The Learning Accelerator Blog/Hit Pause: 3 Steps to Bring Humanity into Decision-Making Processes This Summer

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Hit Pause: 3 Steps to Bring Humanity into Decision-Making Processes This Summer

by Kelly Cole, Deraan Washington, & Nate Kellogg on July 15 2021

Inside the word "emergency" is "emerge;" from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters. - Rebecca Solnit

“Unprecedented” has become the oft-used term to describe this pandemic school year. It’s no surprise that the year’s end would warrant the use of the term, as well. With a never-before-seen influx of money from the American Rescue Plan, expectations are high for districts to make transformational change. At the same time, the leaders making critical decisions on how to spend their ESSER money are languishing following the most difficult year of their careers; some are leaving their jobs entirely, while the rest are tasked with making weighty decisions despite the elevated stress and exhaustion. But chaos and opportunity are flip-sides of the same coin; by pausing to bring a dose of humanity and new stakeholders into traditionally exclusive decision-making processes, school and district leaders can make more informed and inclusive decisions for next school year – and beyond.

Here’s how to support your team with planning for the 2021-22 school year by bringing humanity:

1. Release the Pressure Valve (For You and Your Team)

Built-up emotion and stress can cloud our thinking and make collaboration difficult. Helping your administrative team to get into the right headspace is an essential precursor to planning. Acknowledge the difficulties of the past year and make space for people to sit with their feelings. Just as we’re instructed to put our own oxygen masks on first, leaders must start with themselves; taking time to get yourself in the right headspace will set you up for success in supporting your team to get there, too.

Releasing the pressure valve can be done in multiple ways such as:

2. Make Decision-Making More Collaborative

School and district leaders may be responsible for making difficult decisions, but it doesn’t mean they can’t ask for help. Instead of working in a vacuum, seize the opportunity to include stakeholders at the table who have traditionally been left out – especially families who bore the brunt of in-person teaching all year and have newfound expertise in remote learning to offer, as well as those who are often left out. A diversity of voices will provide more and better information, ultimately leading to better decision-making. Furthermore, inclusivity and transparency will ensure that it’s not your decision on how to spend federal stimulus funding or what to prioritize in this next school year – it’s the community’s decision.

Inviting stakeholders to the table is just the beginning. Consider reflecting on your identity to better understand your role in the power dynamics at play and whose perspectives and experiences you may be unaware of. Partner with community leaders or local media to connect more broadly with the community. Create opportunities for stakeholders to offer their expertise and identify specific areas for them to provide guidance on. For example, invite stakeholders early on to act as a “search party for implications,” combing the area to better understand potential impacts of ideas before making decisions.

3. Take Stock of Your Resources

This moment is about being thoughtful stewards of our resources and interrupting the tendency to bring in new initiatives and programming without first assessing what already exists and can be built upon. As we know, resources are not limited to our budgets, but also include the expertise of staff, existing programming, and the time that has already been invested towards previous initiatives. Building upon existing work maximizes stakeholder buy-in, minimizes redundancy, demonstrates a commitment to sustainable change, and acknowledges the past efforts of staff.

Pausing to take a bird’s eye view of the organization can help leaders identify how to most effectively allocate their resources toward identified focus areas. Here are three guiding questions to consider:

  1. How has this focus area been addressed in the past? What was the outcome? How can that work be built upon?
  2. What resources are currently allocated to this focus area? Are they effective? How can they be expanded or refined?
  3. Who can you mobilize internally to lead this work? What support and/or incentives will they need?

Resisting the urge to make quick, unilateral funding decisions and opting for a more inclusive, thoughtful process will support leaders to take full advantage of the unique opportunity this moment presents. When there is space for reflection, collaboration with stakeholders, and excavation of preexisting work, leaders can make more informed decisions. Pausing to bring humanity to the process will pay dividends of trust, connection, and commitment as leaders acknowledge that each line item comes to life through the efforts of people throughout the community. When integrated into ongoing system processes, these practices can lead to a more sustainable, inclusive, and innovative organizational culture.

About the Author

Kelly Cole and Deraan Washington are Equity Trainers with Epoch Education. Nate Kellogg is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator.