If you didn't hear it already, be sure to check out our new podcast. In this episode, listen to Carla Silver, Executive Director, Tara Jahn, Associate and Ryan Burke, Senior Partner at Leadership + Design discuss their topic of the month: Collaboration. This episode focuses on what the team refers to as a team's "first failure", and also how to recover and move forward. The conversation ranges from these failures, to the different ways that groups can deal with those issues, to the chance to think even bigger about what the goal of collaborating can be in schools and organizations.
Leadership+Design is an organization guided by the following values: People, Collaboration, Action, Transformation and Joy. This month, we are highlighting Collaboration, however, we have made a commitment to highlight one challenge or call to action each month. Today, you are getting your next challenge, and in service of all of our values, we hope you will accept it and act.
A few weeks ago we shared that this challenge would be a way to get your hands into the messy collaboration and personal reflection on your own collaboration skills. So instead of leaving you to do this on your own, we wanted to share a few opportunities for you to engage with us and other L+Doers In Real Life (IRL) to do one or all of these challenges.
The In Real Life Challenge(s)
Knowing we are a national network of changemakers, here are a few options to engage this month:
When you register, select the ticket time that best meets your schedule.
Yes, this is during the school day and traffic is a bummer. Travel schedules have locked us into this time. If you can make it we would love to see you. If not, more to come.
Make sure you tag @leadanddesign and #collabcatalyst and comment on others' posts to yes, form a deeper connection. Post between October 29, 2019- November 8th, 2019 to maximize conversation with other L+Doers.
A question from one young follower: "Why is it so hard to get people to do their work? Why do I end up doing it all? " This is a common complaint of collaborative endeavors, whether you are a student working in a collaborative learning environment or a leader of a collaborative work team, you may have uttered this phrase. Listen below to share what you might do about it.
Collaboration is a Paradox
By Ryan Burke
Collaboration is both paramount to what we do in education, coming into even greater focus as the world changes, and collaboration is on the ever-changing list of educational jargon that sometimes gets thrown around in the school setting without much real meaning.
All of this is true and not true, and this is only the beginning of the many paradoxes that surround the term collaboration.
At Leadership + Design, we see all group work through the paradoxical lens based on the simple truth:
Human beings crave being in a group, included, and we clearly create more creative and adaptive solutions to complex problems when we harness the power of a diverse and dynamic group of people who think differently but come together around a common purpose.
While this is simply true...so is:
Human beings resist working in groups. The thought of group work often produces anxiety, and we avoid it if we can. We know that working in groups means giving up some of what we believe, and while we hopefully have learned how to share and compromise, we don’t always want to. We know that working in groups is the slowest, most painful way to get something done, and there is no guarantee that anything will get done.
We are haunted by two inner voices competing for airtime and both voices rationally make the case for one side or the other ignoring the paradox:
Voice 1 - “I should be collaborating on this project because I won’t get buy-in if I just do what I want”
Voice 2 - “It is just easier for me to get this done on my own and something done is better than nothing done at all”
This simple, yet dynamic paradox is at the heart of how we see collaboration differently than most firms. A book that addresses this directly is The Paradoxes of Group Life by Smith and Berg.
This book goes into much greater detail regarding the different ways that people feel and experience paradox in their group life, and it forms a foundation for how we manage, instead of solve issues in group life.
What is helpful about shifting one’s view of collaboration to a paradoxical lens lies in the shift from solving to managing, and this shift offers one critical reframe which helps leaders, at any level of system, expand their awareness of, and ability to, manage complexity in groups.
The Critical Re-frame
In your mind, put yourself in the group or team you have been assigned to lead or work within. It is that moment when your high hopes are crushed. You had hoped that this time would be different, that this time your group would be “good.” But, you were wrong. You got a bad group again, or you already knew the group was bad, and they confirmed, once again, that this team is doomed, dysfunctional or _______ (insert word that starts with d and denotes a dismal destiny).
Often in these moments we can point in our mind to the person that is to blame. It is rarely us, yet paradoxically, we are the only one we have control over.
The value of viewing group work as a paradox comes in this moment. Instead of the narrative above, a paradoxical lens allows one to experience this moment differently. One acknowledges that this moment in groups is expected, normal, necessary and useful in figuring out how to move forward. It may still be hard or uncomfortable, but it has a purpose and one sees it coming. You have two productive choices with this lens:
Choice One: You can tolerate the messiness of the moment, the struggle with an attitude that embodies the above narrative. You are resilient, patient, you are optimistic and even thankful for the struggle as a key indicator of important insight for the group.
Choice Two: You can intervene and take responsibility for trying to help the group through the struggle.
Neither scenario is guaranteed to “work”, however, either choice is far superior to the negative mental tailspin that not only shuts down ability to contribute, but is contagious, toxic and hopeless once one has decided that the group is dysfunctional or doing it wrong.
We look forward to the rest of the month as we explore collaboration. Once this fundamental shift is made, one can focus on learning about tools and skills for choice number two above. But choice number one, tolerating hard moments in groups with a great attitude, open and grateful for the struggle and embodying hope, curiosity and optimism can be a powerful act of leadership capable of changing the way it feels to work for and with you. As you think about this, try it out and experience these moments in your group life, we would love to hear from you. Tell us how this reframe has impacted your experience.
Collaboration Question of the Week: If we know we should have an agenda for a good meeting, why don't we have one?
Listen to Ryan Burke, Senior Partner at L+D answer this week's collaboration question.
You can’t give what you don’t own
An origin story matters. I am the youngest of three children to parents who grew up in the same neighborhood and were themselves children of immigrants. I am also the younger brother to a sister born with cognitive and physical disabilities. For as far back as I can recall, nothing was more important in our house than keeping order, keeping routine, and being predictable. If those conditions were met, my parents were happy and our house peaceful. My unspoken role was to help manage stress and keep order by always being by my sister’s side.
My formal schooling reinforced this approach. I was really, really adept at following directions, meeting expectations, and keeping harmony around me. I even enjoyed some moderate success in a sport that further promoted this mindset - rowing. All this order, predictability, and deference to authority tended to make other people happy. Back to my sister. It didn’t really matter what expectations were set forth from our school bus driver, camp counselors, parents, or neighborhood kids. Many things I accomplished one way, she couldn’t. On any given task, it didn’t take long to see and feel her burgeoning frustration. Why would I continue “as directed” if the approach not only didn’t work - but diminished her - and if I had started to discover that she could do much of what was being asked of her, just not in the way everyone else did it? She made meaning. She just did not construct the same meaning nor in the same manner. The high-pitched squeal of excitement she released when she felt empowered, when she had agency, could and still does bring tears to my eyes. In hindsight, the dynamic between us was unspoken sharing of the learner and teacher roles - an experiential learning laboratory. These discoveries were the foundational blocks to the model of education I sought to build upon and bring to others. Yet, the ruts, routines, and constricting Ivy of the status quo seemed to infiltrate everywhere and would inhibit transferring the teaching and learning I did with my sister to other domains of my life.
After “mastering” high school, college and more formal study as instructed, I went into teaching at a school that was very similar to my own high school experience; orderly, traditional, reverential for the way things had always been done. The idealism of youth and experience that suggested there wasn’t a singular way to learn, gave way to the experience of keeping others placated which meant preserving the order of existing systems.
Thankfully, in hindsight, it was a short stint as most faculty sabbatical replacements (you know, like a part) tend to be. Thereafter I landed where I needed to be. In a centuries-old school that was very intentionally student-centered, I contributed to evolving school programs that allowed students to make meaning for themselves and of themselves. The faculty conversations were so robust and so honest, and ultimately as valuable and formative as any professional development or graduate course I had taken. I was surrounded by boundless creativity and capacity. The adults in the community believed we must continually explore and advance our desire to help students be prepared for the world that they were going into. This proved to be the first professional experience that aligned with my childhood experience as a learner-leader alongside my sister. Ah, but as fate would have it, I lived in a dorm of juniors and seniors and I found myself talking with students about life beyond high school which inevitably lead to reading college essays, looking at applications, and trying to educate myself on the colleges and universities that they were considering. Soon enough, I became one college counselors and then eventually the co-director of college counseling. This step “up” into administration was really a step deeper into the status quo machine. Even at this forward-focused school the force of the status quo was formidable (not all different than the dark side of the force in Star Wars). In the college process all had to be just so: all constituencies contributed to the arms-race and tyranny of the College List. Do school as it is supposed to be done. Student-centeredness matters until it bumps up against the transcript. The transcript - the way we’ve always done it - always wins. Adult seriousness disorder (ASD) had taken hold and was ravaging my system. My job was to stay in line and climb the ladder in front of me.
Over the next decade. I served different schools in various leadership capacities, many professing an interest in challenging the status quo. Ultimately, at the threshold of “no return” each reverted back to what it had always done, appeased constituents, and perpetuated a system that was long broken. Any traces of my super power or signature presence had faded to the point of being imperceptible. Then, an understated colleague introduced me to Twitter: “the scope and depth of ideas out there are incredible. If each of us were to follow 10 to 15 people, just imagine the crowdsourcing of ideas we could generate.” A few Twitter hops, skips, and jumps later, I received an invitation to apply for Leadership + Design’s Fellows program. Oh, hello, Ellen Dee. It’s nice to finally meet you. I didn’t even realize that I was looking for you.
Looking back, the prompts of the Fellowship application itself resonated with me. Yes, these are the people I want to be around: building capacity and fostering creativity; seekers, mavericks, and questioners creating the future of teaching and learning. As part of the first Fellowship cohort, I had many moments where I thought, “I’m holding them back; my contributions won’t matter.” You know the type: the destructive self-talk, the imposter syndrome chatter that keeps us safe, following instructions, being mastered, squarely in the status quo, and ultimately unfulfilled? I felt like a conflicted, twisted stork. But, there simply wasn’t time for or value in that thinking. In this group, I was supported in my quest to (re)discover whatever I needed to in order to be authentically me. I was liberated from my comfort zone and steered toward relevance and agency - for adults and students. The vulnerability and courage of this group was unlike anything I had ever seen - like those persistent squirrels that are in continual motion, planting seeds in some places and unearthing them in others - always believing in what might be. Disagreeing, perhaps, but never disagreeable. They were scratching at a surface I had rather effectively hidden away. And, each one of them passed my internal litmus test: my sister would trust them because they were patient, tireless, human, and sincere. As we tapped into improv, empathy interviews, duct-taping the broken parts of school, prototyping, critiquing, bowling, and even snowballs, everything spurred creativity and deeper inquiry. The realization that I was not alone was like whiplash. But, this tribe was not at my school. How might these Fellows help me awaken a faculty in my school who might then together build an indispensable learning environment that would serve students by listening to the signals of their future, not merely the order, routine, and predictability of the past? A tall order, sure, but only that.
Out of sight was not out of mind. This tribe was a constant (often virtual) source of conversation and inspiration, willing to put safety third, shoot for the moon, and marvel at what was co-created even when missing the original mark. As the year-long Fellowship drew to a close, I clearly had been stirred. I wondered whether my sense of being an L+Doer was merely a function of being in their company (there’s the chatter again…) or if I could sustain this sensibility on my own from within. A fellow Fellow offered a possible lens: the Santa Fe Seminar. Off I went, rather quietly, of course, trying not to disrupt the status quo. Once there, Crystal Land, Ryan Burke, and Carla Silver gave us compasses to explore rivers, ruts, labyrinths, shadows, springs, hikes, and challenges. Santa Fe posed powerful yet simple questions: What do you value? What’s in your way? So what? How do you offer benevolence in response to the status quo’s fear, anger, and selfishness?
Santa Fe cut through years and years of overgrowth in short order, and I felt both exposed and grateful. The traditional rules, the rules that kept everyone happy - at least on the outside - had choked out the springs that fed my desire to be in education. My river had been rendered a rut. Here’s the kicker: I owned most of the blame. You can’t give what you don’t own. So, it’s no wonder that so many educators, schools, and students in our society are stuck. We tuck away - or worse yet, surrender - our agency, our creativity, our most powerful selves just so we can get into an orderly line and play the game of school. That’s not who I was, at least that was not who I had been and nor was that who I wanted to be. But, over a couple of decades in schools I had allowed myself to contribute to the creation of my own confinement. It was here in Santa Fe, immersed in my own (re)discovery, that the idea of “truth pods” were introduced and in one of the least status quo and most immersive places I had ever encountered: Meow Wolf.
Inspired by what sounded like a melding of ideas presented in Annie Dukes’ “Thinking in Bets” and the Quaker practice of “clearness committees”, these Truth Seeking Pods were my weekly sustenance for this stretch of my transformation journey. They were critical to sustaining the “springs” of conviction I found in Santa Fe. To find glimmers one’s truth and let allow that to guide thoughts, deeds, and interactions would take intentional practice, patience, and more than just me, lest I revert back to the gravity and inertia of the status quo. In these weekly pods of five educators in similar, but not identical environments, we “pod members” were surrounded by others willing to confront fun-house-mirror perspectives and distortions as a means to think and perceive as objectively as possible, because we cared about each other and the shift each was trying to make in schools. The goal was not group-feelgood. The goal was learning. This was the equivalent of ten weeks of “weekly dinner with grandma”: lots of explaining, lots of questions, lots of patience, lots of care, and… you just. did. not. skip. This was a chance to build habit and endurance necessary for exploratory thinking to take the place of the comforting confinement of confirmatory thinking. Having someone challenge the stories I told - the very same I told myself and others and of which I had grown tired - was a gift. These stories were burdensome status quo stories and no consequential transformation would advance until those stories were named and brought to sunlight. I knew I needed it, I believed I’d be better for it. I just didn’t always revel in the moments my layers of masks and carefully constructed rationalization fell away. Unknitting a sweater isn’t easy. Each week: drip, drip, drip; rip, rip, rip; ship, ship, ship. Anyone who claims virtual meetings are devoid of meaningful connection likely hasn’t been in a L+D Truth Seeking Pod.
And then, we launched. Our L+D guide not wanting us to be too dependent on a singular “leader” for truth-speaking and sense-making left us to do it on our own; we were being “held capable” of building what we needed to own for ourselves. We stumbled, even stepped backward, and then we launched. Not unlike that moment when a parent’s hand releases the bike seat unbeknownst to the new two-wheeled rider. When the rider figures it out they are momentarily terrified and then overwhelmingly empowered by their agency to explore the world and expand and shape their reality in it.
If the words, “my transformation is complete” were to ever pass my lips, I might rightly be mistaken for that robot outside Meow Wolf. Saying it would reveal a fixed mindset emblematic of so much of educational status quo and proof that I was still mired in the muck of ruts. There is nothing to complete; the game has changed. Being “unmastered” by the status quo is an overt choice, intentional and iterative. This sensibility needs regular cultivation by me and this sensibility needs to be explored and inspired by Fellows, rivers, and pods. The game to be played in schools now is more about surfacing the value of non-traditional learning experiences that spark creative disobedience; that is, the antidote to the status quo. UnMastered - the online professional growth experience from Leadership + Design introduced this past summer - aptly captures the arc of my L+D transformation these past three years: human-centered design, futurist thinking, and the individual as change agent and manager.
Sustaining the status quo is easy on the outside, but often corrosive and debilitating on the inside; certainty stunts growth. Interrogating reality is hard on the outside, but invaluable and generative on the inside; curiosity sparks growth. My L+D transformation is not complete, but at least it’s happening. My ASD is employed with discretion now (I still have to manage a RBF, however). I am a more fully present colleague and family member. Missing a mark doesn’t grind me to a halt; progress beats perfection. Contributing to how other adults build capacity so they can do the same for students is a more enduring transformation proposition. By now, I’ve lost my place in the line enough times to wonder if I even want to be in line for what awaits at the end of it. I’m more fully me, catalyzed by provocation and exploration, optimistic about what might be, and, like Ellen Dee, far more curious than certain about the future of learning and education.
Ever since launching Truth-Seeking Pods last year, we have been getting this question. Listen here to a short segment answering the question.
Dear Ellen Dee (L+D),
I am coming out of the daze of the last 72 hours. Can it really be true? The Monthly Recharge was like a vessel in the middle of vast and empty seascape filled with sharks, salt-water piranhas and angry beluga whales.
How can I say this politely, “What were you thinking?” I felt the same way when someone suggested that writing in a blue book and taking final exams were akin to an airplane ashtray. Are you suggesting that the beginning of the year is a good time to scuttle the ship?
Lost at Sea
In short, yes. In long, schools have always struggled to create open space for new beginnings. We add, we add, we add, we add, we addddddddddddd, and fail to acknowledge that adding in this way is actually called hoarding . We rarely have the courage to acknowledge that creative destruction is an essential component of healthy and vibrant ecosystems. What emerges from creative destruction is fueled by the nutrients of what we clear away, and the anemic, depleted new initiatives that are dying in many schools are missing these key nutrients that only sacrificing (Insert what needs to be creatively destroyed at your school) can provide. What are the structures, programs or ways of thinking that you might compost in order to feed your school’s soil? What are the habits, mindsets, fears or personal narratives that might need to expire to feed your personal garden? What new space, what new thinking, what new ideas, practices or opportunities might grow in this newly fertilized soil?
We, like you, are prone to feeling comfortable when things are familiar, predictable, and consistent. Many people loved the Monthly Recharge, and we loved planting, growing and watching it bear fruit. People often believe that L+D is immune to feeling discomfort or isn’t prone to regression to the mean, but we do feel this discomfort and we have to actively make sure we are reflecting, planning and transforming our work with bias towards action. Transformation is something that must be actively cultivated, and it drives us as one of our five core values.
We work with schools and school leaders on both institutional and personal transformation. So Lost, while the Monthly Recharge is no longer with us, the ecosystem is vibrant and there is work to be done. In that spirit, we would like to draw your attention to two opportunities this fall that are aimed at transformation.
Truth-Seeking Pods: This fall, starting on October 1st, we are filling five different truth-seeking pods. Each pod is a small cohort (5 people) that agree to meet in an online environment (Zoom) once a week between October and December. Each week, in a 90-minute meeting, this small cohort will follow L+D protocols to practice and explore ways of unpacking, thinking about, and expanding the way we give feedback, make important decisions and tackle the challenges that come with school leadership. These pods are meant to be short in time, but deep in regards to the learning and connection with other members. There are five pods (Female Leaders, Male Leaders, Heads of School, Program Leaders, General Leadership) and the slots are filling quickly, so please click here and sign up ASAP because October 1st is coming soon.
The Santa Fe Seminar : This program has been a part of Leadership+Design since the beginning and has endured its own transformation over the years. If you are seeking time for reflection, renewal and exploratory opportunities that may surface in you those things that need to be creatively destroyed, composted and revitalized, then the Santa Fe Seminar is an absolute priority for you. The location is intentional and we use the New Mexican landscape as much more than a backdrop for this program. We actively engage in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Santa Fe. Maybe you’ll hike, visit Meow Wolf , mountain bike, get a massage at Ten Thousand Wave s and yeah, probably drink a margarita or two at The Shed (but no more than two because you are at 7,000 feet). This is the place for you (and annually for us) to identify those elements of our lives and work that are no longer serving us. Where we can, like a desert snake, shed the narratives and the practices holding us back from being the best versions of ourselves. So waste no time. Register now.
Lost, we hear you and the many others who will miss the Recharge , but it’s time to evolve. We can’t wait to share what is next with you and others! Finally, we wanted to let you know that we have consulted our fact checkers, and as far as they know, salt-water piranhas are a figment of your imagination.
Do you have a question or dilemma for Dear L+D? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
THE SANTA FE SEMINAR
A leadership journey about purpose and direction.
November 13-16, 2019
Santa Fe, NM
Build capacity while tackling your school or district's next big question
Leadership+Design | 408-348-8617 | www.leadershipanddesign.org
Build capacity. Create conversation. Make connections.
The Monthly Recharge
L+D Staff and Friends
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