Posted by: kbater | October 18, 2010

A Facelift for Democracy

Democracy as we practice it today is old and tired and voter turnout would indicate it is not very appealling.  Rick Salutin’s Globe article that I posted a few days ago has some insight as to what is happening – Salutin says – “This is partly due to our political system: We get to vote occasionally for leaders, then leave it all in their hands, leading to excessive reliance on “them,” and turning on them when things don’t gel. A political culture of blame and rage is the upshot, rather than shared responsibility and the will to keep going. What could change that? Something more ongoingly, truly democratic, perhaps.”

It’s time for makeover and here are some ideas.

What other models are out there?

The Inspiring Education process, convened by Alberta Education Minister Dave Hancock, suggested creating governance teams as a way of getting more community involvement in public education.

Canadian Rockies Public Schools used an interesting process for planning our Inspiring Hearts and Minds work.  We formed a planning group of 24 people.  It included 2 trustees, 6 school council members (1 from each school), 6 staff, 2 high school students, 4 community members, 2 senior admin, and 2 facilitators.  The IHM final report was produced by this 24 member group.  They met 5 times over the course of a year and picked a name for the process, planned the forums, selected the questions to be asked of participants, and determined the key directions that are now being used to guide action in CRPS.  At first there was fear of a 24 member planning group being too unwieldy to make meaningful decisions and that we would end up with a watered down report just to satisfy everyone.  Take a look at the report and I think you will see that the results are far from that – the key directions really speak to a bold and innovative approach.  So maybe a broader process with larger community involvement really can work and democracy can be revived.

What would Governance Teams focus on?                                                             

I think there are four key roles for gov teams:

1) Detecting     2) Sense-Making      3) Direction-setting     4) Decision-making

With more detail – let’s look at these 4 roles:

1) Detecting – When you talk with and listen to many community members you get a sense of how the system is working – what people want and don’t want.  It’s also important to research what is happening in other schools in Alberta and around the world.  You often find new ideas, promising practices that fit with what you are hearing from your community.  This radar work helps you to understand exactly where you are at.  A small group (the board) has a small radar screen – as you engage with community you create a larger screen that looks in more directions.  This is useful for thinking, planning, and problem-solving.

2) Sense-Making – After you gather all this information you need to ask – what does this mean for us (in CRPS – our 6 small schools) and how does it fit with what we learned (from IHM)?  Asking questions, comparing notes about understanding, and often checking a few things out in more detail helps you to get clearer about what is happening and what it means.  We often hurry through this phase but it is so important, that you have to slow down to let understanding settle in.  This happened with the IHM planning group and the quality of the key directions in the report reflects the value of taking time to make sense of information and ideas.

3) Direction-Setting – Clear direction is built on good detecting and sense-making.   These are the building blocks of good governance.  Once you understand where you are and have a sense of what is needed you have to pick some actions to pursue – changing the school calendar to fit the learners needs, having teachers and staff work in collaborative teams, creating partnerships to deliver new approaches around citizenship, looking at and changing assessment practices, exploring how wrap-around schools might work, are a few of the new directions that have been created in CRPS as we have used this four stage approach to governing.  It is important to note that as you get moving and take action you have to circle back and do more detecting and sense-making to assess whether your actions are really supporting your goals.  The IHM key directions (page 9 of final report) are an excellent example of this stage.

4) Decision-making – Direction is great and you do need specifics – you need action steps – in the legislated world of education you also need motions passed at a public board meeting.  Some of the Directions above ended up being motions with the board allocating budget to make things happen.  When you make decisions you have to remember that when you support actions with time and money that it means that you don’t have that same time and money for other possibilities – you have to make sound choices with a strong rational standing behind them.

 

Interesting Poll results!

There have been 48 votes cast in my poll (above) how people should be involved in education and the results are:

Have input      6               

Be a part of direction-setting       12          

Ask Questions     11     

Be a part of decision-making     10           

Follow information on school issues      8      

Find out about decisions after they are made     1

This last category is how school boards used to operate and the poll would indicate that it is old and tired and really undesirable.  As a school board trustee and candidate this poll tells me that people (at least the ones who voted) want to be more involved and they want more input and specifically they want to be involved in the more complex areas of understanding (through asking questions), direction-setting, and decision-making and they feel that, that is an appropriate way for school board governance to happen.  As CRPS works towards the idea of governance teams,  I feel very comfortable supporting this model of governance and the shift it means for school boards and community in how they work together.

Who Is qualified to do this work?

We often leave things up to experts, which takes us back to the Rick Salutin excerpt at the top of this page.  Community members working together can create intelligent, purposeful action.  Our IHM work showed us this.  Students, teachers, community members, moms and dads all have a sense of what is important – when we tap into this sense and connect it with what is happening around Alberta and the world – the good ideas come to the surface and are really obvious.  I strongly believe in the concept of governance teams as a way of enlivening democracy and building a community approach to education.  If it takes a village to raise a child it must take a community to create powerful life long learning that builds a sense of belonging, purpose, and leads to effective action. 

 What’s next?

The CRPS board is looking at governance teams and will initiate a process of public engagement to build the idea of governance teams.  Minister Hancock may only be in his portfolio for a short time and I think we need to move on this and demonstrate that it can work and how it can work.  What do you think?  I’d love to hear comments and have you vote on the poll.

 

 

Sense-Making with Board, Superintendent, parents, and a local expert

 Other thoughts on democracy and governance:

Sue Huff a trustee from Edmonton Public schools has an excellent blog and her posting on governance is worth a read.

Here is a animated talk about democracy and social dynamics that is very interesting.

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Responses

  1. I look forward to working on this new governance model, Kim – if the voters support me. 😉
    Here is a quote I read this morning from Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University, blogged in the Washington Post:

    “Although one can find exceptions, it is usually the case that voters don’t like autocracy. They expect to be treated with respect, not condescension. They expect democratic institutions to operate with democratic processes. They expect their leaders to explain and discuss their decisions before they are final and to change course when they are wrong. The very behaviors that schools are supposed to teach—how to think, how to participate, how to reason with others, how to find common ground—are the same behaviors that we expect to encounter in public life.”

    Right on.

  2. You present an important point of view, Kim. CRPS is providing opportunity for community members to be meaningfully engaged in the future of their system. The question is: “Will we sit back and blame or take responsibility?” After all, “what you get out” is directly proportional to “what you put in”. Congratulations to CRPS for providing this opportunity.

  3. Great exposition, Kim. Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., past Assistant Secretary of Education (under G.W. Bush) had this to say about democracy and education this weekend, in the Washington Post.
    “Although one can find exceptions, it is usually the case that voters don’t like autocracy. They expect to be treated with respect, not condescension. They expect democratic institutions to operate with democratic processes. They expect their leaders to explain and discuss their decisions before they are final and to change course when they are wrong. The very behaviors that schools are supposed to teach—how to think, how to participate, how to reason with others, how to find common ground—are the same behaviors that we expect to encounter in public life.”
    I believe Dr. Ravitch is absolutely right. We as a “governors” have to model the transformation in governance that needs to happen at every level of government – from school-based through the national government. If we manage it, the potential benefit for kids is huge.

  4. […] and my fellow trustee for the past six years, Kim Bater, has posted a very thought-provoking piece A Facelift for Democracy on his blog. He describes where Canadian Rockies Public Schools plans to go in the realm of […]

  5. […] embark on a journey we called Futures Planning.   A 24 member planning group (see my posting on a new idea for a planning group) was formed and created a plan to look at the future of public education in the Bow Valley.  The […]

  6. […] is the official description of why a CEN.  (I wrote an article “A Facelift for Democracy” earlier this year that talks about why this idea is important and how it might work.)  I would also […]

  7. […] A Facelift for Democracy October 2010 6 comments 3 […]


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