Mandates. We all know them. In the world of education, there is no shortage. After 17 years, I have known a few. Not surprisingly, when the people implementing mandates do not find intrinsic worth or value, the moment the mandate goes away, so does the practice associated with it. When mandates fail, teachers are usually the ones to blame. It is not that mandates are bad. Sometimes they are needed. The point is, mandates do not drive change and they certainly do not impact cultures. Teachers certainly are not the ones to blame. In fact, I am not sure the blame game even matters anymore. What matters most is where we go from here. In a profession that is continuing to cannibalize itself, turn on itself, and schism, we need each other in order to move forward. People matter, collaboration matters, processes matter, and outcomes matter. These four values can help build the collective capacity needed to improve the the profession many of us love. These 4 values are foundational to true cultural change.
1. Value your people as much if not more than your process and outcomes.
I have always been mentored to “trust the process” but if the process is sucking the energy out of the very people that are engaged in the process, then the process will inevitably fail. Hence, people need to come before process. Know your process but know that people will look at the process differently. What you will find is that the process is different for each person and that is what is most important. Adding value to conversations, giving time and resources is many times more beneficial than expecting mandates to be met on a timeline. It can yield greater results. Valuing people means that we:
- Listen and are present for people. Have empathy.
- Use dialogue and make meetings people oriented.
- Allow each other to explore ideas, divergence, frustrations, failures, and most importantly, celebrate successes.
- Put people at the center of our agendas. Meetings are beneficial in as far as they serve the needs of the people attending them.
Love the process. It is extremely important. Yet, you must give more than you receive in order to inspire people to do what they have never done. You can not give the process vitality unless you love and respect the people who must enact it. Value your people more than your process. Value influence.
2. Value Collaboration in order to value people, the process, and outcomes.
The idea of the individual hero is illusionary at best. It is in our collaboration where we thrive. If we are to grow as a profession we have to serve each other and realize that the the community is more important than the individual. This may be contrary to American ideology but our ideas can only be surfaced and realized through collaboration and cooperation. The myth of the rugged individual changing the world is dusty and obsolete at best. We must also realize that we are only as worthy as the people we serve. Closing our doors and doing our own thing might be inviting and intriguing but it is the antithesis of what we must do. Valuing collaboration means that we:
- Make time to gather regularly to dialogue and create.
- Define roles and responsibilities that will help drive collaboration.
- Set norms and use structures to enhance dialogue with each other.
- Ensure that learning is at the center of collaboration.
- Develop leadership capacity and decision making
The worth of our ideas are determined by the worth of the people by which we are surrounded. Our work is best realized when we embrace that it is communal over individual. Our ideas become stronger when we continue to stay open to the fact that others have as much or more to offer to our ideas than ourselves. Be okay with changing your mind openly. Value collaboration over individuality.
3. Value your process as much as your Outcomes
I love outcomes. Outcomes are what drive our work. I have been trained to look at data of all kinds to look for impacts, declines, where we are working forward and where we are falling behind. Yet, Outcomes will continue to be elusive if we do not trust the process to get to those outcomes. Many times, it is the process, the continued process, the failure of the process, the success of the process, and the sharing of those failures and successes that leads us to improve outcomes. There is a transparency that happens when one trusts the process. Yet, the key word is trust. People matter more than the process but the process is what brings people together and gives them the resolve to tackle complex problems. With this process come conflict. Conflict can destroy relationships or it can enhance them. Using conflict as a part of the process, expecting it and learning how to navigate it, is a game changer. Valuing the process means that we:
- Understand the most valuable part of the process is the engagement with the process. Everyone.
- Use conflict productively and confront it rather than avoid it.
- Understand learning has primacy over production.
- Say yes more than we say no and stay in tune to impact
- Focus on what is happening as a result of the process
Many times, mandates use conflict as a weapon, rewarding those who fall in line and outcasting those who do not. This type of reward/punishment system does not value the process. It short changes it. Use conflict as a tool. Value authenticity in the process. Value results as a part of the process. Learn to trust the process.
4. Value your Outcomes as the result of the People and the Process
Outcomes are why we do this work. They matter and in the end are what inevitably drive our work in the right or wrong direction. Yet, without a value on people and the processes that people utilize, outcomes are hard to influence. They happen by chance rather than by design. Many times, they fall flat and we have no other logical thinking why they have failed other than blame. So we rinse and repeat with a different mandate. The vicious cycle. Outcomes are the Alpha and the Omega. They must be identified. To value outcomes we must:
- Know what we are aiming for, and identify what we are wanting to impact.
- Ensure that we are focused on the right outcomes.
- Keep transparency as a core means of improving outcomes.
- Simplify the process to influence the outcomes.
- Understand that people, collaboration, and the process are what influences outcomes.
Valuing the outcomes with a primacy over the process and the very people who are working to shift these outcomes will lead to the vicious cycles we experience over and over again. Know what outcomes you are wanting to produce and value your people to value the process. Live between the Alpha and Omega.
As I wrote this, I kept thinking how this applies to all aspects of our lives. It got me thinking about all the work we do in schools and how dissatisfied our teachers are with the work they are asked to do. It brings about a series of questions?
- Have we come to a point where we value frameworks and blueprints over people
- Have the outcomes become so urgent that we don’t move at a pace where the process can work?
- Do we truly understand what collaboration can do for us as a whole?
- Are we willing to give up either/or thinking and embrace both/and thinking?
These four values are not a quick fix. Primarily because these four values cause us to become uncomfortable. They challenge us. They take time. To some they may be too broad but forsaking big picture broad thinking at the altar of pragmatism will only continue our vicious cycles. Understandably we cannot live in theory. Theory must have action. These four values can help drive the right actions we take to impact true cultural change in our schools.