Settings: Doing the Ordinary Extraordinarily Well

Last summer I began working on a project to help educators with integrated planning. With so many initiatives and priorities in education, the project team I was a part of was tasked to help find and create agnostic integrated planning tools and resources to help educators make better sense of how initiatives and priorities align (or don’t), and how to better implement them in a coherent and cohesive manner (perfect timing for Guided Pathways). This was no small feat. So, we naturally turned to the literature on integrated planning. One of the themes that emerged was to create or enhance an integrated planning committee or team—a no brainer, right?

As we began to introduce tools and resources in the field through regional convenings, I made it a point to share the concept of a setting with participants. Simply, a setting is a time and a place for educators to get important work done. Participants appreciated the tools and resources we shared, but when I posed the question, “What is your setting for integrated planning?” more often than not I saw deer-in-the-head-light looks. Although the literature stated to create or enhance a specific kind of setting—a committee or team for integrated planning—many educators didn’t stop to think about what setting was necessary to ensure that their organization implements integrated planning. Often, it’s the smallest things that can escape us. My question forced many participants to think about what existing settings could be modified or how to create a new setting for integrated planning (who’s involved, meeting frequency, process used, who leads it, etc.). Without an established setting, all of the integrated tools and resources in the world would not make a significant difference because the organization would lack a structure to continually test and refine tools and resources to make sure they have a positive impact on the organization.

Another key theme from the integrated planning literature is to implement a collaborative inquiry process. Convening participants were encouraged to explore iterative processes such as Appreciative Inquiry or Plan, Do, Check, Act. We also developed a process for them composed of five components each with a set of tools and resources: Discover, Develop, Implement, Evaluate, Report (see below). Again, participants appreciated the resource, but without a setting, a collaborative inquiry process goes nowhere.

However, simply establishing a setting isn’t enough. These settings need to be as highly productive as possible so that educators meaningfully engage in the work on a consistent basis. One of the challenges I’ve heard the most from educators is that their organization lacks the culture to engage in integrated planning (i.e., change). Changing the culture of an organization is no small task, but it often starts with making sure people feel the work is productive. Through productive work, people’s attitudes can begin to change in a positive direction. This means making sure that these settings have an agenda with the meeting starting and ending on time, a facilitator who genuinely values everyone’s opinions and can champion and lead a collaborative inquiry process, incorporates data, and effectively follows through on any issues.

Establishing and maintaining a setting (or a series of supporting settings)—whether it be in the form of higher education committees or K12 professional learning communities—can often be about doing the ordinary extraordinarily well, but don’t underestimate its implementation. Leadership is key. A leader is, in a way, the “oil” that keeps these settings running like high performing engines.

What settings are available at your institution to get important work done? With Guided Pathways in motion at many IHE's, what are your settings for this endeavor?


For related Guided Pathways articles see:

Guided Pathways: Starting on the Right Foot

Unpacking the Meta-Major Concept

Guided Pathways: Work Plan Completion Strategy

Guided Pathways: Good to Great?

Why I Spit Shine My Shoes (And How it Relates to Leadership)
It's a metaphorical take on educational leadership. I tie in Guided Pathways at the end. Log on to your LinkedIn account to access the article.

For a deeper dive into settings, I recommend:
Goldenberg, C. (2004). Successful school change: Creating settings to improve teaching and learning. New York: Teachers College Press.

Ermeling, B.A. (2012). Connect the dots. Journal of Staff Development, 33, 2, 24-31.

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