One of the most challenging aspects of working in a professional learning community or as a member of a collaborative team is coming to consensus around important decisions.
The fact of the matter is that we work in a profession where we have long prioritized individual authority over collective efficacy. As learning community expert Mike Mattos likes to say, our approach to the instructional choices that we make — and the instructional differences that we have — is most frequently, “What happens in my classroom is MY business. What happens in their classrooms is THEIR business.”
(Click here to see original image and image credit posted on Flickr)
But if we are getting collaboration right — which means we recognize the value of using our shared knowledge to systematically study our practice in service of student learning — we are going to be forced into a thousand situations where we have to make shared decisions.
Sometimes, those decisions will center around identifying knowledge, skills and dispositions that are essential for every kid to master, regardless of whose classroom they are in. Other times, those decisions will center around the best ways differentiate instruction or to personalize learning or to assess the progress that students are making or to sequence the content and skills we want kids to master before the end of their time in our classrooms.
Regardless of the situation, coming to consensus around important decisions — which leads to a measure of consistency in outcomes and pacing across classrooms — makes it possible for teams of teachers to engage in collective inquiry.
So how do you build consensus around important decisions?
You have structured conversations build around three core behaviors:
Establishing Clarity — Beginning a consensus building conversation starts by developing a shared sense of the decision that you are trying to make.
Identifying Non-Negotiables — Building consensus around an important decision also depends on having a sense of any non-negotiables that members of your team have before your conversation even begins. By allowing all team members to state what matters most to them about the decision that you are making, you are more likely to brainstorm potential solutions that take the individual needs of your peers into account and to avoid potential solutions that have little to no chance of being embraced by everyone on your team.
Listing Areas of Agreement — Finally, building consensus around an important decision depends on finding common ground. Listing the areas where your team already agrees can give you a valuable starting point for developing solutions that everyone can embrace.
When conversations are deliberately designed to establish clarity, identify non-negotiables, and find areas of agreement, EVERYONE has the chance to be heard and to have their core positions recognized and validated. That’s the key to earning commitment to a shared decision. Resistance to shared decisions happens most often when team members feel ignored.
Does this all make sense to you?
If so, you might dig this handout that I’ve put together to help teams structure consensus-building conversations.
Lemme know what you think of it!
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