Each month, in partnership with Fierce in the Schools, the Learning Forward Blog will be publishing an exclusive blog for Fierce. Our guest writer is Stephanie Hirsh, the Executive Director of Learning Forward. To read more posts visit the Learning Forward Blog, hosted by Education Week.
In my last post, I discussed Learning Forward’s board of trustees’ commitment to consensus decision-making. I got quite a bit of feedback on this topic and want to follow up from a little different angle.
Before I joined Learning Forward I was responsible for co-facilitating strategic planning in a school district. In fact, one of the deciding factors in my being hired at Learning Forward (which was then called NSDC) was my experience with strategic planning.
NSDC had just completed its first strategic plan, and the executive director and board believed it would be an advantage to have an individual who was experienced in the process.
During that first year on the job I facilitated many strategic plans for school improvement and/or professional development. The two and half day process always began with a grueling discussion of school beliefs. What were the beliefs to which we could all agree?
We were convinced it was important for each school team to have conversations about the underlying beliefs everyone had in common. We spent hours debating phrasing, like “all vs. each,” “each vs. every,” “learning vs. success,” and “achievement vs. learning.”
Years later I wrote a book on planning that also recommended beginning the process by detailing beliefs. I recalled the strategies we used to ensure we arrived at a consensus set of beliefs — because we were determined to settle on a list before we moved forward with action.
And yet over the years, I have found myself questioning the importance of this amount of time dedicated to an exercise that meant so much to so few.
When I compare all the belief statements I facilitated over the last two decades, I wonder if any school today could even locate their original beliefs that we developed together.
While I know the teams bonded over the experience, I wonder if there were more important issues for them to discuss.
Today I find myself wondering if strategic planners would be better served by bringing in a set of proposed beliefs, asking the group to identify those they can accept, and moving on to the more difficult challenges associated with making the beliefs come alive through the actions they adopt.
I wonder if spending time debating beliefs can be an excuse for failing to act. I wonder if that experience then separates rather than builds the team you want.
What are your thoughts? As a leader, is spending time getting consensus about beliefs the best use of time?