November 29, 2013

There's no such thing as The Strategy. Only strategies, plural, for people

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Originally posted on the wonderful NoTosh Facebook page.

During my tour of Sweden, I worked with groups of senior education leaders - district directors, politicians, parent and union reps, principals - and sometimes it might even have been the first time that these distinct groups of leaders had sat together in the same room to talk about how their strategies for better learning might actually be put into place.

All the discussions and processes we used unearthed fascinating insights, interesting as much as anything for the potential that, until now, had been locked up in their different perspectives of what great learning actually entailed. One such fascinating discussion was with a wide range of education leaders at a 90 minute workshop in Tidaholm, a beautiful city a couple of hours out of Gothenburg.

We undertook an exercise that is quick to explain, and leaves ample time for people to share the hopes, fears and expectations of the future, in a structured way that leaves no innovative stone unturned.

Part of the process, nicknamed the Dilemma Dance, involves each mixed team (principal, district person, teacher) coming up with what they believe to be the core strategy to follow, the key problem to resolve or opportunity to be harnessed. Take a look at how diverse one group's understanding of a "common strategy" is:

// How might we help each student arrive at his or her maximum capacity from the gifts that (s)he has?

// There is always a way for everyone to learn; how might we find that way?

// How might we bring the world into the classroom in order to get every student included in their world?

// How might we give students the chance to participate in their learning through reflection?

// How might we create the kind of environment where joyful learning through participation, creativity and sharing is the norm?

Some are focussed on students' progress, others on equality, others on better formative assessment strategies, others still on a culture of curiosity and creativity. These fives groups came up with five different levels of focus for a "common strategy". And they're not alone - every group I've ever worked with comes up with something similar.

What does it reveal? It shows that there is no such thing as a common strategy. As soon as people are introduced to strategy - something that normally happens AFTER it has been written, incidentally - we suddenly realise that there are STRATEGIES, one for each type of person involved, each strategy giving that group of people a responsibility in delivering their part of the strategy bargain.

If more policy-makers and school leaders started with people at the core of their strategy/-ies, then maybe would see more a-ha! moments of this variety, earlier on in the process. Maybe we could begin to see the emergence of "pod-like" delegated leadership in schools, with people-centred strategy groups looking after every part of the school's community. Surely this is more feasible than one strategy pretending it could ever cater to everyone's needs?

Originally posted on the wonderful NoTosh Facebook page.

Pic of Tidaholm by Pete Hunt (CC)

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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Do you worry that your school or district could better harness its people, digital technology or physical space? Do you want some actionable inspiration, a mentor for a learning journey with your staff?

In a keynote or masterclass we can give them concrete ideas based on experience, enthusiasm fired by a vision of what can be, and backup before and after to make it happen for them.

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