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.