Compassionate Listening: Your Homework for Education Transformation

“When you listen, you become immersed in the loved experience of others. And if you listen with compassion, you get it. And THAT leads you to solution.” — Dr. Folami Prescott-Adams IF YOU’VE SPENT MORE THAN five minutes around schools, you’ve probably got a reflexive reaction to the term education reformer. The very phrase tends to spark either cheers or catcalls. You’ve seen the effusive profiles of heroic charter school leaders who are working wonders. And you’ve perused the bitter blogs attacking those same leaders as “deform- ers” bent on destroying public education. Education is brimming with passionate people who see schooling as a way to make a difference. Most of the time, passion is a wonderful thing. It lends us energy and gives our work meaning. In school reform, though, I sometimes think we suffer from a curious malady: too much passion. — Excerpt from the Preface of Letters to a Young Education Reformer  by Frederick M. Hess. The words from the excerpted Preface above spoke to me (and I hope they speak to you, too) as Hess tries to break down what it means to be an education reformer. He summarizes what I see as a daily struggle. If we are to move beyond a set of reforms to a true understanding of why our schools need transformation and what that can look like across charters, neighborhood schools and every other attempt made to get it right – then we will have to listen to each other. When a passionate parent speaks at a Board meeting, how compassionately are we listening to their concerns and frustrations? When a new teacher shares both the challenges and small wins they experience in the classroom, are we listening to their joy with compassion? If we can find the compassion and listen to their joy in their own…

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Wanted: Black Mothers for APS Board of Education

Almost two years ago to the day, a colleague said to me “There are no Black mothers on the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education.” At the time I thought it was an unusual observation with little meaning. After all, we have Eshe Collins, the only African-American woman on the Board. And she has worked in early childhood and at GSU where I’m sure she has taught, influenced and learned from many student teachers. She taught in Atlanta Public Schools through Teach for America and has even been a policy clerk at The Children’s Defense Fund. That was good enough for me. And we have three white mothers and two Black fathers, one of whom just became a father since being on the Board. Two of those mothers have adult children who have graduated from APS and of the three current APS students remaining, two attend charter schools and one attends Maynard Jackson HS. —————————- Fast forward to yesterday when I had a discussion about what we want and need on our Board as we move swiftly into campaign season for ALL 9 SEATS! I reflected on the Black mother comment and we collectively realized that the Black mother is the number one constituent of APS. She disproportionately sends her children to the city schools, volunteers in the school, anguishes when her children are not doing or being served well and ends up running the PTA only after being begged and convinced nobody can lead it like she can.   And she is most affected when schools close, merge or are transformed with new staff and new ways of building culture and teaching both sets of 3 R’s (relevance, rigor and relationships AND reading, writing and ‘rithmetic). {Side note – why do we call them 3 R’s when only one of…

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Adult Learners

Adult Learning: My “AHA” Moment

The thing I love most about learning is there’s always something new: a perspective, idea or technique that gives way to a different level of understanding. This happened recently as I attended a training on the principles of adult learning. During the day-long session, participants were taught various steps for designing learning opportunities for adults as well as principles that, when adhered, lead to valuable and productive time spent.   As I prepared for the session by reading an assignment, I had an aha moment. Whether I am preparing to work with educators, youth development professionals, leaders, volunteers or parents; the same principles apply. Even though these ‘students’ range from GED students to Ph.D. students, they have incredibly similar needs as adult learners.   I want to share four assumptions about learners and the learning process from Jane Vella who has made critical contributions to the field: 1. Learners arrive with the capacity to do the work involved in learning. 2. Learners learn when they are actively engaged – cognitively, emotionally, and physically in the content. 3. New content can be presented through learning tasks. 4. Learning tasks promote accountability.   Do you share these assumptions? While no one can make you believe in these assumptions — I promise you — your learning experiences for adults (whether you call them training, workshops, seminars, classes, courses, etc.) will be enhanced by your belief and commitment to them.   You can read more of Vella’s seminal work on her website. I suggest you start with the first chapter of her book Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults in which she presents Twelve Principles for Effective Adult Learning.   For now, design your adult learning experiences with at least some of these four assumptions in mind. And expect improved…

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Facilitation Skill, Listening

The Year of the Ear

I am claiming 2017 as the Year of the Ear. The year of deep listening. It’s the only way to resolution. Whether the resolution is finding ways to work together on things we can agree on or agreeing to disagree. Without listening, we are just whiners and yellers mislabeling intolerance as passion. ————— My gift to you this holiday season is a skillset you can use to deepen your own listening. Whether you are an educator, facilitator, funder, parent, service provider, sibling, spouse or a dear friend of someone whose politics are diametrically opposed to yours, these four components of committed listening (Source: Coaching Conversations by Linda M. Gross Cheliotes & Marceta F. Reilly) will heighten your ability to listen. Try them out. And happy ear year.   Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal communication. When someone keeps shaking their head or frowning, ask them what’s going on. Try non-conclusive questions like “What are you thinking right now? “ or “Your response does not match your expression.” The more you pay attention to those nonverbal messages that are found in tone, body language, and other hard-to-describe nuances, the more understanding you will gain. Value silence. We tend to engage in conversations as if we are playing tennis. You hit the ball to me, I hit it back. And if we miss the ball, we lose. We need to turn that thinking on its head. The next time someone throws the ball to you, hold it. Tell them you are thinking and that you don’t want to respond without considering the impact. Or ask questions before you move to respond. Stay curious. What else could you learn or know before you move to making a conclusion? When engaging teams in conversation with each other, invite them to consider their own responses…

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Listening: A Key Facilitation Skill

Listening: A Key Facilitation Skill

One of my favorite moments while facilitating a group of people that are engaging with each other is when I call on someone before they make a gesture to speak. They often say, “How did you know I was going to speak?” And I just smile.

 

The secret is I am listening and observing all the time. And there are a lot of clues to be heard. For example, when someone looks up in deep reflection or has an index finger resting on their face, you know they want to say something. Or they might be sitting up eagerly in their chair, smiling or scowling in that way that says, I have something to say. These are important clues in the facilitation process and it helps the facilitator tune in and develop an environment that is conducive to sharing and learning.

To create that safe space where participants feel comfortable disagreeing or giving each other both affirming and adjusting feedback, you have to listen —- to what people say, how they say it, and when they say it. You also have to be aware of how well the group listens to each other. When you see signs that the group is not fully listening (indicators: asking people to repeat things that have already been said or the more obvious like multitasking on devices or daydreaming), you have to fill the gap and interpret. That means paraphrasing, repeating what someone has said, turning someone’s comment into an opportunity to survey the room and thanking participants for their thoughtful contributions.

Lessons Learned from Collaborative Consulting

While collaboration is essential and a practice that HTI encourages and enjoys, we’ve run into some challenges along the way. Good organizations are able to learn from both their successes and their mistakes so we’ve taken some of our challenges and are using them as powerful lessons to help us grow. Below are 4 collaborative lessons we’ve learned along the way. We’d love to hear what lessons others have learned as collaborators.     Lesson 1: Learn Each Other’s Best Practices – Consulting firms and individuals that have worked mostly alone have established their own set of processes and procedures that work well. However, teams working together may not consider the importance of sharing these best practices. At the beginning of the collaborative relationship, each organization should come together to not only discuss the project, but also some of their individual best practices and collectively decide which ones will be used in support of the work.     Lesson 2: Understand the Difference in Work Styles and Approaches – The “HTI Way” is not just a methodology, it’s actually the culture of how HTI works. While snacks may seem like a simple logistical item for most, for HTI it’s actually a tool we use to create a warm, friendly and comfortable environment. Understanding the culture of the organizations that are collaborating is a great way to build synergy among the teams.   Lesson 3: Make Collaboration True Collaboration –  It’s not enough to come together on paper for the sake of a project. It’s critical that organizations find ways to truly work collaboratively. This means consultation and coordination on all work documents, presentations, activities, and events.  While time zones, geography, and schedules may be a factor, it doesn’t outweigh the importance of the former. When collaboration is true collaboration the results can be amazing.…

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What Type of Leader are You?

 

Think about what you lead. Your family? An organization? A business? A movement? Now think about the type of leader you are.

There are variety of leadership types and styles in which you might fit. One of the tools used by HTI is the Leadership Compass, which allows you to assess leadership in conjunction with your work style.

Wondering what type of leader you are? Here’s a sample of the different variations based on the Leadership Compass.

 


 

  • North – North’s are all about action and getting things done. They can be quick to act, are focused on the bottom line and tend to like quick and fast paced environments.

 

 


 

  • South – South’s tend to be more value-driven and empathetic. They are led mostly by their emotions and intuition, are less competitive, and are focused on the present.

 

 


 

  • East –   East’s are visionary’s. They’re big picture thinkers, believe in the possibility of it all, are idea-generators and are focused on the future. They’re great problem solvers and enjoy exploring new ways for doing things.

 

  • West – West’s are the analyzers. They are data and logic driven. They will way all sides of an issue and are usually practical, dependable and thorough. West’s are good at understanding what information is needed to assist in decision making.

Curious about your leadership style? Take the Leadership Compass Self Assessment.

team building

5 Techniques for Team Building

There are any number of approaches for building a team. At HTI, we use 5 techniques that have been highly effective.

 

  1. Understand Personalities & Work Styles – We all have different personalities and work styles. Learning the different styles and personalities within your organization or team is a good first step for working collaboratively. Some of the resources we use for understanding personalities include the Myer-Briggs and Leadership Compass Points.

     

  2. Work together / CollaborateTeam building is all about working together and collaborating. When you work in silos, very little is accomplished. Working together collaboratively provides opportunities to expand and grow.

     

  3. Build Relationships. – How many times have you looked around at your staff, team or co-workers and realized you really don’t know them at all? Building authentic relationships helps you to learn more about the people you work with. We find that icebreakers are fun, informative ways to get to know the people in the room.

     

  4. Celebrate Small Wins & Big Gains. –  Everyone enjoys celebrating. Too often, we forget that in our work environments. Celebrations are not just for the big accomplishments. Small achievements should be acknowledged and celebrated, too.

  5. Have Fun – Smiles and laughter bring people together in a way that nothing else does. When you create environments that are fun and joyful, you produce valued experiences and help foster supportive communities.

Are you interested in HTI facilitating a Team Building workshop for your organization or its leaders? Contact Us.

 

4 Essential Meeting Types

Meetings, when effective, can help organizations and teams make better decisions, gain group consensus, develop strategies and set the tone for how to approach work. But often, meetings are unproductive, lack structure and don’t accomplish the intended goal. Below are 4 meeting types and their intended purpose.

 

  1. Tactical
    Tactical meetings are designed to review activities and metrics, resolve obstacles and issues and clarify tasks. They are held more frequently, are mostly administrative and serve as deadline reminders. Tactical meetings should be short and conducted even when some attendees are unable to attend.


     

  2. Strategic
    Strategic meetings allow for discussion, brainstorming, and analysis. These meetings are used to review critical issues impacting long-term success. They should be limited to one or two main topics. Facilitators for these meetings should be well prepared and have researched concerns. Off-site locations are ideal and schedules should not be overly structured.


     

  3. Celebratory
    Celebratory meetings are used as recognition and help to reinforce an organization’s mission and values. These meetings work best when everyone is involved. They should be off-site when feasible with a fun, energizing tone.


     

  4. Developmental
    Development meetings are used to train, coach and build knowledge. They are great for showcasing best practices and revisiting or reviewing past sessions. Staff or community members are often surveyed for topics of interest and need. Use this time to extend learning and recognize growth.


     

When facilitated effectively, meetings serve as anchors for teams, organizations and communities.

Proposal Writing: Wisdom from the Field

We asked three esteemed leaders in their fields to share tips on what makes a winning proposal. Each offered great insights based on their perspective and experience. We’ll share the questions we asked and a summary of their answers to help you enhance your proposal writing skills. Our expert advisors included: Atiba Mbiwan, The Zeist Foundation, Inc. Associate Director Crystal Brown, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Director, Gender & Well-Being Ayana Gabriel, Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Program Officer, Fostering Opportunity   Question 1. What is the most important thing you need to take away from a proposal that makes it stand out from the rest? That it’s written well. That all the people who are listed as part of the team contributed to the proposal (I can usually tell.) I look for critical thinkers that are addressing the issues. That the budget is aligned with the work and the proposed program/initiative is aligned with the organization’s mission. I hope they actually answered the questions. — Atiba Mbiwan Proposals should really embody the philosophy for the program the contractor is writing for. For example, if writing a proposal for a teen program, there should be a strong emphasis on teen youth development and experiences that align for the specific age group. Also, most important is how the experience that the contractor can develop is different from what BGCA, another organization or contractor can provide. We are looking for cutting-edge and relevant experiences. — Crystal Brown It depends on the initiative. For example, our STEAM grant initiative was looking for innovation, best practices around STEAM, and impacting populations that typically don’t have access to high-quality STEAM education. For ed reform, it is completely different. I’ve noticed most grants will describe the spirit of what they care about, I look for…

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Buildings Don’t Make Schools

By Folami Prescott-Adams Jr. Academy Principal Greg Leaphart of Drew Charter School conducted a tour with a visiting charter school leader, 8 student teaching residents and myself. We all ooh’d and ah’d at the rolling chairs and the hangout-steps (complete with electrical outlets – 2 per step) made out of the wood from the trees that were cut down to build the school. And solar panels that generate 30% of the electricity in the building. And a 1-to-1 for google chromes. (education speak for every student has their own computer. One computer for every one student.) The theatre with awesome acoustics. The gym with a running track. A 2nd practice gym. A makers space with 3-d printers and a full wood shop. Collaborative spaces for students with lockers, movable smartboards, more rolling chairs, screens and outlets everywhere. And yet the most riveting thing we saw on the tour was an 8th-grade teacher digging in and challenging her students to articulate the difference between reciprocal and opposite. The students were learning about the reciprocal of an exponent. The teacher refused to give up when one student just could not easily articulate the meaning of opposite. Even with her own presentation of hot and cold as an example of a pair of opposites, she could not explain what that relationship was – conceptually. She used no smart board, computer or even white board. Five of us sat in the back of the room literally star struck. One visitor was dying to chime in and fought the temptation (hate she felt she had to – but that’s another topic). At the end of the tour, no one’s most compelling observation had anything to do with all of the building features that produced all those oohs and ahs earlier in the visit. What struck…

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5 Key Strategies to Support Your Child’s School Experience

My youngest child graduated from high school in May 2015. Now all four of my children have successfully completed their K-12 education. When I think of my approach to supporting their school experience, I came up with five strategies that were rather successful that I will pass on to you. 1. Show up in the school at least once a week. In the earlier years, my showing up was volunteering in my child’s classroom once a week. I graded or filed papers, prepared bulletin board materials, entered test data in spreadsheets, read stories, etc. One of my greatest achievements was showing up on my daughter’s Acting Class Exam! From being in the school, I learned about my child’s classmates (and his relationships with them – or lack thereof), special event flyers that never made it home, teachers that were worthy of fighting for and clarity on who’s who in the school. I ALWAYS knew my children’s teachers’ names because that goes a long way. 2. Talk to other parents of the school. By talking to active parents, you learn ALL the ins and outs of the school. Parents have insights and different perspectives. By talking to parents, you learn what they know and don’t know and what they care about. 3. Use homework as a teaching and a learning tool. Try a few different things. Look at it before the child starts and make sure they understand. When my son was taking three hours to finish, we tried a great strategy. We would have him complete one item (e.g.. 1 math problem out of 10) and set the timer. If the problem took 5 minutes and he had nine more to do, we would set the timer for 5 minutes and see where he was after each 5 minute interval. Use homework…

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