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.