data, provide options and ultimately a recommendation. The purpose of the first community conversation was to present the process and ask community members what they wanted to see included and considered in the process. A world café process was utilized. The second community conversation presented several options and utilized a modified open space format. A recommendation was presented at the third community conversation, which used a full group conversation process that invited the spectrum of opinions and perspectives that existed in the room.

March 9-2016 Meeting Summary                                                                                   April 20-2016 Review Process and Meeting Summary                                                  May 24-2016 Community Conversation #3 Meeting Summary

The SOC realized early on that the decision they needed to make would be influenced by a number of factors outside of their control – projected enrolment numbers, English, early and late French Immersion programming considerations and the number of classrooms available in each school. And they operated with a set of principles, two of which were predominate in the discussions: more optimal and balanced use of the school facilities and minimal disruption to students and the community.

SOC Presenting

Members of the SOC presenting options

The SOC was also as transparent as possible, posting SOC meeting notes, Community Conversation reports and evaluation results and other information on the HRSB website. Members of the SOC felt the responsibility of making the best decision possible on behalf of the community, recognizing that not everyone would be satisfied with the final decision. The second and third community conversation reports included an FAQ section addressing the most common questions and concerned raised by community members.

The SOC also operated clearly with shared leadership and shared responsibility. Each member of the committee played a role in hosting the community conversations and in presenting the final recommendation to the HRSB board. On more than one occasion, there was a tremble in someone’s voice or tears in their eyes, demonstrating the passion they carried for this work and their decisions. A passion which caused them to review data on more than one occasion, be as responsive as they knew how to the questions and concerns of community members and to be fully conversant and committed, as a team, to the final recommendation put forth.

SOC Recommendation to HRSB 2016

HRSB Recommendation GraphicAll of this was recognized, acknowledged and affirmed by the response of the school board members. For sure there were questions – good questions – and even more there was a strong validation for the SOC of the many hours and clear commitment they put into a recommendation created by and for community.

Very proud of this mighty group of committed volunteers. And it was an honour to be part of a long established organization stepping into a new pattern of community engagement.

Chaos, Order and Control are Worldviews at Play In Mergers and Acquisitions

More and more our Art of Hosting, strategic planning, team development and community engagement work is worldview informed and it makes all our work stronger, more impactful and lasting. This post is about the work Jerry Nagel and I are doing with a US based health care organization that is growing through mergers and acquisitions. As they are creating standardized systems across the enterprise they are, not surprisingly, bumping into a few challenges along the way. Worldview Intelligence has given them some insight about the challenges and how to strategize their communication and relationships differently.

Worldview Intelligence

(This post was inspired by generative conversations between Jerry Nagel and Kathy Jourdain as we think (often) about our Worldview work, our Art of Hosting back ground and our clients.)

Mergers and acquisitions are known to have a high failure rate – anywhere from 50% to 83% or even 90% depending on which report you read. A 2010 McKinsey and Co. report indicates more attention needs to be paid to culture and that better leadership is needed in the integration of cultures. A 2015 Europe Business Review article notes that trying to bring large groups of people together under one mission is hard enough. The complexity ramps up when there are multiple branch offices, especially when working across borders with different systems that are already in place in different locations. This is where the structured approach of Worldview Intelligence opens up the exploration of what could work best as those

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What If Schools Are Communities That Learn?

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What if schools are communities that learn and not just places where content is delivered to students? What if school systems could truly draw on the wealth of wisdom and intelligence it has access to through all its students and staff as collaborators? What if we didn’t just use the word collaboration but lived it till it meets its full potential?

This is an inquiry Mike Ritzius and Rich Wilson have been in, not just recently with the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), but in one form or another over the course of their varied careers.

Attending an Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter training in Minnesota in March 2015 not only helped them, each in their own way, make sense of bits and pieces of practices and fragments of things that had shown up over time, but also gave them more options and greater vision for what is possible.

Rich Wilson

Rich Wilson, Associate Director of Professional Development, NJEA

Rich says he has been practicing “advocacy” for 30 years. “For twelve of those years,” he shared, “I lived in an impoverished community and became involved in community organizing around education issues, working with college students and volunteer tutors. This eventually took me into the political sphere supporting community leaders as they moved into political office.”

“For the last 15 years I’ve been working with the LGBT community to create safe spaces for students and teachers.”  Rich is now Associate Director of Professional Development at NJEA and in the last couple of years has been focused on teacher evaluation, a topic with many points of view, some of them divisive. He works in partnership with Mike , which is how he became aware of EdCamp, a derivative of Open Space Technology.  He and Mike had been monitoring the AoH website looking for opportunities for a training when they saw the Minnesota offering. He took it to his Director who said, “I’m not sure the organization is ready for this but trust you enough that if you think it is valuable you should go.”

Mike Ritzius

Mike Ritzius, Associate Director of Professional Development at NJEA

Mike’s journey into education came from a very different background. He said, “I’ve backed my way into every chapter of my life. I am a molecular biologist.  The lab I worked for had to do some teaching in mid-school and I got tasked with it. Turns out, I liked teaching better than research.”  He certified as a teacher in 2000 and started working with students with special needs. “It was different for me. I was frustrated with the way teaching happened, so I ran for my local office and won.” That began a change-making journey.

Mike encountered Open Space Technology at a technical conference called Bar Camp and fell in love with it. From there, Ed Camp was created. The first event was in Philadelphia with 100 people. It is now 500,000 strong across the globe. The Bill Gates Foundation gave $2 million to the charitable foundation that runs Ed Camp.

Two years ago, Mike took on the position of associate director. His focus was on professional learning as well as teacher evaluation. “I loved Ed Camp and it was hard for me to reconcile how it, or processes like it, would be useful in the classroom,” he said.

During our interview for this post, Rich and Mike gave quite a few examples of where and how, internally and externally, Art of Hosting patterns, practices and methods have been used and they will be the subject of a couple more posts. They include experiencing the Chaordic Stepping Stones for planning for the Division, bringing World Café and Open Space to a meeting of Union Executives in the District Office, using Levels of Listening and Talking (from Theory U), offering engagement processes for a group of teachers and parents known as HOPE (Helping Out Public Education) to use across the State, for mobilization in the 2016 election and on the controversial topic of evaluation.

Philly Invitation headerAnd it has inspired both of them to be on the calling team for an Art of Hosting offering in Philadelphia in February 2016 called The Art of Collaborative Leadership: Leading Together in Complex Times. The calling question is: How could conversations of possibility shift your work? This is a question they have seen manifest in remarkable ways in their work.

What surprised them the most since bringing more collaborative and engagement practices their work?

For Rich it is, “How quickly other people have embraced the processes. Four more people went to a different AoH training. Others have done their homework and come to talk to us. I am surprised at people’s creativity, where they are using the practices, the questions people are asking, the interest that has been sparked. The ‘coalition of the willing’ keeps growing. It is affirming.”

And Mike came to the question from a different perspective. “The effect it has had on me. I look at things from a very different perspective now and it’s evolving fast. I am more intentional with the way I say and do things and in analyzing my own actions.”

What’s the hardest part? “Trusting the process and not second guessing things,” Rich reflected.  “Fortunately, having experienced the training together, Mike and I support each other in bringing new processes.  I am not feeling that I have to control every little thing.  What needs to happen is what is going to happen.”

“I agree with Rich,” said Mike. “We work with not bringing an agenda every time – to bring process rather than content. This is tough when you are employed as the expert and people want us to show up and tell them what to do rather than engage their own wisdom and knowledge.”

What is their greatest hope arising from their experience with these patterns and practices?

“I’d like to see a few more people feel like they have more voice,” said Mike. “To know they can contribute, bring their ideas forward and build a better community together. Schools are communities, not just about content delivery and it would be great to get away from the notion of ‘hero educators’. All voices have value and are valued.”

Rich agreed. “All people in schools count. This could be the beginning of an examination of what schools should be and they should work. If we get more people beginning to talk about it, we can leverage it into change. Where we don’t just use the word collaboration but it reaches its full potential and we are using hosting practices to bring it about.”

What if schools are communities and not just places where content gets delivered? What if school systems could truly draw on the wealth of wisdom and intelligence it has access to through all its collaborators? What if we didn’t just use the word collaboration but lived it till it meets its full potential?

Itasca County, MN – Art of Hosting Works – Background, Application and Impact

In just over one year, community citizens of Itasca County, who were not familiar with the term Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter, went from showing up at the first three day training in November 2013 with a healthy mix of curiosity and scepticism, to hosting a one day community wide conversation at the first ever Grand Gathering of Itasca County just one year later that attracted over 85 people who engaged in 50+ conversations that mattered over a five hour period.

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How does a community do this? By being passionate about influencing their future and believing it is possible. Support from the Blandin Foundation, (and thanks to the vision initially held by Bernadine Joselyn) made it possible for Jerry Nagel of the Meadowlark Institute and Kathy Jourdain of Shape Shift Strategies Inc. to offer (with other AoH practitioners) five three day Art of Hosting trainings, two Community World Cafes, one Grand Gathering using Open Space Technology and nine days of Advanced (or more in-depth) Training on specific topics. The Community Cafes and Grand Gathering were brain childs of participants in the trainings who stepped up to community engagement and hosting in beautiful and collaborative ways.

Participants understand that good community conversations on important issues offer everyone who shows up the opportunity to speak openly and without fear, to be listened to authentically and respectfully, and to leave feeling an ownership in the outcomes of their conversations. Community or civic engagement is also about accountability and commitment, a request not only to show up but to engage. This is happening in Itasca County in abundance now.

A report on the background, application and impact was compiled for the Blandin Foundation to show the value of the investment made in this series of program offerings for the community and you can access it here: Blandin Harvest 2013-15. (It might take awhile to download as it is full of pictures and stories that Highlight AoH in Action.)

Because Blandin supported this initiative, it made it possible for diverse cross sections of the community to participate – including artists, teachers, business people, not-for-profit staff, government staff from the county commission, natural resources, corrections and more, people from the Leech Lake Nation, people in transition, volunteers and more to participate. People met new friends and brought a variety of worldview perspectives into the room, where people “met” each other in the most interesting and sometimes unexpected places because they brought their curiosity to the conversations.

The stories of impact are still being collected. It is the stories that bring alive what is possible. The stories convey both subtle and large examples of bringing the practices to life. The last set of deeper dive trainings is happening in August 2015 and the programs are filling fast with previous participants, many of whom are planning to bring more people with them.

Itasca County is a beautiful example of the ripple effect that emerges as people change the way they approach meetings and conversations to get to the heart of what matters quickly, to evoke action that impacts, lasts and makes a difference across the region.

Small Miracles

Small miracles. They are easy to miss in the quest for the big work, the large results, the whole systems change, fame and glory and yet they make up a fabric of wonder, change and difference in households, workplaces and communities touched by someone (or several someones) who want to show up differently. The joy of offering Art of Hosting patterns and practices in a place like Grand Rapids, MN for the last fourteen months is the reminder of the power and prevalence of small miracles that show up each and every time we do this work – in Grand Rapids and elsewhere.

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Small miracles; too numerous to count. We have been hearing the stories and witnessing the changes in people as we encounter them weeks and months after having first met them. We are hearing about the growing hunger to learn new ways of being in relationship with each other, of getting work done. Friends referring friends, persuading friends, they need to come to an AoH training.

Small miracles; sometimes tiny shifts in behaviour resulting in subtle differences but big impact. People showing up, being seen and heard, validated sometimes for the first time in a long time, sometimes for the first time ever. Shifts in behaviour. Glowing faces as people experience these differences and expansions. Sometimes simply by learning to ask good questions, bringing curiosity instead of judgment to the space, then listening, really listening to how another responds. When we change the quality of the listening, we change the quality of the conversation.

IMG_1307People lighting up with possibility they had long ago given up on. People re-invigorated to go back to workplaces where they have felt drained, sometimes burnt out and ready to engage again, but engage in new ways. We have witnessed people showing up to a training with what seemed like an agenda, wanting others to see the world from their lens, know their Truth, who relax into the processes, being seen and acknowledged in ways they never had been before, acknowledging the experience of many ‘truths’ in a space, in a community. Community holding community.

It shows up as circle process where it was never used before. Check-ins and check-outs to begin and end meetings in what would be considered likely (arts organizations) and unlikely (corrections) places. It is people recognizing the humanity in each other, living into their own humanity more fully, embracing each other, foibles, heart and all. People motivated to work together by issues they care deeply about even as they bring different views and ideologies to the conversations.

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In Grand Rapids in a fourteen month period, over 150 people have been to one of five basic level AoH trainings and about 40 of them have been back to one or more of the 4 advanced level training offerings, all made possible by support from the Blandin Foundation. Over 80 people showed up for community cafes and more than 80 people from the community came to the first ever Grand Gathering in November 2014. The community cafes and Grand Gathering were initiated by people who came to the AoH trainings who care about what happens there, who care about each other. As they bring their friends and bring new patterns and practices to what they do,the large results, the whole systems change is showing up. In the meantime, we are capturing the stories that illuminate the new tapestry of small miracles that is being woven through the real lives and real experiences of real people.

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Art of Hosting is a Lived Process – Participant Success Story

In Grand Rapids, MN, since November 2013, over 150 people have experienced an Art of Hosting training. It is a community of real people, real lives and real impact. Jerry Nagel and I have begun to document some of the success stories – many of them small miracles that provide inspiration to us and so many others who might be wondering where you start once you have been to an AoH training. This account was provided by Audrey Moen who attended the training in September 2014.

Audrey Moen in the circle with others taking in a teach by Jerry Nagel.

Audrey Moen in the circle with others taking in a teach by Jerry Nagel.

When I first signed up for the AoH training some people asked me, “Oh, why would you want to do that? It is just facilitating. You already know how to facilitate. Why go for three days?”  I knew, just in the title, before I even read the details of what AoH is, it was indeed going to be much more.  

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September 2014, Grand Rapids – Teach by Karen Zetner Bacig

I was able to bring a diverse group of people with me who normally never attend training like this.  They are considered on the outside as poor, disabled, or have histories that do not allow them to secure basic housing. They may have had a criminal background. They may no longer have the right to vote.  It did not matter. They were welcomed as if they were Kings or Queens. 

What they took away from it has increased their lives.  One is on his way to attend the Day on the Hill at the Capital; one is now leading a group locally; one stated that she feels a sense of confidence and acceptance she never had before.

The learning that took place is something that will, for me, be life-long.  I use it every day in the little things. I think about table conversations in a different light.  I encounter situations that in the past may have been met with roadblocks. With the AoH and Worldview skills this does not happen.  If anything, I find that the skills learned open doors to communication; barriers or walls fall down, and people open up – trust is alive in the room.

The three days went by in a blink. I met people I never knew, developed stronger community links, shared values, insight and ideas that were priceless.

I also was able to participate in the Grand Gathering in Grand Rapids, MN.  What a day of positive energy and inspiration!  I also participated in the Theory U advanced training day which has already helped me in my career, my volunteer work, and in my home life.  

The facilitators for AoH are well trained in their field, they are engaging, accepting, and are an inspiration. 

My thanks to the Blandin Foundation for providing this training.  I would like to see it continue. The community needs to keep the momentum growing so the seeds can continue to take root and grow. The Foundation is very good at keeping things rooted as long as needed. 

I met other AoH participants who attended the training in our area and in other areas. They consistently state the same thing; AoH is a process; it is not a day, an hour, a moment. It is about taking the time, always learning, developing, reaching out, community building, and engagement.

Thanks again for offering the AoH to our area.  I can honestly state I hope it can continue.  There is so much to learn and put into practice!