We’ve rounded the corner. School X is “done”. School Y is “done”. And so is School Z which I have not really spoken about yet since I was able to convene their team only this past week.

School Z, as each has been, was also very interesting. As with the other schools many of the same initial variables prevailed. These are about the High Involvement variables I have already spoken to and will again many times over in additional posts.

I am always struck about how valid they invariably are. Here I give chief credit to Priscilla Wohlstetter and her colleagues for solidifying the research about high involvement variables in effective school improvement groups. I will also take much less research-credit for my own research of the existence of high involvement variables in Blue Ribbon schools. Nonetheless what often appears to be the critical factors in my experience is the Knowledge variable.

This variable on closer examination may be more cleanly refined by viewing it through two additional lenses: The first is the group’s ability to use data, both qualitative and quantitative, to identify root causes; generate goals; create effective and measurable strategies; and develop worthy operational and strategic plans. The second lens is the ability of the team to coalesce around inclusive group dynamics to foster meaningful dialogue without rancor and personal agenda.

School Z was remarkably proficient at meaningful dialogue among them. This was notwithstanding some specific individuals, understandably being somewhat more sensitive than others about resource allocation and their own roles and responsibilities in the school and its district. They seemed aware of this and took professional pains to leave their agenda at the front door as best they could. In fact, they became a valuable asset to the group when they offered additional perspectives and ideas from their own experiences to the recommendations the group tentatively considered.

My role in this dynamic was to encourage this, mindful too, of not letting them dominate the conversation.

The group also handled the data analysis activities quite well although typical cart before the horse diagnostics kicked in that I was hard pressed to reverse. And by the way this was true in the other groups too.

That is, they reviewed documentation, looked at performance data, did some walk-throughs, and several interviews. They distilled what they had found and even though they had groped around the entire elephant (mindful of the 5 blind indians who did same in the fable), drew conclusions, and offered recommendations slash solutions before they had identified the root causes they were trying to pinpoint.

Again, please understand that this is typical group / school improvement behavior and I dare say true of any committee in any organization. It falls to the Facilitator to keep this at minimum although I daresay it’s impossible to totally smother because decision making you see is just NEVER a linear process!

The best antidote to nitpicking solutions to pieces of a problem is to teach the group beforehand that they should be mindful of jumping to generalizations from specifics. Perhaps more important is the facilitator’s obligation to teach the group beforehand root cause identification strategies. I refer you to Paul Preuss and to Vicki Bernhardt among others, for the many ways to approach this.

What I find more effective is to teach the skill in isolation; model it on the most simple basis, then take one of the issues that they seem to be zeroing toward and modeling that again with the root cause identification strategies that you have shown.

Takes time?! You bet. But if you mean to “teach a man to fish” this is the best way to truly transform the individuals into a group problem solving exemplar.

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