Sunday, October 23, 2016

Appreciative Leadership - LCD Part 1

Early in my career as a Vice-Principal, I remember feeling overwhelmed by the frequency and diversity of challenges that came through my office door. From bleeding noses to bullying issues, teaching assignments to textbooks, or staff meetings to student schedules, it seemed as though at the end of a given day I would think that I had truly seen it all...until the next morning when another unique set of circumstances would make me think the only predictable piece in school-based administration was that it was always unpredictable.  And it still is.  Sort of.

Yet as my first year in administration turned to my second, and my second to my third, I began to feel more and more comfortable with my role:  the experiences that I had garnered made the unpredictable become very predictable.  When someone came to me with an issue, I began to feel as though I could mentally solve the problem before they had even finished describing it.  I would pride myself on dealing with an issue and getting back to a teacher, student or parent as fast as I possibly could. Small problem or big, short term solution or long term plan, I felt as though I could sew it up quickly and not bother anyone in the process.  If it was a quick issue, I would rely on experience and what had worked in similar situations.  With systemic issues, I would do the research on best practice, and select the best approach.  Much like an emergency room doctor in 'educational triage' mode, I would prioritize issues and provide care as quickly as I possibly could so that my desk would be clear, and I would be ready to deal with the next 'educational accident' that came into the ward.   And when I became a high school Principal, I continued on in that mode for my first two years: if a problem was brought to me, it would quickly become a problem solved.

However, I began to notice something:  while some people appreciated my hard work, others began to voice their dissatisfaction with some of the solutions that I came up with.  People would say things such as "It worked, but if you would have asked us, we would have done it differently.".  I remember at the time feeling a bit hurt, and sometimes even offended.  Didn't they know how busy I was? Didn't they understand that their issue was one of fifty that I dealt with that day?  I know they might have done something else in the past, but this was a good idea wasn't it?  They hadn't done the research, read the articles, and laid awake at night thinking about it, but I had.  They did have a point of view, but they couldn't have possibly seen if from the global perspective that I had.  They only had to look at it from the perspective of their child or their classroom, I had to look out for ALL students, and ALL classrooms.  And besides, who had time to stop and ask everyone?  Like the ER doctor, the next problem was just around the corner, wasn't it?

The truth is that most issues we deal with in our schools afford us much more time than we think.  Of course there are emergencies that arise which require swift and decisive action in order for us to ensure the health and safety of our children and our teachers, and there are days when 'educational triage' is not only desirable, but it is required.

However, when the 'educational triage' approach of rapidly and unilaterally from problem to solution becomes the norm, we are doing a disservice to the problem, to those who are having the problem, and to those who could be involved in the solution.

In the first stage of Learner-Centered Design, it is vital for us to develop a true appreciation for the problem, and for those people who are experiencing the problem.  A few weeks ago when I was in Boston, I met with colleague and friend Ken Gordon; Ken is the Content, Conversation, and Community Strategist for the internationally acclaimed design firm Continuum (think Reebok Pump, Swiffer, and a multitude of other iconic products).  When I asked Ken about how they might begin tackle a design challenge that a client would give them, he spoke to me about the importance of becoming an ethnographer--interviewing and observing the people for whom you were trying to solve the problem.  He talked about how vital this was to the design process.  For example, when Target approached Continuum to re-design the experience that their shoppers would have with their shopping carts, what did they do?

I can tell you what they didn't do.  The project manager at Continuum didn't sit at her desk, read a few books on shopping carts, come up with an idea of how to make a better shopping cart, make it, and give it to Target and say "All done!" and move on to the next client. (Ouch--not my 'educational triage' approach).

The first thing the project manager did was assemble a team of individuals with a wide variety of skills, ranging from engineers to ethnographers.  Strategic Foresight Advisor Joe Tankersley recently contributed his thoughts to an article for Fast Company about the jobs of the future.  He talked about the idea of being a 'professional triber', someone who puts teams together to work on special projects. This 'triber' would be someone who specializes in connecting people, creative and critical thinking as well as service to others.  Much like the professional triber, the project manager looks to see who best might help to tackle the problem and come up with unique and creative solutions.

In K-12 education, we do this from time to time--we bring together a 'representative' group of people (sometimes we say that we 'consulted' with them), but the mistake we make is that we often begin to solve the problem right there.  Bringing together a group of people who represent a larger group is just the start!  With this group, we need to brainstorm questions, not answers.  We need to work with these people to brainstorm how we might get more insight into the problem as opposed to charting out strategies.  We need to think of who we might speak to so we can get further inspiration for solutions, not jump to the solutions themselves.

At Continuum, the design team did just that, they brainstormed ideas on questions they had about shopping carts, the people that typically use them, what they were used for, and about the overall experience of shopping with a shopping cart at Target.  And then, in the true spirit of ethnography, a group from Continuum went shopping with sixteen mothers and their children!  They observed what moms were buying.  How they hefted their children on to the cart.  How they hung clothes on the cart.  Where the pinch points were for children who were hanging off of the cart.  They also noticed that employees were using the carts to transport goods, sometimes extremely heavy things such as car batteries and stacks of canned goods.  From that point forward, they were able to

  1. Appreciate the true shopping cart experience from the perspective of those who were using it.  
  2. Co-create a vision of what that experience could look like with those who would experience it.
  3. Ideate around the different components given the appreciation for the user 
  4. Iterate and test different ideas (including rounded handrails on the sides where clothes and kids could hang, casters that could support over 600 lbs, and interchangeable, recyclable parts)
  5. Proliferate a final product, which ended up winning several design awards for Continuum.
The shopping cart is now an icon for Target, and even became a display item in an art gallery in Minneapolis! Since 2011, there have been more changes to the cart: like any exceptional designer, the goal for Continuum was not only to complete the project, but to keep re-visiting the experience so they could continuously appreciate those who came up with the challenge in the first place.

In K-12 education, we can learn much from the approach Continuum used to develop of the Target shopping cart.  Our students, parents and teachers have a multitude of experiences each day in our schools, some much more significant than others.  While we are all busy in our schools each day, the 'culture of busy' can push us farther and farther into 'educational triage'-mode and make it the norm rather than the exception that it should be.  As a result, we can alienate those in our school communities by rapidly jumping from the problem to solution, even if we think we have hit on that perfect solution.

There are so many people in our schools and our school communities that are not only skilled, but they care about the schools where they learn, work, and send their children.  Today's school leader doesn't know it all: they never have, and never will, and they don't have to!  By becoming 'educational tribers' and 'educational ethnographers', in the true spirit of Learner-Centered Design, school leaders can not only make better solutions, they can make meaningful connections with all of the members of their school community.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Are You Committed To Feedback?

In 1994, Proctor and Gamble approached Continuum, a design consulting firm, in search of a new cleaning product.  Together, they felt that the method of filling up a bucket with soap and water, soaking, squeezing, and mopping floors could be improved.  Continuum took an approach to this problem that was beautiful in it’s simplicity:  they went into people’s homes and watched them mop.  Amongst their observations, they found that people spent nearly as much time cleaning their mop as they did cleaning their floor!  By observing and developing empathy for the user and understanding their challenges, Continuum developed a prototype that was called “Fast Clean”, which evolved into the Swiffer that has become a mainstay in household cleaning around the world.

Proctor and Gamble could have chosen to make different modifications to their current selection of mops.  Their designers might have hypothesized that by creating a mop with a more ergonomically correct handle, they would have helped the average person by reducing the strain that mopping puts on on us when we are cleaning floors.  Or they could have assumed that a better spring-loaded squeezing mechanism would help people by more thoroughly wringing out the mop itself.  They might have guessed that a change in packaging and appearance to capture the attention of the shopper with a sleek, modern looking mop  would have boosted sales over their competitors.  But through observation and empathy for the end-user in human-centered design, Proctor and Gamble created something that is a now lexicon (“I just need to Swiffer the floor before our company comes over for dinner!”) and to date nets more than $500 million dollar per year in sales.

Not unlike Proctor and Gamble, with their suite of products they offer to consumers, schools have their current selection of classes, courses, educators, extracurricular activities, communication tools, services, and facilities that they provide to their school community. Collectively, these different points comprise the spaces where schools interact with their learner community.   IDEO uses the term “touch-point”, and considers “every product touch-point as an opportunity to surprise, delight and deliver benefits to users.”  If we think of a learner in the community as the user that IDEO refers to, we too have opportunities in education:  we can take the different “touch-points” that we have with students, parents and teachers and turn them into experiences that “surprise, delight, and deliver benefit”.   But these points of contact are opportunities, and opportunities alone: how we choose to approach these opportunities in our schools is very much up to us.

So how do we get started on getting a better understanding of these interactions that take place with our school or district?  While there are dozens of face-to-face, personal experiences that take place each day, and even more examples of abstract experiences such as those that visitors get when they walk in through the front entrance of our school or read our newsletter, we need to have a narrower focus:  a useful way to start might be to consider three experiences that our each of our students, parents, and educators have with our school or district. But not just any three experiences, let’s pick three ‘high impact’ or “HI” experiences.   

For our purposes, let’s define a HI experience as one which has the potential to significantly impact the culture and/or learning environment of our school.  

In other words, if these HI experiences were exceptionally effective, and we ‘delighted’ this group with these experiences, the learning environment would change significantly for the better.  For example, while ensuring that our school grounds are neat and free of litter is important, it is unlikely that having a litter-free playground will result in a dramatic change to the learning in classrooms.  And although having a litter-free school property might be a challenge that would benefit from a Learner-Centered Design approach at some point, we must prioritize the learning environment first--as we know, with finite amounts of time and stretched budgets, we can only focus on what is truly going to make a difference to teaching and learning.  We can use the chart below to determine three HI experiences for students, for parents, and for educators.


HI Experience

Figure 1 Determining HI experiences.

For example, a school leader might choose to fill out the chart like this:


HI Experience
Classroom Learning
Communication of learning
Faculty meetings
Teacher Relationships
Parent-Teacher Conferences
Professional Development
Extracurricular Opportunities
Front Office
Collaboration Time
Figure 2 Sample of HI experiences.

Once we have brainstormed some ideas of HI experiences, it is important to stop and reflect:  if our school had a process that transformed each of these touch-points into experiences that were not just satisfactory, they were truly exceptional for these learner groups, would we believe that we were changing the school experience?  

A way to assess your responses to this question might be to examine each column in Figure 2 in a vertical fashion.  In the 'Educators' column, for example, if a newly hired teacher was talking to a veteran faculty member at your school, and your staff member told them that this school was known across the school district for its outstanding faculty meetings, engaging professional development opportunities, and meaningful collaboration time with colleagues, do you believe that new teacher would be excited to be a member of your staff?  Under 'Students', if a new student was moving to town, and when they came to your school for orientation, one of your current students told them “The learning we do in our classrooms is wicked, our teachers care about us SO much, and we have a sick sports program!”, do you think that new student would want to come to your school?  Conversely, do you think a parent’s ears might perk up when they overhear another parent in the Starbucks lineup say “Wow, last night I went to the worst Parent-Teacher interviews I have ever attended.  We couldn’t find his teachers, the front office told us we should have been more prepared, and when we finally got to the interviews, the teacher kept calling our son “Jack” instead of Jake.  The night was horrible.”  If the items that you listed in Figure 2 have the potential to elicit responses such as these, you likely are on the right track.  

But here's the rub: we likely will not be present when people are describing their take on our high-impact experiences. For example, while we might assume that the large turnout at Parent-Teacher conferences is a sign of success, attendance and satisfaction are two different things:  the experiences that people have at those Parent-Teacher conferences will fuel the conversations in the coffee shop, on the sidelines at the soccer game, and across social media channels. Our perception of an experience is one very small piece of the overall experience puzzle. Yet if we are not typically part of the conversations that our people are having about these HI experiences, what is our process for understanding their perspectives?   How do we demonstrate our commitment to ‘gathering intel’ and getting feedback?

In truth, I believe we do a lousy job of seeking feedback in education. And while we can speculate as to why we seek so little feedback about HI experiences and do even less with the input that we do actually collect, at the end of the day most of us are not truly committed to gathering and using feedback to improve the experience of school. And while some school leaders demonstrate their commitment to responding to what they hear from their communities, we can do better. Much better. To help us get started in assessing our current commitment to feedback, we can use something like the Learning Experience Inventory Tool below:

Uploaded by Awesome Screenshot Extension

Let's see an example of how we might have filled tool out considering our 'parent' group:
Uploaded by Awesome Screenshot Extension

If we de-construct the highlighted example and read it (roughly) from right to left--while we consider this particular experience to be one that has the potential to have significant impact, not only do we fail to collect feedback, we don't even have a feedback tool developed, and our current prediction of that user's experience would be fair at best? And what if we take out 'Parent Teacher Nights' and substitute 'Faculty Meetings' for our educators, or 'Classroom Experience' for students?


Unlike the example of Continuum going out to watch, listen, and be empathetic with those who were doing the mopping so they create a floor cleaning system that better met the needs of the end user, I realized that I wasn't collecting nearly enough feedback to created any sort of positive experience, never mind one that 'delighted' the people in my school.

If you use the Learning Experience Inventory tool to consider the experiences in your own school, you may discover the same thing that I did:

If you have an experience that you predicted would be 'HIGH' in terms of importance, but 'FAIR' or 'POOR' in terms of the experience you feel a group at your school would have AND you don't collect any feedback, then at best you have left the way that group will characterize this experience completely and totally to chance. At worst? Well, by continuing to approach this particular experience, you might not only be alienating this group by not understanding their experience and changing to better meet their needs, you might actually be inviting them to experience something that is going to be truly unsatisfying for them at your school.

As we start the school year, we must commit to understanding the experiences that students, parents, and educators are having in our schools and districts, especially in those High Impact areas. The question is, are we willing to do it? If we take this first step, we are beginning the process of Learner-Centered Design, and I believe that we can transform the school experience for our communities.

This post is based on an excerpt from "Re-Designing the School Experience", due to be published in 2017.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cracking The C.O.D.E of Teacher Learning

Professional Learning Communities.
Response To Intervention.
Instructional Rounds.
Flipped Learning.

Sigh.  Have you ever taken five minutes to jot down the initiatives that you have going in your school or district?  Or the ones that you have had going at some point in the past?  Or even those programs that, if you squinted, you might still see remnants of them--you know, the ones that no one can quite determine when they started or ended--they just seemed to fade into the background, much like the once-splashy posters on our Counselling Office billboards or the rotating messages on our electronic signs.  If you are anything like me, you likely find it difficult to recall and much harder to reconcile the amount of time and money each of us has spent chasing after the next 'holy grail'-like program that came our way when we know that the resources required to make them successful are so woefully scarce in supply.

Earlier this month, as a member of the Agile Schools Faculty, I had the chance to work along side Dr. Simon Breakspear at the summer Educational Leadership Academy (#ataleads16) put on by Jeff Johnson and the Alberta Teachers' Association in Edmonton.  It was both inspiring and challenging to take a deep dive into designing research-based, high-impact projects with classroom, school and district leaders for five intense, immersive and practical days.  During one of the early sessions, Simon asked each of the participants to do a "stock-take" (on this side of the Pacific, we would say "inventory") of the initiatives they had done or were currently doing in their schools.  Many generated lists similar to the one above, and even more created ones that were much longer.  But then Simon asked the group to examine their lists to determine which ones they felt were actually making a tangible difference to student learning in the classroom. After a number of people began ruefully shaking their heads, Simon said something that truly resonated with the entire group (including me):

But here's the thing: no one was saying that it was 'wrong' for schools and districts to look for promising new approaches to improving classroom practice, nor was anyone saying it was 'wrong' to attempt organize our time, efforts and resources around practices that are research-based and genuinely improve classroom practice and student learning.  But before we jump headlong into 'the next big thing', we need to have a laser-like focus on the actual impact that the initiative has on student learning and the type of learning that educators will need in order to help them effectively implement the initiative in a way that makes a visible difference at the classroom level.  As we know, the goal of an educational initiative is not to be 'doing' a program, it is to improve teaching and learning.  Does it matter if we have become a professional learning community if we don't see a change to teaching and learning in our classrooms?  Does it matter if we "do" Instructional Rounds in our schools if we continuously have the same problem of practice?  Nope.  Not a bit.

In preparation for the Education Leadership Academy, Simon and I spent a great deal of time pushing each other about the composite pieces that we felt were important for teacher learning.  Simon spoke from his experiences as a teacher and as a researcher in seeing and working with dozens of educational jurisdictions around the globe, who use a multitude of methods to engage teachers in professional learning.  I came at it from the point of view of a Principal who has attempted to implement the approaches listed in the "stock-take" at the beginning of this post with subsequent results that ranged from moderate success to complete and abject failure.  In the end, our thinking led us to a lens through which school leaders could look critically at their own "stock-take" of initiatives to determine whether those ideas had real potential to have a deep and lasting impact on the learning in their classrooms and with their educators.

We can determine whether the initiative can crack the C.O.D.E of teacher learning.  

If the initiative, approach, or professional development is Connected, Observable, Developmental, and Embedded for teachers, it can significantly impact teaching and learning at the classroom level.

Uploaded by Awesome Screenshot Extension the classroom, learning, and to each other 
Do you enjoy being electrocuted?  Being immersed in water so cold that the ice in it doesn't melt? Having your clothes and skin torn by barbed wire?  Sounds like a barrel of monkeys, doesn't it?  So why do thousands of people around the globe voluntarily do these things to themselves in events like the Tough Mudder?  Doing something challenging with a group of like-minded people connects us to the task, but more importantly, it connects us to each other.  Learning is social, and while learning about new approaches to teaching and learning is not the same as being immersed in an ice bath, changing classroom practices can represent a significant shock to the system.  As a result, it is vital that the learning experiences that come from initiatives or pro-d connect our teachers to one another: we must create a supportive, encouraging, and laterally accountable environment (much like a Tough Mudder team) to deal with obstacles that they will encounter along the way.  

Earlier this year, I sat across from Dylan Wiliam at dinner after learning from him earlier in the day at a conference session.  He looked at me and said something that has resonated with me ever since.  He said "I don't know why Principals would spend one second trying to implement something that isn't proven by research to improve learning."  If there is no research to connect the initiative to improvement in student learning, he said, schools and districts don't have the money or time to waste on it.  Period.  I listened.  I learned.  While we all have ideas about what we think 'works' and 'doesn't
work' in classrooms, if there is no foundation of research to the initiative we are considering, Dylan is right, we don't have the time to bother.

Dr. Richard Elmore of the Harvard Graduate School of Education describes the importance of professional development being directly connected to the classroom.  In one of his "laws" of professional development, he says "the impact of professional development is inverse to the square of its distance from the classroom".  Professional development that requires educators to really chew on meaty instructional issues with each other and grapple with approaches in their own setting is professional development that is worth doing.  Inasmuch as there can be value to offsite professional development, the more connected that educators are to their own classroom situation when they are learning, the higher the likelihood that the initiative will make a visible difference in their own classroom. all of us, BY all of us
The products of any professional development that we do should be readily and plainly observable. When facilitating Instructional Rounds in schools, I ask educators to focus on what students are saying, doing, writing, and producing as a result of the tasks they have been assigned and the instruction they have been given.  But how often do we consider what our educators saying, doing, writing and producing at an inservice or conference that they are attending?  If educators are sitting passively in a large conference listening to a witty and charming 'edutainer' show pictures and YouTube clips while telling amusing anecdotes, what is the evidence that our educators have learned a single thing?  The age-old proclamation of "If you get one good thing out of a conference, it was a good conference" doesn't fly anymore:  with shrinking PD budgets and more demands on our time, the educational return on a $2000 investment needs to be better than that.  WAY better.  When we are considering any initiative, we should be able to clearly articulate what an observer would see in our classrooms as a result.  

But who is observing?  One of the saddest revelations that I had as a Principal happened when I was doing teacher observations.  Not because of what I was observing in the classroom, but because I was the only one who was doing the observing!  Far too often, the people who are doing the bulk of teacher observations are not teachers--this is wrong.   More of our professional development needs to be directly connected to the classroom, with teachers observing and working with other teachers.   And if we are to use the excuse that there isn't enough money, consider that $2000 conference bill to send one teacher to a conference to get "one good thing", as we have all done far too often in the past. That same $2000 is the cost of five or six release days--or 10 or 12 half days.  How much could be done by releasing four teachers for three half days to observe and work with other teachers? meets us where we are at
Would we ask a new swimmer to jump off of the high diving board?  A novice skier to head down a double-black diamond run?  Or would we tell someone that the only car they should buy is a new Mercedes Benz when we know they only have a $10000 budget?  While each of these scenarios seems absurd, imagine what it feels like for an educator to be asked to "do Project-Based Learning" in their classes, or to "welcome observers into their classroom" when they are used to being left on their own behind a closed classroom door to teach the way that they have found to be successful for themselves and their students.  While there may be a research-base to an educational initiative that supports a positive change in classroom practice, research does not automatically open classroom doors: having a colleague or a team come to observe their classroom can truly be a 'double-black diamond' moment for many educators.  And rightfully so!  In most cases, we have not taken them down a 'green run' with ideas like PBL or classroom observation.

Educational initiatives and professional development must provide multiple entry points for our educators, and provide the appropriate level of challenge at each level.  In his book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience", Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced "mee-hi, cheek-sent-me-hi" if you're curious) talks about the importance of "flow" when we are considering whether the activities we design allow participants to get into "the zone".  However, we must not only acknowledge the challenge level of the activity, we have to ensure a certain skill level of our educators so we help them move from a state of anxiety or boredom to a place where they are optimally engaged.

With something like classroom observation, we might create multiple entry points for our educators like this:

  • Level 1: examining sample classroom tasks to develop common, specific and non-judgmental language to describe the learning that takes place as a result of those tasks
  • Level 2: examining our own classroom tasks to develop common, specific and non-judgmental language to describe the learning that takes place as a result of our tasks
  • Level 3: video observation of sample classes to develop common, specific and non-judgmental language to describe the learning that takes place as a result of the tasks and activities in the lessons we see
  • Level 4: individual video observation of our own class to describe and reflect upon our own practices using specific and non-judgmental language to describe the learning that takes place as a result of our tasks and activities
  • Level 5: small group/department video observation of our own classes to describe and reflect upon our own practices using specific and non-judgmental language to describe the learning that takes place as a result of our tasks and activities
  • Level 6: external colleague/group live observations using specific and non-judgmental language to describe the learning that takes place as a result of our tasks and activities across our school
Whether it is peer observation, formative assessment, collaboration, or any other approach or initiative, it needs to meet people where they are at and engage them to move forward. what we do, in our context
In what we do.
Every day. 
With the people that we have.
With the money that we have.
With the time that we have.

Education conferences and workshops can have tremendous value, as can visits to other schools, jurisdictions and countries:  having scholars and practitioners synthesize their research and experiences can save us huge amounts of time and effort.  There is no doubt that it is difficult to see what others are doing when we are in the 'trenches' of everyday school business!  It is important for us to 'get to the hilltops' to see what is possible for us from a different perspective: to understand new ideas, to be inspired, and to get outside of ourselves and our own learning situations.  However, before we leave our own schools and districts, we not only need to have a very clear vision of our own context, we need to imagine how we can re-combine the people and talents that exist in OUR contexts and in OUR classrooms given the information that we are learning about.   

As much as there is no more time, and there will never be more money, we DO have the time and the money that we currently spend on things that do not crack the C.O.D.E. of teacher learning. We just have to find them, name them, and file them in the appropriate place.

So, as each of us comes off of a refreshing and recharging summer filled with excitement and ideas about how we can impact student and educator learning, we need to ask ourselves one question before we jump at the next promising practice or idea that comes our way:

"Does this crack the C.O.D.E of teacher learning?"

Friday, June 3, 2016

How Would You Rather Spend Your Time?

Over the last year in my job as District Principal of Innovation, I have been testing out a model to help schools in our district to solve complex educational issues utilizing the existing capacities and resources that they already have at their disposal in their buildings.  The premise behind the model is simple "We have no more time, and there is no more money coming, but we have tons of unused capacity, so let's get on with it!". It has been an interesting and iterative process, and through the help of critical friends, I have slowly been able to tweak the model so that it guides problem-solving in a repeatable and sustainable fashion. As a result, we are starting to see a higher frequency of unique solutions to problems that we have in schools, and perhaps more importantly, I am seeing a broader development of capacity at all levels of our organization to co-design solutions.

The LCD process is one that requires thoughtful planning on the front end, a commitment to truly understanding the needs of the learner and co-creating with them throughout, and a thirst for feedback and willingness to tinker on the back end, regardless of how we feel the solution was received. In other words, it takes effort, and it takes time. And in my experience, the moment that you tell someone that a process such as this is going to take effort and time, they often tend to lose interest.

As a school principal, there were so many parts of my job that I liked, such as working with students, parents and teachers, solving challenging problems, collaborating with colleagues, learning new things and trying different ideas.  (These were the 'brain candy' activities that I described in a previous post.).  There were also parts of being a principal that were less enjoyable: dealing with complaints from students, teachers and parents, disappointing people with decisions that I had made, and having to work through issues that happened in the school that I might not have directly triggered, but certainly became my responsibility as the principal of the school.  The activities that I enjoyed were mostly 'proactive', and the ones that I enjoyed less were often 'reactive'.

When I deconstruct the types of situations that led me to be reactive, there were some common pieces that tended to surface:

  1. There were often issues around communication.  Often there was little or no communication about the issue, or the communication came at a time when it was too late to be usable or make a difference.
  2. There was an assumption or series of assumptions made.
  3. A decision was made independently of those who the decision would impact, often at the organizational level.
  4. There was little or no follow-up or attempt to proactively collect feedback to determine whether the solution was satisfactory--the "no-news is good news" philosophy.
As a result of one or a combination of all of these factors, the time that I spent on the back end of these sorts of issues in 'reaction mode' was not only unpleasant, it often protracted over days, or even weeks or months!   

When we create assumption-based solutions independently of those who the solution will impact, and then fail to collect feedback on how the solution worked, we have become "organization-centered".   For example, if after a sparsely attended Parent-Teacher conference night, we spend some front-end time (FET) considering the issue, choose to change the times of the interviews from evenings to mornings because we assume that parents would rather come to meet with teachers before work, we have taken an organization-centered (OC) approach to this problem.  This might be represented like this, with each block representing the amount of time we spend

Organization-Centric Solution

This can often be called "solution-itis", the affliction that we as educators contract when we move rapidly from problem to solution without involving the people in our school community in the process.  And while this approach takes much less time, and we might get lucky and hit a home-run by taking this sort of tack, the odds of creating a positive experience for people who are never involved in the solution are low, and the odds that we have developed any capacity for our community to help us solve future problems is zero.  And in terms of that 'reactive' time on the back end...well, get ready.  This situation could be represented this way.

Organization-Centric Solution
Back-end (Reactive) Time

In 2013, the Alberta Teachers' Association and the Canadian Association of Principals conducted 40 focus groups with 500 principals from across Canada over the span of two years, and created a document called the "Future of the Principalship in Canada".  This document listed five 'ways forward' to overcome the challenges that take place in schools.  One of these 'ways forward' was "to collaborate and build professional capacities in school staff."  A second was to "build family and community relationships" through "finding new ways to connect with parents and communities".

So what if we took an LCD approach, where we truly appreciate where our learner (student, parent, educator) is at, co-create a vision of what it is that we want, ideate together to great possible solutions, iterate when we test these ideas with those who will live with the solution, and then proliferate the idea to other situations once we determine what makes the best experience for our learner?  "We would like to...but who has time?", we hear.  Well, if we represent the LCD process with blocks of time, it could be represented this way.


which truthfully is much more time and effort than the organization-centric method.

Organization-Centric Solution

until you factor in the reactive piece....

Organization-Centric Solution
Back-end (Reactive) Time

But let's say that even with the back end time factored in, the LCD approach took longer, and even had some reactive time associated with it...

Learner-Centered Design/Solution/Feedback
Back-end (Reactive) Time

the question is, where would you rather spend your time?  For me, as I said above, the parts of my job that I enjoyed less were dealing with complaints from students, teachers and parents, disappointing people with decisions that I had made, and having to work through issues that happened in the school that I might not have directly triggered, but certainly became my responsibility as the principal of the school. Having these types of experiences are more probable if I choose to solve a significant school issue solely from the perspective of the organization, or with the needs of the organization placed before the needs of the learner.  The parts most enjoyed as a Principal were working with students, parents and teachers, solving challenging problems, collaborating with colleagues, learning new things and trying different ideas. These sound a lot more like the pieces that would occur when we take an approach of appreciate, co-create, ideate, iterate, and proliferate like that in the Learner-Centered Design process.  Not only are the odds much higher that the collective school community will come up with a better solution, by involving our community in the co-design process, we will have developed our collective capacity in a way that connects all of us to our school.

I am pretty sure I know how I want to spend my time.