Communication & Collaboration (EFI Hudson & LRFP Related)

Since my last "real" post, there have been a couple of reports (and subsequent controversy). The exact nature of them their ultimate purpose/requirements are different, but the reactions to them have been the same. Besides the angst of the consequences of what's proposed in those reports, I want to write a bit about the confusion about them.

First, some background. The first report that was presented to the trustees at an open meeting was on the Early French Immersion (EFI) program at Henry Hudson Elementary.  The second report that was released was the Draft Long Range Facilities Plan.

There's a lot of "we need to save our school!" campaigns that seems to miss the point a bit. I was asked recently whether there's been a lot of engagement from members of the public. My answer was, yes, but often folks engage me because they don't think I care. There's a perception that trustees make decisions in the board room in isolation; we only read reports and see spreadsheets, and if only we knew how important such and such a thing were (or if only we cared) we would make decisions that aligned with the results they're asking for and if we don't then we're clearly in this for our own profit and/or are horrendously stupid and/or evil.

via GIPHY

Things I want to shout from my soapbox:

  • We do care. About all the kids. Maybe this is a new thing? But can we please stop fighting about who cares more and just get on to how we can best serve those we care about?
  • We are often missing information – trustees and staff and public altogether. (In fact, I'd assert that we're always missing some information because we can't know everything.) Trustees know things that parents don't know, parents know things that trustees don't know. Beauty happens when we can talk curiously with one another to fill in the gaps of our perception.
  • Sometimes we know the same things already and we may still come to different conclusions. That's another beautiful thing. Our minds and hearts are utterly chaotic.
  • We're all different, and yet, all the same. We can derive different beliefs and understanding from the same set of facts, because our experiences and values have accumulated from different lives. But we have the same underlying needs – we all want happiness, we all want to end suffering, and we all thrive on love.
  • Position-based or solutions-based advocacy is just... ugh. We need more values-based discussions, curiosity, willingness to learn about unintuitive data and surprising viewpoints, brains and hearts open to possibilities that can only come about if people can let go of having a particular solution in their heads.

I'm certainly not claiming to be a perfect practitioner (I'm certainly more emotionally attached to certain quieter, slower types of mornings, for example, than my kids afford me these days), and there are lots of places that the VSB and I personally can improve on where communicating our intentions are concerned. It's human nature to grasp and to attach our brains to familiarity. We make sense of the world by making assumptions – if we don't make assumptions and abstractions we will be paralysed by the complexity of life.

And part of it is our job to hear the emotions and steer the conversation toward acceptance and collaboration – after all, we are in positions of perceived power and it's our job to use this power dynamic judiciously.

Things I'd like us to improve on:

  • Developing skills in facilitating dialogue – for both staff and trustees.
  • Showing our values in a more public way. I'm a big fan of this in principle except in reality I get insecure and worry about it a lot. (I'm scared to death that people read this blog. I know there's at least two of you.) (I've been writing and rewriting this piece since January, mostly because scared feelings. In the end I'm still not writing much about my values here.)
  • Meetings. I don't like how we run meetings, generally. I'm testing out some ways (I chaired FinCom on Wed night!) to improve the flow of information and trust, and it's a bit touchy-feely "hey let's talk about feelings and gratitude!", a bit of pushing against the bounds of Roberts Rules, pulling back when I sense that folks are uncomfortable, and poking fun at myself whenever possible.

Things I'd like for everyone in the world to improve on, myself included:

Talking with the Other Side
"It’s more about how can we live together while we disagree about these things that are so personal. This requires much more of us spiritually and practically than the illusion that we’ll force agreement."

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