A Case Against Accountability and Transparency: LeadTogether Highlight #15 3-15-15

The Case against Transparency and Accountability

If I had a nickel for every time someone said the phrase, “We need more accountability and transparency in our school!” I could buy a lot of lattes for my wife! Instead I am launching a campaign to rid our organizations of both words. I can’t remember when either word was mentioned in a positive vein or without someone cringing. Besides being quite negative. These terms have become intelligent-sounding catch phrases for things that people little understand.

The demand for transparency usually means “ Quit being so sly and secretive and withholding information from others.” The real issue is .are we communicating in the right ways about the right things? How are we communicating overall? Can I trust that you will tell me what I need to know when something affects me?

We would do a lot better to explore the questions of communication and information sharing. “There is a lack of transparency” is already an accusation of villainous behavior. Wouldn’t it be better to agree on what kind of information should be shared in what situations? There is also the aspect of transparency relating to whether someone is being honest. In this case we should focus on honesty, rather than transparency

Transparency is not a virtue. It is not even a healthy organizational practice. Good communication is an admirable quality in an individual and an organization.

With accountability. the situation is similar. When someone mentions accountability, it usually comes with a hard edge and a cringe or shrug of the shoulder. It would better if we could speak honestly about issues of quality and commitment to core principles and how we hold one another other to those expectations in our organizations. Accountability is never listed as a desirable human attribute. On the other hand, a highly-principled person committed to quality is looked up to and is an asset to any organization

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Only in this case we have the wrong name for very important characteristics and principles that can guide, inspire and lift us up in our work. I cast my vote for referring to “good communication” and “a commitment to quality.” Let’s let the terms “transparency and accountability” wither and fade on the vine of vague negative concepts.

We are currently working on the theme of, yes, Accountability (how to maintain agreements and quality) for one of our next newsletters. If you have something to contribute let me know.

Stay tuned.

Michael Soule

LeadTogether

The Art of Handling Complaints: LeadTogether Highlight #14 1-20-15

Dear Friends,

Last week our school completed work on a new grievance policy. In our discussions we explored what constitutes a grievance, what is the difference between a grievance and a complaint, and what principles should guide us in dealing with them.

We came to a simple definition that a grievance is a formal complaint usually lodged by an employee, related to an action that was taken (or not taken) that affects the rights of the employee. Something is perceived to have happened that violates the law or the policy of the organization. So a grievance is a specialized complaint. How one responds to a grievance is important because it generally has legal consequences for the organization.

Complaints, on the other hand, are types of feedback provided by anyone in the community who thinks or feels that something isn’t right. Complaints might include “too much homework,” “tuition is too high,” “meetings go too long,” “the place is messy,” “communication is sloppy,” etc. A complaint generally includes two wisdoms – it tells us something about the person complaining (what they are aware of and what they would like to see improved) and something about the organization. While sometimes a complaint is entirely the personal opinion of an individual (“I don’t like the color of the walls”), usually a complaint contains some bit of helpful reflection to be attended to. And it provides an opportunity to strengthen relationships by being responsive, timely and direct.

There are a few core principles for dealing with complaints in general and for dealing with complaints in a collaborative community.

  • Understand that all complaints contain some insight, either about the organization or about the person complaining or both.
  • Have clarity as to what types of complaints should be addressed to different leaders.
  • Provide every complainant with the opportunity to share what he or she wants to see done.
  • Create an environment that embraces and accepts complaints without resistance.
  • Assure there is a clear visible process for dealing with complaints that provides
    • immediate acknowledgement
    • quick response
    • timely follow-through
    • clear communications and
    • thorough documentation.
  • Develop a process so that everyone clearly knows what to do with complaints.
  • Analyze complaints to look for themes and bigger-picture problems.

Here is a checklist developed by One World Trust for NGO’s to assess the strength of your organization’s complaint process. (LINK)

Every complaint is both an opportunity for the organization to grow and for the relationship of the complainant to the organization to develop. This requires active, open and non-judgmental listening and honest reflecting. It is an area where we have a lot to learn in our communities.

Keep in touch,

Michael

 

 

 

 

 

Complaints: LeadTogether Highlight #14, 1-13-15

Dear Friends,

Last week our school completed work on a new grievance policy. In our discussions we explored what constitutes a grievance, what is the difference between a grievance and a complaint, and what principles are Through this I discovered a few core principles for dealing with complaints in general and there are ones specific to dealing with complaints in a collaborative community.
Understand that all complaints contain some insight
Everyone should clearly know who to complaint to about what
Every complainant should be given the opportunity to share what he or she wants to see done
There is an environment that embraces and accepts complaints without resistance
There is a clear visible process for dealing with complaints that provides
immediate acknowledgement
quick response
timely follow through
clear communications and
thorough documentation.
Everyone should clearly know what to do with complaints
Complaints should be bundled and analyzed for themes
Here is a checklist developed by One World Trust for NGO’s to assess the strength of your organization’s complaint process. OWT Checklist
Every complaint is both an opportunity for the organization to grow and for the relationship of the complainant to the organization to develop. This requires active, open and non-judgmental listening and honest reflecting and is an area where we have a lot to learn in our communities.

Keep in touch,

Michael

Alignment: LeadTogether Highlight #12 11-24-14

Alignment: LeadTogether Highlight #12

Alignment is an important element in any organization, school or business. How people are aligned with the whole of the organization and understand both how the parts work together and how they can be successful in the parts and the whole is vital to the ongoing success of any organization. More often than not, the practical realities of an organization’s life draw people into positions of responsibilities without allowing for time to help them prepare with a proper orientation. This is especially true in small organizations that rely on volunteers to make up for the lack of resources.

There are many elements to a good orientation, but these three are perhaps the most essential:

  • Developing alignment with the ideals, values and culture of the organization;
  • Establishing clarity about an individual’s roles and responsibilities and how these fit into the whole organization, and;
  • Providing a mentor to assure support for a successful beginning.

In Waldorf Schools, alignment is the most important. A spiritually oriented organization requires an active conscious connection to its spiritual foundations for all participating members of the community, not just for individuals at the core or in leadership positions.

Every activity, from faculty meeting to board meeting to parent meeting to committee meeting is an opportunity to explore and renew one’s connection to and understanding of the spiritual foundations of the education and the organization. If this is done consciously, it makes a huge difference in the success of the institution. But the alignment with the impulse cannot take place only in the meetings. Each individual must also work on it by himself or herself.

 

One of the best ways to assure this work on alignment happens--whether it is for a family entering the school, a new board member, a volunteer or a new teacher -- is making sure it is a part of every person’s orientation.

 

 

Positivity: LeadTogether Highlight #13 12-1-14

Positivity: LeadTogether Highlight #13 12-1-14

Dear Friends,

While researching the current newsletter on Mentoring, I found an article on the practice of Appreciative Inquiry. Developed as an idea to help consultants for organizations take a path away from looking for what is wrong to looking for and building on what is right, Appreciative Inquiry is now a tool used by many people involved in organizational change. The basic premise is simple: helping people identify and connect with their strengths and areas of success can lead to effective changes and improvements in all areas of their organizational life. Research now shows how effective positivity can be.

Positivity is one of the six basic exercises given by Rudolf Steiner. “This exercise is the development of a positive attitude to life. Attempt to seek for the good, praiseworthy, and beautiful in all beings, all experiences and all things. Soon you will begin to notice the hidden good and beautiful that lies concealed in all things. This is connected with learning not to criticize everything. You can ask how something came to be or to act the way it is. One way to overcome the tendency to criticize is to learn to 'characterize' instead.”

The path to judgment in our thinking is a quick one. Before we finish experiencing or perceiving something we have already generally formed a judgment about it. The practice of positivity helps us learn to be open minded, to celebrate wonder, to be grateful before we form judgments. This makes it essential in our work with collegial relations of all kinds, especially in Mentoring.

Keep in touch

Michael Soule

 

You can find an article outlining Appreciative Inquiry here and the Six Basic Exercises of Rudolf Steiner here.

 

A Note from China – LeadTogether Highlight #11, 11/5/14

Dear Friends,

This week I am in Xi'an China teaching in the Waldorf Administrative Training with Chris Schaefer and Ben Cherry. 80 participants from schools throughout China are gathered at the training center in Xi'an for a two week course in school administration, organization and development.The students are inspiring - young (only a handful in their 40's), many  new to Waldorf Education, bright with lots of questions and insights, and very open and enthusiastic.  There was a presentation tonight about Waldorf in Taiwan, the fastest growing Waldorf movement anywhere. There is an amazing amount of interest and initiative in China right now related to Waldorf Education. There was a good article in the New Yorker recently and another one in Renewal (see here).I am gradually getting to know participants and the culture through watching the students work and play together, struggle with deep questions and be open and willing to explore inner work, group biography  work and organizational ideas.

I am looking forward to sharing more when I return. For now, take a look at the two articles if you haven't, they both are good descriptions of the mood and initiative here. (Click here for article)

 

Leadership and Self Administration: LeadTogether Highlight #7 10-6-14

Dear Colleagues,

How does one exercise leadership and leave colleagues free in their own development? Having some insight on this question is central to our being able to shape our schools in healthy ways. Connie Stokes, Pedagogical Chair at Highland Hall, recently shared an article from 1998 by Michael Harslem from Paideia Journal for Waldorf Education in the UK that has been very helpful to her over the years on this topic. In the article, Michael explores the question of the levels of leadership in the individual human being and the levels of leadership in a school. It is a helpful guide for anyone who has taken on leadership in the school. Read the article here.

Keep in touch,

Michael

The Call of Michaelmas – LeadTogether #6, 9-21-14

Dear Colleagues,

In this season of Michaelmas, we have a lot to be grateful for and a lot to stand up for. While we all strive to do our best, to reach for the highest in ourselves and to recognize and support the highest in our colleagues, students and their parents, at the same time we are called to take initiative and pursue the highest in our work in a growing culture of materialistic thinking.

As the educational community endlessly debates the effectiveness of high-stakes, standardized testing at all levels, we move forward with effective individual qualitative assessment for all our students.

As schools buy into founding their curriculum upon, and spending millions of dollars on textbooks, we practice every day the art of living, teacher-led inquiry and real-life experience.

As the nation embraces ever more and more technology in the classroom bumping out the essentials of art, movement, and manual arts, we tread the path of a fully integrated artistic and physical education rich with opportunities for all students.

As the educational process becomes more and more programmed and mechanical, we leave the teachers free and responsible to connect each handcrafted lesson to each individual student.

This education philosophy was in the beginning, and continues to be every day, revolutionary. It is truly an education for the future. It is not old and it never will be. Each day teachers across the globe recreate it and make it new.

The impulse for this comes not from following a curriculum, but from doing the hard work of continually growing and developing ourselves inwardly, socially and in our work.

It is not an idea. It is a path of learning to think with our hearts. It makes perfect sense and yet it is illogical. It works beautifully and yet it is impractical. It is disconnected from much of the educational world and yet deeply connected to the future of humanity. It is simple and profound each day and yet it is complex and difficult. It asks us each day to go further in our imagination, our courage and our sense of responsibility.

May we all be renewed this Michaelmas as we work, as we practice, as we stand in the world for what is good. This is the call of the spirit of Michael. And this is worth celebrating.

Keep in touch,

Michael Soule

How Spiritual Organizations Develop – LeadTogether Highlight #4 9-8-14

Dear Colleagues

What are the natural developmental phases of spiritually based communities and organizations? Bernard Lievegoed, one of the early leaders of organizational development work and long-time Director of the Anthroposophical Training Organization, NPI, in Holland, wrote “ The Developing Organization" in 1973 in which he outlined the phases of development of organizations. In 1988 he offered a new booklet to clarify his thoughts about the difference between the phases that economic businesses and educational institutions go through. Lievegoed offers that spiritually focused organizations involved in human development don’t follow the typical phases of pioneer, administration and integration, but develop in a much more organic fashion, from their early development through growth and into maturity. This booklet, “Institutions of the Spiritual Life” provides insights to better understand how the growth and development of our institutions unfold over time. We have added the booklet into our resource collection for you. (We've put it into a format so you can print it out as a booklet.)   Find it here.

Keep in touch.

Michael Soule

 Keep in touch, Michael Soule LeadTogether

LeadTogether Highlight #2 8-25-14, Core Principles of Waldorf Education

Highlight 2, 8-25-14

 

Dear Colleagues

 

What are the core principles of Waldorf Education? Members of the Pedagogical Section Council in N. America discussed this question over the past year. The result is a set of seven principles that can inform and enliven our conception of our task as teachers and school leaders. These principles are easily accessible and valuable in stimulating research and discussion about our central tasks in our schools. They are not set in stone, but are seen more as living ideals that will continue to evolve and refine as people work with them. Here is the first one to get you started. Find the rest in our resource center here.

  1. Image of the Human Being: The human being in its essence is a being of Spirit, soul, and body. Childhood and adolescence, from birth to twenty-one, are the periods during which the Spirit/soul gradually takes hold of the physical instrument that is our body. The Self is the irreducible spiritual individuality within each one of us, which continues its human journey through successive incarnations.

 

Keep in touch,

 

Michael Soule