Truth 2 Power

Truth 2 Power

I’m always preaching the importance of vision.  It’s the backbone of leadership.  You are continually connecting people to the purpose of our shared endeavor.

To practice what I preach, I held a series of leadership development sessions with members of the departments that I supervise.  Together, we discussed both the work we do and the aspirations that drive us in that work.  Together, we developed a vision statement for our department.   Here it is.

“Our purpose is to create and support programs, experiences, and mindsets that dramatically deepen student engagement, and can be proven to accelerate student learning and post-secondary success.”

With that vision in mind, we set out to redesign our efforts to collect student feedback at the high school level as part of our Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP).  Last year, we designed student forums that brought together 300 students at each high school to vote on and then discuss issues that students felt were most essential to improving their learning experiences at our schools.  We held seven of these sessions over the course of 3 months.  Our design process was iterative and intensive, meeting on multiple occasions to discuss how we could quickly create a learning environment where students felt safe and respected – enough to speak their truths and challenge the status quo.

This year, we wanted to up the ante.  We were no longer satisfied with going out and listening ourselves to the perspectives and stories of our students.  We wanted to connect our students to the “shapers” – the policymakers, artists, and other public figures whose ideas, decisions, and actions influence the movement of our communities and institutions.

Our planning team met on numerous occasions.  Yes, there were tremendous logistical matters we had to attend to.  Arranging bus transportation.  The technical elements of live streaming the broadcast.  Communicating with participants and other stakeholders.  Securing participation of guest panelists.

That logistical work was hard, and essential.  But it wasn’t what we spent the most time discussing and, quite frankly, arguing about and deliberating over.  We wanted to design a deeply engaging, transformative experience.  We wanted to create a space where people could and would share their honest thoughts and feelings.  We wanted authenticity.  Our decisions focused on how to prime participants for a powerful learning moment.  We had to explain our purpose to our guest panelists multiple times.

“This isn’t going to be a typical panel discussion.”

“You’re here, primarily, to listen.”

Not only is this not the usual practice, but it’s so engrained that we were afraid we might not be able to hold the space in the way we wanted.

This isn’t to say that our guest panelists didn’t have important things to say to our kids.  They do.  But we wanted their contributions to take the shape of encouragement and affirmation of student thoughts and stories.

So, last Friday, we held our event.  Truth 2 Power.  As we got closer to the start time, my mind was exploding.  So many disparate systems would have to come together.  Busses of students rolled in as guest panelists donned their mics.  I would be facilitating the session and discussion with our Deputy Superintendent, Dr. David Haglund.  Ironically, all of my preparation, my review of participants’ bios, students issue topics, and the discussion protocols, was to allow me, in the moment, to clear my mind of the small details.  I needed to focus on creating the space.  Putting students at ease.  Encouraging authentic conversation.

I won’t speak on behalf of participants.  We too often fill the space with our own words rather than student voices.  What I can say is that I was moved by the stories of determination, perseverance, tragedy, and triumph.  We heard from Adrian, and Violet, and Stephanie.  Students whose voices have long been dormant spoke up and expressed their newfound determination.  Many participants were brought to tears.

There are lots of takeaways to reflect on.  The blessing of working with a passionate, talented team.  The challenges of clear communication to stakeholders.  But the thing on my mind this morning is just how much planning and work has to happen if you want to foster a learning environment where robust, rigorous, and provocative discussions can happen in a safe and genuine way.

And even though it’s hard to do – it’s the purpose of our work.

“Our purpose is to create and support programs, experiences, and mindsets that dramatically deepen student engagement, and can be proven to accelerate student learning and post-secondary success.”

It’s a vision worth pursuing.

Check out the archive of the live stream at http://sausdteam21c.org/truth2power/

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