Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Roles in life - The Value of Inputs

At Eagle Rock, we have houseparents who live in a house connected to residences for up to 16 students. Over time, I have heard houseparents struggle with how well they are doing. It caused me to wonder, how does a houseparent assess how well they are doing? It got me thinking about "roles" in life like being a father or husband. How do I assess myself in those areas. These are notes from a one-hour meeting I facilitated presenting my ideas on some answers to these questions.

• A role is a relationship to others or something (like your finances) that you choose to maintain to a particular standard and according to a set of values. It’s never complete.

• A project is an outcome that can eventually be checked off as “done.” It takes more than one action to complete.

When confronted with work, you have to ask yourself, “Is this something I can check off as done” or “Is this something I have to manage?” If the latter (i.e., relationships, fitness, houseparenting) then that role comes with certain qualities. Misinterpreting those qualities or characteristics causes problems.

Qualities of a role:
1) You will always think there is more to do than you can possibly do – use this thought as a signal that you are in a role rather than as a signal that “something’s wrong.”

2) You will either never feel you are good enough or if you do sustain some sense of accomplishment, it will be punctuated by self-doubt from time to time – another signal that you are in a role.

3) Because of first two you will alternate between beating yourself up and blaming some 3rd party {both are versions of “blame” and escaping personal responsibility – even “beating yourself up” is a form of taking evasive action and not putting yourself in the driver’s seat}

4) With a role, boundary issues will emerge –
(a) boundary you need to put up between yourself & others AND
(b) boundary between our imagination of what we think we can do and what we realistically do (not thinking that we can actually meet ALL of our students needs, we would hope that we behave in such a way that our actions correlate to students getting what they need).

What follows are three ways to “measure” yourself. Some are more useful than others. Some cause harm when used inappropriately.

Attitudinal –(self-talk and "I’m being" statements) I’m open, I’m available, I could probably be doing more.

If a positive attitudinal desire helps to suggest some things you can do (see inputs), then attitudinal thoughts can be useful. However, if you are referencing these attitudinal statements to judge yourself (i.e., I want to be available but I’m not) then you are using an inappropriate measure. You will never be “good enough.”

Outputs – It’s totally appropriate to assess an organization or system on outputs: educating, serving or graduating students. It is even appropriate to assess yourself over the long haul and see that more or less, you have made a positive difference. However, in the short term and with individual events, this is also an inappropriate measure of your effectiveness. This is a boundary issue. You have only so much control over what a student does in the next day or so. You are not responsible for a choice some student made to leave the school.

Inputs- (things you are doing, actions you are taking) Inputs are what you do based on some theory of action you hold. For example, I will check in with my advisees once a week outside of advisory because I think that this establishes relationships better than only talking during advisory. That in turn will make it more likely that the student will stay in school.

So, the input becomes “one check-in per week outside of advisory.” Or in our houses, “I will open the door three times a week so students can come use the kitchen.”

It is these inputs that one should look at and ask, am I staying true to my commitments? Have I kept my word? If yes, then you are doing well in your role. If it turns out that students are not learning or they don’t stay in school, this is a failure of your theory of action, not you. Once you review the outputs, reflect and adjust. Commit to new and different actions based on your learning.

The world of inputs and what we can do with it

1. Sharing common practices provides new ideas for inputs. If you like what someone else is doing, adopt it as a practice. Use your colleagues as assets who have already been successful with some practice (i.e. putting out a newsletter).

2. Sharing your input commitments with fellow houseparents and with house team can create support and accountability groups around inputs.

3. Sharing input commitments with others (ie., supervisors) provides information for targeted training and professional development. It is much easier to figure out what houseparents need if their practices are shared rather than make some vague request for training and support.

All the above reflects real early thinking on the subject. As I apply these ideas more explicitly, I imagine some of my thinking on this will evolve.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If you say three things, you don't say anything

Post inspired by Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
Chapter 2: Simple

No plan survives contact with the enemy” Colonel Tom Kolditz.

I spent hours planning last week's licensure meeting. I wanted the group to generate performance-based assessments (PBAs) that might measure achievement of our power standard. Prior to the meeting, I collected a list of learning targets off course proposals and previous exercises. I scoured texts on PBAs to find examples. I created a 12-page handout with examples from New York State Performance Consortium, Eagle Rock course proposals and a couple of books. I designed a mini-lesson intended to get people focused on developing PBAs and using the learning target list to inform their judgment. I then put the class into three groups of three to brainstorm.

Two interesting things happened. First, two groups each came back with only one PBA suggestion despite it being a brainstorming session. Second, the feedback about the process consistently urged me to simplify: don't provide learning targets, reduce the 12 page handout to a single page, say less during the mini lesson.

I believe critiques are correct given the consensus of a group of intelligent people. However, at my core, I don't get it. Why is it better to scale everything back so that folks are working with the least amount of information. I hear that folks don't want to engage in the material at some deeper level. Throughout my career I hungered for understanding the fundamentals. What was the literature or research on this topic? Why do some suggest we do things this way? What is the larger process or bigger picture here? If a staff development meeting only had me run through an activity I felt like a technician rather than a thinker. My presence was not that important. I need my mind to be engaged.

But, I admit I find more evidence that I overcomplicate things and others prefer to hear things in a simpler version. I also understand there's a flaw in imposing my view of myself as a learner on others.

I must become more disciplined about simplifying my message.

From the Heath book:
“...plans are useful, in [that] they are proof that planning has taken place...[which] forces people to think through the right issues. But the plans themselves don't work on the battlefield.”

Commanders Intent: crisp, plain-talk statement specifying the plan's goal, the desired end-state of an operation.

“If you say three things, you don't say anything.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

When to take action

I laugh when folks say, "We should have done this a long time ago," and then that insight somehow justifies not taking action now.

"The best time to plant a tree...was twenty years ago. The second best time, is today."

Chinese saying

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Creating a Sense of Urgency

As I work on pushing forward on our curriculum revision project, I ran across these words by John Kotter in Leading Change:
"...transformations usually go nowhere because few people are even interested in working on the change problem. No matter how hard we push...if others don't feel the same sense of urgency, the momentum for change will probably die short of the finish line. People will find a thousand ingenious ways to withhold cooperation from a process that they sincerely think is unnecessary..."

We have a great staff, great culture, but I still worry that we haven't laid the groundwork for establishing a sense of urgency. I need to draft some of my own thoughts about why this could be so useful to the staff, the school and the students.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Launching new initiatives

"Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work."
~ Peter Drucker

Some staff want to experiment with instituting a study hall. We've been meeting about how to support the success of such a new initiative. I'm interested in seeing whether or not some "change strategies" (mostly from John Kotter and The Influencer) will help make this happen.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

another action oriented quote

"You'll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind"

I think it's an old Irish saying.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Technical decisions provoke adaptive work

From Heifetz: “…with adaptive problems [complex, not solved via some technical fix], authority must look beyond authoritative solutions. [However] authoritative action may usefully provoke debate, rethinking, and other processes of social learning, …then it becomes a tool in a strategy to mobilize adaptive work toward a solution , rather than a direct means to institute one.”

There is an earlier blog post (Feb, 2005) where I describe instituting 4 authoritative fixes at the Bronx Guild: use of learning plans, grids, conferring with students and mentor meetings. The idea at the time was not necessarily that I had the correct solution and that faithful implementation of these measures would bring success. Rather, they were provocations. There was complacency around certain practices like tracking student progress or engaging with mentors. Perhaps these measures would help. However, certainly they would spur reactions. Folks who had a difference of opinion on the matter were now motivated to push back and come up with alternates solutions. New conversations were held that were not being held before. Dialogue, problem solving, creating new knowledge, and action were provoked.

Here at ERS, the authoritative "fix" of instituting a process for curriculum guide revision is of the same nature. Simply presenting the process has surfaced all kinds of feelings amongst staff: some love it, some feel discounted, others have alternative ideas. Could not have asked for better than this. It forces us to have these conversations: how can we include you more, what role will you play in the future of the school, what other ideas do you have? These are the conversations that need to happen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Individual's concerns represented as group concerns

Occasionally within a group, a few individuals may have a concern. Rather than say "this is my concern," the person will represent it as a group concern: "Our group feels slighted by what you did" or "The group doesn't think so." By the way, I'm talking about concerns that are shared by a few. I'm not referring to concerns that statistically do represent the group.

The problem here is that the group is referred to in monolithic terms. That is, generalizations are asserted in a way to create the impression that this statement is true for most if not all members of the group. What is really happening is that the speaker holds a minority view but holds it intensely. I believe that there is not an easy way to present one's valid and intense feelings about something and the way to get things heard is to assert incorrectly that the entire group feels this way.

The trap for the leader or the change agent is to accept this as a group issue and continue to address the group. The feelings and reactions are valid and should not be ignored just because they belong to one or two people. But, the right approach is to talk to the individuals one on one.

The trap is especially prevalent in places that put people in groups without clear boundaries. We don't really practice the discipline of teams yet we put groups together that Katzenbach would call a "compromise unit." These are the worst kinds of groups - they are a pseudo-team. They lack the leadership of a single-leader unit and they pretend to be a team when they don't practice the disciplines required of a team. Fundamentally, this is the real source of the problem described above.

Folks wouldn't mask their individual concerns as group concerns if they were clear on the boundaries and processes associated with the work unit they belong to.

Monday, February 25, 2008

My Report Card

Despite how focused I think I am and how much I preach focus in leadership, I find myself scattered as I try to juggle multiple initiatives. All of these initiatives are in addition to my standard work with other schools, presenting at conferences or hosting visitors. I launched these initiatives in order to meet needs of the school as I perceived them. I thought a report card on my self might be a helpful exercise. I need to figure out whether there's a pattern to those initiatives that fizzle out and those that get traction.

Faculty Evaluation – a year ago I attended the National Association of Independent Schools conference and ran across a form of faculty evaluation that focused on teachers setting their own professional goals. I adapted many of the forms and the approaches as I understood them.

  • Grade: C Despite having run meetings to focus on these goals, not a single person mentions these goals unless I bring them up. It doesn't seem to be meaningful to the staff.

Instructional Meetings
– I was tired of making up stuff to deliver some staff development. Like the faculty evaluation, there wasn't much demand from staff for anything in particular so I kept preparing topical sessions that were not part of a coherent plan as I would like. However, I was working to meet with smaller groups all the time. So, I proposed using this time to meet in groups.

  • Grade: C I thought more people would want to meet in small groups to work on projects they were already a part of . There's little to no response to joining various groups. So far, the meetings have fallen into two groups each time and they don't seem to be very effective. I give this initiative a B however with respect to how much I have to work on it in contrast to past PD.

Restorative Justice – instituted to stem the expulsion of students for breaking non-negotiables while also providing a community building ritual.

  • Grade: B+ Part of the culture, students expect to get restorative justice and we have a stable group of staff and students who can facilitate. Follow through is excellent. More trainings and reflection would move this to an A.

Fairness – in the spirit of restorative justice, I wanted to create a group that would deal with lower level behavior issues.

  • Grade: D Exists in concept only. I haven't figured out how to make it work and there's no demand for it.

Night Patrol– I proposed doing random night patrols to look into how well students were sleeping and hopefully act as a deterrent to late night misbehavior.

  • Grade: B+ Committed volunteers work on this. No complaints from students and some of them have reported their belief that it has been a deterrent. I feel really good about this initiative. Unfortunately we are short one or two volunteers to successfully fill all the slots.

Leadership Team Meetings – part of my earlier school critique was the lack of agenda and focus during leadership team meetings. I gathered all the items that people suggested we talk about and organized an agenda based approach to holding the meetings.

  • Grade: B+ ...maybe an A. Since proposed, we have never failed to have an agenda and minutes for the leadership team meetings. A digest of the minutes is provided to the staff and we have received great feedback on our greater transparency.

Power Standards – Some time ago I proposed we revise our curriculum guide to focus on fewer standards. Little to nothing was done on this work until there was a recent resurgence in interest. It may now be the focus of an all day instructional meeting.

  • Grade: C or B The resurgence of interest is welcome. However, staff seem real confused about how to proceed. I feel like there's a lot of work to do to make sense of this initiative for the staff.

Friday, February 01, 2008

How often are any of us guilty of this?

“One issue is denial within the school about what’s going on—or at least a lot of rationalization. Especially in a school where there have been consistent patterns of failure for certain kinds of kids, it’s often the case that people locate the source of that failure in the kids themselves, or in their culture, their community, or their parents. All of this means the school is unwilling to take responsibility for what it can do to address the needs of those kids. Getting people to the point where they’re willing to take some responsibility is an important step.

That’s where the research can play a role in challenging people’s assumptions and getting them to see how they can think differently about why kids succeed or don’t succeed. Some teachers are very willing to accept credit for success—the kids who go to good colleges—but they’re not so willing to take responsibility for the kids who don’t succeed.”

Pedro Noguera

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Results of Assets Based House Focus Experience

I facilitated an assets mapping experience with those interested in working on improving the living village through houseparent orientation and houseparent staff development. This is the summary of that experience.

1.Asset Mapping for What

We want to establish some way to orient houseparents. Through developing an approach to orientation, we hope to develop ourselves. We have no idea yet what should be included in the orientation nor what form it should take. Now's the time we're going to look at what the assets suggest.

18 staff freely chose to work in this group today. All are on house teams and all 6 houses were represented. Only one house did not have its houseparents in attendance.

Rather than allow them to self-select smaller groups based on affinity, I had them count-off to create four groups. I wanted to increase the chances folks would connect with new folks and new assets.

I introduced the entire agenda and provided context for why I had decided to use this exercise when thinking about how to best help houseparents and think of orienting houseparents in the future. At this point, I had a couple of people who didn't understand why we were talking about assets. N. asked, “I don't see how this has any relevance to houseparents.” However, the majority seemed to either understand or be willing to go along with the activity.

Recognizing Our Assets
I used prompts from the following categories: individual, physical, associations, organizational (in place of institutional) and resources (in place of economic). I also made the final prompt a version of the “needs transformation” exercise. Had them think of needs and modeled finding the asset at the core of that need.

Approximately 200 assets were generated and posted on walls. The space wasn't great. Lots of furniture in the way of walls. People actually got on chairs and taped some assets to the ceiling. Others interesting spaces included podiums, windows, and a piano.

Connecting the Dots
Some confusion – J. asked, “Is this specifically for houseparents or can it include students?” My struggle here was trying to avoid censoring while maintaining some generally connecting towards the target of houseparent staff development and orientation.

One thing I think I did well here was use an example of something that has already happened at the school that was already an example of connecting assets: Current Events class on Saturday connected with the Science teacher = Science based current events that lead to meeting graduation requirements. The person was in the room who had thought of that, so I thought it made the connecting real. I also pulled together two random assets and asked folks to brainstorm an action. Classic Rock knowledge + Resiliency Skills teaching = putting a band together with resiliency lessons woven into meetings.

20 minutes later 14 actions had been generated. Tough to see them because they were somewhat buried within a sea of 200 other sheets of paper. I promoted noting where things were during the report out.

Here my only concern was that some of the actions were less within the locus of control of those suggesting them. For example: assets were that three different groups of people live on campus. These were connected to the action: “more staff presence in the houses.” When questioned, it seemed that they were thinking we “should” have more staff presence given these assets rather than “I want to take action on being more present since I live on campus.” I thought this was worth redirecting to what was within their control. I had to do that two or three times.

Another comment was “It's almost like these directions are limiting. I see one asset and it stimulates many ideas but I don't know what to connect it with.” I suggested that the participant share his idea with the small group and see if they could make any connections or suggestions.

Voting with your feet
With direction, folks moved to 5 actions out of the 14. Some actions were combined.

Some asked, “what if I can't decide or I want to do more than one?” I said for now just pick the most engaging and we'll revisit this work in the future.

While everyone moved into actions, I didn't feel there was the kind of energy described in the consultant's journal on p. 24: “...people would come out of the ...experience smiling, laughing, and bursting with new energy.” This did not happen. It was more slow movement to actions, some low level buzz of conversation. Nothing negative but definitely not what I would call uplifting.

Debriefing the experience
I asked (1) taken together, can you imagine the contribution these 5 actions will make to the houseparent body, (2) what do you need next and (3) what feedback do you have about the process itself?

About a two-thirds of the comments were “creative, liked it, good starting points, can imagine benefits, etc.” The remaining third were split between, “when will we do this or how will we do this” and “I'm confused...why did we do this?”

3.Readiness for next steps
I think EVERYTHING that follows depends very much on my ability and follow through to support the actions suggested. I feel like I need to find time in the schedule for the action groups. I also think I need to help some get clarity on how these actions are tied to the support of houseparents. As I've mentioned before in other threads, I did a full day Appreciative Inquiry Summit with design groups generated and no one ever met again after that day.

How do I best support follow through?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Using Assets to Create Staff Development

One of my current dilemmas is to create some staff development for houseparents. Consistent with the school's desire to work more from strengths as well as the PDC's direction using assets as our primary strategy, I want to take as pure an assets based approach as I can. But, I'm not sure how to do it.

I asked houseparents to email me their strengths around houseparenting. Not all responded (that's one problem that I encounter when working with staff - lack of response). One houseparent said, "I don't think I'm good at anything around houseparenting." Those that did respond led to a list of mixed items from specific to general, from behaviors to outcomes. Here's one response:

  • Regular check-ins with students
  • Dealing with student’s conflicts as soon is possible
  • With the exception of a few days a trimester, be available for students. Available to talk, available for them to make a phone calls, for them to take their meds when needed, available for them to cook, drink tea, watch TV
  • Create conditions to have fun. Have games available, movies, music, food etc
I think these are good things, but now I'm left with wondering what to do with this information. My initial thought had been to look for patterns amongst houseparents, focus on the most widespread strengths, and develop a workshop that supports sharing that work. For some reason, I'm stuck.

Recently I signed onto an online course taught by Luther Snow who wrote The Power of Asset Mapping. The course has an option to get feedback from the instructor on one's project. So, I intend to send Luther my houseparent staff development project to get ideas for how to proceed.

Reading Luther's book has already influenced our thinking. He suggests getting the group together that has the assets to find their own connections amongst their strengths and develop new actions as a result of connecting those assets in a new way. It means I can facilitate this process but don't have to know in advance how to use the strengths suggested by the houseparents.

He also suggests that while I facilitate the process, I include myself in the process as well. What strengths or assets do I have to offer. Focus on the affinity I have for this group. Sounds promising.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Steps for applying ABCD to staff development

JP asked me how the PDC applies strengths and assets based development to staff development. I referred to work in an earlier entry about Skyview Academy . I took the following steps as my attempt to incorporate strengths and assets applied to what the school wanted to get better at.

1. Identify what the school wants and agree to a model they aspire to. (They showed me a model for block instruction that they liked).

2. I study the model to make sure I understand it.

3. I conduct a series of low-inference observations and produce an observation report for that teacher. It presents the low-inference data and then I add at the end what I think they did well in terms of the model they aspire to.

4. After observing every teacher (not necessary to do everyone), I produce an Assets Based report of the school with a matrix of their strengths.

5. Design a full day (or some session) of PD that is focused on folks sharing their strengths and promising practices. Near the end of the session design next steps....usually a focus on a narrower aspect of the larger topic. Repeat steps 1 to 5.