Plan A = A+
Professional opportunities have taught me a great deal. Truth be told, being a mother of 5 and community leader may be what has sharpened my skills most. A community group I served with for 9 years “aged” out of the elementary school and we moved with our children into the middle and high school support roles. To my surprise, 6 years later when I returned to the elementary school, things had drastically shifted. What I had experienced as a supportive, empowering, and welcoming school family with my first set of children had become what seemed to me a more militant and dictator-like, power driven model. There had not only been an entire turnover of leaders, but also the team of supporters (parents and staff). Only 2 or 3 of the teachers I had known just 6 years prior were still there and none of the families. What I had left was thriving; what I returned to seemed to be gasping for life. This school was my Plan A for my 3rd child’s education. I wasn’t aware that I might need a Plan B.
Plan B needed to be created or Plan A needed to change…and quickly. Because I was looking closely at the situation, I was asked to help guide it. While I hadn’t anticipated stepping into a leadership role within the school, my experience and insight from having been there for 9 years prior made it feel like a natural step. Be the change, right? I couldn’t complain about the situation if I wasn’t willing to do something about it… right?
It was safe for me to operate with the knowledge that there was a large enough body of people who already knew the need (and were asking) for change. The readiness was established which is a VERY important piece to give attention to before beginning to implement change. Both a handful of parents involved and the larger neighborhood community had begun to take notice of families moving because of the school climate. With many young families living in the district who had children that were not yet school age, there was a growing, collective voice asking for the redirection of the school’s apparent trajectory.
One initial area that did need attention and assessment was to see if the stakeholders were even in agreement on what the changes “should” be.
Interestingly, long before my formal coach training, my management experience and instinct was to ask questions to both the people who were critical in implementing the change and the people who were watching (who still had interest in outcome). Together, with new administration and a core team, we asked a lot of questions through the entire process. The best, potentially most important part of this model, was that everyone involved FELT INVOLVED because they had a chance to speak about the current situation and share their vision/version of what they wanted it to look like. Given a voice, they were given power. Given power, they were given ownership. Given ownership, even when – maybe especially when it’s a collective ownership, we saw a beautiful shift toward pride, participation, and loving loyalty.
The questions that had to be answered by the leaders first were:
- What is the end result I was looking for? (safe, empowering, inviting, and healthy school experience/environment) …and why? (I had to evaluate and understand my personal extrinsic and intrinsic motivators to show up authentically and with integrity.)
- Who are the people who will make this happen? (admin, teachers, parents, neighbors, business community)
- What is the most important part of this? (empowering safe people/situations)
- How will I know it is happening? (measurable surveys/outcomes, watching the faces of people IN the building, tracking enrollment)
- What steps could be taken immediately to shift the perspective of the stakeholders from one of gloom and doom to hope? (enroll them in the process)
To enroll the stakeholders, we engaged them with an invitation to play/work with us. We gave them a chance to have a voice and be part of the solutions for their perceptions of the problems. In various formats to various groups (teachers, parents, neighborhood families, community businesses, admin and even students), we essentially asked:
- What do you believe is the most important part of school improvement and why?
- What would be the best steps to take to improve that area?
- What skills do you bring to creating this change and are you willing to invest (time, energy, and/or money) if asked?
- How long, in your opinion, “should” it take before there are measurable results?
Once the information was gathered, it was published to everyone. We said something like:
“We asked, YOU shared.
YOU want xyz.
YOU say xyz can happen if abc are in place and YOU are willing to contribute.
YOU believe in our school and by this time next year, we will be sharing a radically different view of our school because YOU are investing yourSelves. Thank you for everyone who took the time to answer the surveys and for those of you who are beginning to share some of the work to create the needed and necessary changes to turn this ship around.”
Even the people who didn’t have the school climate on their radar began to notice. People who hadn’t responded to the surveys still became part of the “collective whole.” The less involved perceived being a part of the “you” in the results that were shared and therefore also became change agents as part of the strategies used for change. Simply by knowing the information of what was happening, they felt ownership and value for the school. To be involved became popular (inviting).
This renewed love for the well-being of our school family rippled into the classrooms and out into the neighborhood parks, libraries, and even to the real estate agents who boasted about the vitality in our school community. The home sales went up. The contributions of time, energy, and money all increased. I still have children #4 & 5 in that building – in that empowering, loving, safe, effective, and inviting school while #3 is starting his first year of high school.
I’m grateful that Plan A worked out.