Friday, February 24, 2012

Relationships...MATTER. #edchat #cbchat #edtech

Note: This is one in a series of blog entries exploring the role of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or Director of Technology. Please be sure toread the whole series! 

It's a truism - Relationships matter, especially, How to build relationships when change is critical
After all, human beings are social animals, pack animals, members of a herd, a family of individuals bound together for survival. Yet, for all its truth, getting along long enough to bring about fundamental change can be the hardest act human relationships have to endure. And, to be blunt, many do not.

Sometimes those changes are positive, some times, they are positive but perceived as negative. Some times they are negative, cast as positive. The infinite variety of how relationships can be damaged by a well-meaning, well-intentioned individual or highly committed group of people is LEGION. And, yes, I am making a connection to that story that haunts anyone who's heard the good news--evil exists. But what has it all to do with bringing about change in schools?

"Inquiry Hub - Coquitlam Open Learning - School District #43"Last night Stephen Whiffin, Sarah Husband and I formally presented the ‘Inquiry Hub‘ to Superintendent Tom Grant, the District Leadership Team, and our School Board Trustees. It is hard for me to contain my excitement at being able to share this project ‘out loud’! What was wonderful was how well received this was by our board members and everyone present. I think Trustee Judy Shirra summed it up well when she said, “I Hub”. :-)
Read the rest here.
As powerful as it is to read about the good news, I'm always interested in the backstory. It reflects my own inadequacy as a leader building relationships. Highly sensitive to HOW the relationships that made this presentation possible, that made reception of the school board trustees a positive one, I decided to ask David Truss the burning question:
David, congrats on your preso! I’m curious about the beginnings of the conversation that led to this preso, how you built the relationships that allowed this to even come into being….
This is critical, even more so than WHAT was presented. HOW is more critical than WHAT. The School Board Trustees, although I'm sure they are passionate about education, at some point must accept that what the leadership team is sharing with them is valid, reliable, and will bring about a better education fo students. So, the question then becomes, not what, but how did David, Stephen and others build the relationships needed to ensure that the message would be well-received?
Source: Wikipedia,
The Parable of the Sower comes to mind, right? Instead of a farmer, picture that person as the superintendent, or the leader of the District Leadership team, or even, Stephen and David themselves. How was the field of dreams tilled, irrigated, and nourished so that what was planted would be fruitful and multiply?

Miguel's Take-Aways
Further down below is David's response, but, for now, here are my take-aways from that response. What would you add to it?
  1. You must first set a vision of what's possible in play.
  2. Identify that the need(s) available can be met by strategic use of staffing and technologies available.
  3. Acknowledge past efforts that failed to be implemented fully.
  4. Connect with powerful stakeholders (district department directors), as well as those "in the trenches" (teachers and students)
  5. Align the plan with standards and goals at the state level
  6. Connect with stakeholders and communicate in an ongoing manner.
  7. And, a point that David shared explicitly with me, "Run to the resistors" rather than away from them. To me, this means embrace resistance viewpoint as one that can enlighten the conversation rather than stop it.
Again, what would you add to it? Below is David's response in full.

David's Insights Into Relationships
David's response, as he shared in the comments section on his blog:
With respect to relationships, I think I first have to commend my Principal, Stephen Whiffin, for ‘pitching’ this concept to our Superintendent, Tom Grant. Quite simply, no relationships matter if there isn’t a vision of what’s possible set into play. Stephen recognized both a need for a truly ‘blended’ learning environment, (he is Principal of our ‘Open Learning’), and our inherent ability to enhance a small program with available staffing and online teaching support that we already have… In essence, we have more capacity to meet student needs in the Inquiry Hub than a small school normally would. I think it is important to admit this ‘advantage’ we have, as this may not be something others have, as more schools/programs like this are started.
* Our school district has a vision of “Learning Without Boundaries” spearheaded by our Superintendent.
* Our Trustees on our Board of Education were recently all re-elected and they too share the vision of “Learning Without Boundaries”, and they have continued to be very supportive of new and exciting initiatives in our district.
* Our Secretary Treasurer supports this initiative and even tried to support a similar project in another district about 15 years ago.
* Our Assistant Superintendent is in charge of technology and fully supportive.
* Our Manager of Information Services has helped support one of the most ‘open’ districts in Canada and is working on developing the best infrastructures we can afford.
* Our fellow administrators and teaching staff are really excited about the possibilities and we’ve already begun conversations about how our inquiry into inquiry can benefit all schools. We are also building relationships with nearby high schools who may provide some elective options for our students that would not be possible in our school.
* Stephen has initiated conversations with nearby Simon Fraser University who are looking into grant possibilities to really tie in an educational research component to what we are doing.
* Stephen has also initiated conversations with the BC Ministry of Education to get pilot status (now called ‘prototype status’) for our first year. This is important because high school credit in BC is funded course-by-course and the model we are building does not fit the funding definitions of traditional classes or online/distributed learning. Fortunately, we are doing this at a time when the Ministry has implemented a new Educational Plan and our school fits perfectly with theirPersonalized LearningFlexibility & Choice, and Learning Empowered by Technology mandates.
We just had our first information session a couple nights ago and the response from families was excellent. As we move forward, we are looking for greater input from teachers, parents and of course students!
I look forward to sharing more of the adventure and hope that others can benefit from the sharing. Please feel free to ask more questions! :-)
A Parting Reflection from Miguel
How much do you think the following connects with the reality of the work of superintendents as the sower, the farmer responsible for preparing the hearts of men?
The parable taught clearly where the responsibility lay with regard to the kingdom of God and the reception of the gospel. It was not with the sower and it was not in the seed - it was in the 'soil,' the heart of man. - E. Keith Howick (As cited in Wikipedia)
There's wisdom in this statement, too, isn't there? Let me re-write it to get at it a bit better:
The parable taught clearly where the responsibility lay with regards to the school district and the reception of education reform. It was not with the superintendent and it was not in the message--it was in the "relationships that matter," in the hearts of the stakeholders.
Does that work? Hmm....

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

1 comment:

David Truss said...


I love the take-aways that you pull out of this experience.

While I understand that we are fortunate to have cooperative parties at many levels, I do think that the time is ripe for innovation even in places where barriers are potentially in the way. For example, it may be impossible to create an entire separate school with a flexible timetable in many districts across Canada, the US, and the world... but the practices we hope to share in the new school can happen anywhere! Have a look at the headers on ~
Inquiry :: Voice :: Audience :: Community :: Leadership :: Play :: Networks
~ Each one of these are things that don't need a flexible timetable and new school to facilitate in a classroom.
I think the real vision piece is in seeing what's possible within the realm of existing constraints and taking advantage of what's possible despite the specific challenges faced. Otherwise it's just too easy to throw up your hands and think 'that would never fly here'... that said, if that's the situation you are in, well then it's probably time to find a new 'here'. :)

Genuine Leadership #4: Gratitude