Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Begin with Policy

As we look at designing new learning environments, we need to first ask ourselves how we want that environment to feel to the participants - students, faculty, staff, community.  If we want a supportive, safe (to encourage some risk-taking!), engaging environment then we need to decide what our "culture" will be like and thus we need to decide how we will "do things."  That is the point of all policy - to explain how things will be done.  I use the term policy because we don't think in terms of local policy much, since we typically call local policy "rules."  I call it policy so that we understand that ALL policy is about telling us how to do things.  And, what that policy is determines how it "feels."  Just look at the Federal and state policies that make no attempt at considering how those policies might feel by the participants (NCLB anyone?).
Thus we start by designing the affective environment by determining the policies that will provide for that positive effect.  This is the true soul of leadership - determining policy that will give you both the positive affective environment that you want, but also get your team focused on the appropriate results.
I'll tell you a little about how I did that as a Superintendent.  I had walked into a very contentious environment where teachers felt little support. I told them that the one thing we do every day in schools happens in their classrooms and that all of the rest of us are here to provide support (my "policy").  Appropriately, their response was, "we look forward to seeing that."  Trust would come only with consistent behavior over time, both by me and my admin team.  Fortunately, we were ultimately able to see the results of these layers of trust developing.  That was when I made the next "policy."  That was, all teachers will have laptops and projectors for their classrooms (among many other things...).  Added to that was all teachers will be able to choose their own professional development and those choices will all be available in monthly PD series.  My policy was clearly based on my belief that the teachers were professional enough to choose wisely, knowing their own needs.  And without having the technology they couldn't integrate tech or project-based learning as easily into their classrooms.  These decisions were clearly policy decisions in that they identified "how we will do things here" thus establishing a particular culture and climate.  The result of these policies was that a huge percentage of teachers engaged technology and project-based learning in their classrooms.  Since we did not force anyone to "change," they were much more trusting of the policy and felt supported in their willingness to try new things.
So, when I ask, what policy will you use I think you can better get the point.  1. What do you want your folks to feel about the environment, and , 2. what policy will help you with that? And, remember, it is the years 2030-2035!  DREAM!

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