If you are going to lead a change initiative on your campus, you better put the work into creating consensus amongst your staff before rolling it out.
If you skip the step of creating consensus, the best you can hope for is compliance from your staff. However, if your initiative is going to be successful, we need to push past compliance and get to commitment. I don’t know if anything great has ever been accomplished in schools as a result of a merely compliant staff.
Creating consensus takes time, and it takes effort. However, the good news is that creating consensus does not mean that you have to get 100% of your people to agree that this is the best direction to go. That’s impossible.
Rick DuFour explained that consensus means all points of view have been actively solicited, and the will of the group is evident – even to those who oppose it (If you don’t have a copy of “Learning by Doing” in your bookshelf, you’re doing it wrong).
The “actively solicited” part of that is important. It’s important to realize that asking for opinions in one large staff meeting probably is not the best way to solicit all points of view. That type of setting allows the loudest members to share their perspectives, but it leaves out those who are not comfortable sharing candid thoughts in a large group setting. We have to make sure we offer them a space to share their thoughts as well.
Asking for feedback through a Google form that you send out one time doesn’t cut it either.
You have to systematically go after everyone’s feedback.
A real example of creating consensus
A few years ago, I worked on a high school campus that did not have a mission statement. It was a newer campus that had only been open for 3 years, and they did not put together a mission statement when it opened. We knew that we needed a compelling purpose if we were going to ensure high levels of learning for all students, so our instructional leadership team (admin, counselors, instructional coaches, department heads, and library/media specialists) decided to begin the process of creating a mission statement.
We did a lot of work as a team to come up with our first draft. Then each person on the ILT set up meetings with “their people” to get their open and honest feedback. We documented their feedback and went back to the ILT to make revisions.
We repeated this process a couple of times. Each time, explaining why certain changes had been made and asking for honest feedback about the newest version.
After several rounds of this, we finally landed on a draft that we, as an ILT, believed represented the will of the staff. We also felt confident that we had thoroughly given everyone in the building multiple opportunities to provide their honest opinions/feedback throughout the process. At that point, we sent it out to the staff to have them vote.
Overwhelmingly (though, definitely not 100%), the staff voted in favor of adopting that mission statement. There were still a few people upset because the mission statement did not capture something that they thought should have been included, but it was clear that the will of the group was to move forward with the current version of the mission statement.
Having previously explained what “consensus” meant, it was also easy to discuss why we were moving forward when dissenters brought up concerns. That was HUGE, and with our mission statement firmly in place, we were ready to start a very similar process to articulate our collective campus commitments.
A year later, we knew our district was eventually planning on making a big adjustment to our grading policy by adopting more of a standards-based approach, so we went through a very similar process with our staff to get ahead of it.
We spent months hosting “lunch and learns” in which we discussed possible policy changes, and actively solicited feedback from the staff. Further, we made sure to meet with every department to solicit feedback. It was important that we actively sought out dissenting opinions, and that we set up individual meetings with those who opposed the possible changes to be able to address their specific concerns.
Eventually, we were able to adopt a plan that would allow our campus to Pilot certain changes before the district rollout.
Did everyone agree? Absolutely not. However, we were able to point back to the definition of consensus and say, “This is what we decided as a campus. Everyone’s opinions were heard, and concerns were addressed. The overwhelming majority of our staff confirmed that this is the will of the campus, and this is what we are moving forward with.”
That is a much easier conversation after putting in the “consensus work.” Also, going through this process helps people decide whether or not they are a good fit for the campus. Some of our teachers decided they did not want to be part of that change, and that’s ok. We did not harbor any hard feelings or ill will toward them. They just wanted something different, and we were happy to help them find places that aligned more with what they believed. That’s a win for everyone.
I hope you can see how important it is to create consensus amongst your staff before rolling out a new initiative. Creating consensus can be a time-consuming process, but all of the time you spend on the front end will be multiplied back to you on the back end as you address concerns moving forward.
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