Sunday, September 22, 2013

One more last . . .

From time-to-time as I get closer to my last day as superintendent of this school district I will continue to share those experiences that will be difficult to replicate in the future.  One of those took place this weekend as I attended my last board retreat, something that has been an annual experience for me for over thirty years.  For over the last twenty years of that time I have had the opportunity and shared responsibility for choosing the content and supporting the processes used to explore issues in greater detail than can be accomplished in regular meetings.

These retreats have provided me with some of my most rewarding experiences and also with some of my most troubling as board members and central office administrators engage in conversation on critical issues.  Each year we begin with teaching and sharing some of our communication tools that have contributed to this team's capacity to engage and sustain these necessary conversations.  This year we reviewed the iceberg from the systems work and introduced a new tool, the U process from Otto Scharmer's work.

We used these and other tools to assist us in identifying our current reality as it relates to how we interact with each other and to then describe an aspiration of how we want our interactions to look and sound.  Our current reality contained many positive descriptors that captured the growth that we have made, but also some significant issues that result in "interpersonal mush" and the negative energy drain that accompanies it.  At a future work study we will continue the work by identifying additional, specific strategies and tools to close the gap that we identified and chose to become a focus of our work.

I have great admiration for our current board.  They bring a diversity of experiences and talents to the work and are eager to improve our individual and collective capacity for system leadership.  Unlike many boards that experience regular turnover, we have always enjoyed stability.  Ours is an experienced board that can be proud of the system they have created, but also a board that finds itself at a critical point in time as they and we come closer to our bond election date.  This experience will be helpful regardless of the bond's outcome.

My last retreat was rewarding for me as we shared private thoughts around our interactions, put private and difficult issues in the room, and maintained a focus on the issues not the person.  The conversations will influence the quality of later conversations as these issues become action items at future board meetings.  I would like to thank Annette, Dawn, Lori, Mark, and Rob for their interactions throughout this retreat and for their support in planning, sharing, and facilitating.

More importantly I would like to thank Mary Jane Glaser, Bill Clausmeyer, Didem Pierson, Tami Henkel, and Tim Adam for another learning opportunity and for the support that they have given to me over time.  I value our time together and want all to know how fortunate we are that these five individuals choose to be on our board.  They are focused on what is important; creating learning environments that support quality learning every day in every classroom and that position our graduates for success in post high school learning and work.  Thank you for allowing me to be part of this learning experience.

Yes, for me this was another quality experience.  I was given another chance to teach and left with a deeper understanding of what I can do to decrease the possibility for "interpersonal mush" to form on our team.

I would welcome and believe that the readers of this blog would also appreciate a comment about your experience from any of you that shared this experience with me.

4 comments:

Teaching and Learning said...

Thanks Mike for providing such wonderful support and leadership for both the board and district administrators.

Together I think we are a powerful team but it's only when we have all the voices and perspectives in the room that we can make the very best decisions for our system. I also want to express my appreciation and admiration for our school board! Each and every one of them is incredibly dedicated and there were many examples of their willingness to engage in difficult conversations, sharing their thinking yet remaining open to influence throughout the retreat.

Their passion and dedication was evidenced by our decision to continue to engage an extra two hours past our scheduled stop time on Saturday - ending at 7:00 pm rather than at 5:00 pm, clear evidence of their commitment and dedication to the work. We started at 8:00 am that morning - so a long day for all!

Bill Claus said...

I've been attending the Board Retreats since 1997. The intense time together allows us to delve deeply into the data both for understanding and unearth areas of concern. It's this foundational time that allows the Board offer constructive direction to District leadership. Certainly it's a sad thing to be sharing a LAST with Mike, we've been blessed to have his leadership and counsel these many years. We are blessed yet again to be able to look forward to Rob being at the helm in the years to come. The efforts of the many staff both present at the retreat and those not that supported our time together are so appreciated. As the football players say in their film clip intos, I am proud to be part of THE Tahoma School District! In the spirit of telling tales.......... at the Retreat Mike shared a thought that all acknowledged was a great idea, I asked that he warn us when he as his LAST. I think the well will never run dry though. Bill

mj said...

The retreat exemplified an experience where relationships were strengthened among the board and administrative team. We worked together in collaboration and partnership, each internally committed to our shared responsibility for the success of our district. For our organization to be successful, we must "examine how we relate to one another, gather and interpret information, solve problems, make decisions, manage conflict and implement change while accomplishing our organization's purpose". We all seek the truth and try to make sense of our environment. In the absence of direct inquiry, we often make up stories to explain what is going on in others. When we are provided an atmosphere of openness and trust, we feel safe to share, inquire and probe for clarity. We want an environment of "high motivation, real synergy, rapid innovation and mastery of change". We need leaders who are learners and can lead learning. The retreat afforded the environment where equality of individuals existed that fostered more safety and less vulnerability. I look forward to more opportunities to explore strategies to circumvent interpersonal mush.

mj said...

The retreat exemplified an experience where relationships were strengthened among the board and administrative team. We worked together in collaboration and partnership, each internally committed to our shared responsibility for the success of our district. For our organization to be successful, we must "examine how we relate to one another, gather and interpret information, solve problems, make decisions, manage conflict and implement change while accomplishing our organization's purpose". We all seek the truth and try to make sense of our environment. In the absence of direct inquiry, we often make up stories to explain what is going on in others. When we are provided an atmosphere of openness and trust, we feel safe to share, inquire and probe for clarity. We want an environment of "high motivation, real synergy, rapid innovation and mastery of change". We need leaders who are learners and can lead learning. The retreat afforded the environment where equality of individuals existed that fostered more safety and less vulnerability. I look forward to more opportunities to explore strategies to circumvent interpersonal mush.