Acronyms can be helpful ways for people within a particular profession or group to communicate. I recall bringing a friend out to our Bunker Hill farm when the weekend task was artificial insemination. Friday evening, we were sitting on the porch having a refreshment and talking about AI, her feet propped up on what appeared to be a milk can or keg. She was joining in the laughs at our sophomoric jokes, so all assumed she knew what was in her make-shift ottoman. But when someone said the word out loud, her feet moved as fast as the beverage spraying out her nose. It’s important to know not just what those acronyms are all about but also what they mean in practice.
Theories are the purview of professors and think-tankers. Standing on the precipice of the cliff of a once in a century challenge, practitioners don’t want to hear high-minded theories. What they want is to: 1. Feel part of a worthy enterprise, 2. Have a sense of order in what appears chaotic, 3. Know what is going on, 4. Have some say in what affects them. Really smart people at an educational research association (McREL ) tell us the most critical concepts in a time of great change are Culture, Communication, Order, and Input (CCOI). The words and letters are less important in a pandemic than the practical application of how those words help us get down to business. Like AI, acronyms don’t mean much until the cow is in the chute.
Today, KSDE released its plan for reopening schools in Kansas. It’s 1,000 pages of guidance, structure, and assistance. It is essential to know that educators, parents, and board members had a say (Input) into the development of this document. Hundreds more will continue to have input at the state level. The report was developed in a culture of trust, by people who believe in the greater good of Kansas education. It is the first step toward being some Order to our current chaotic norm.
But as the old saying goes, “all politics are local.” Now it will be incumbent upon school leadership at every level to bring order to their districts, schools, and classrooms. “What does this mean to me?” is the new question everyone will want to be answered. It is time for school leaders to reassess numbers 1-4 above, or CCOI.
- Culture depends on shared goals. While it may seem like driving down the road at 80 mph is a poor time to decide where we are going, it’s our only choice. School leaders, now is the time to talk about your goals for the next 1, 3, 6, and 12 months. The trouble is, the goals may not be 100 % synchronous. One goal is to ensure the school community’s safety — students, staff, and family members. Another goal is to return to ensure all students are engaged in learning. It may be necessary to look at those goals as continuums and not absolutes. The school community’s assured safety would mean that nobody leaves their house, even when there isn’t a virus threatening. Since home accidents are a leading cause of death, getting out of bed can be treacherous. All students engaged to the fullest would mean an individualized education plan for every child, and unlimited resources to implement it. We are used to making choices along these continua, but not with as many unknowns as we are currently facing.
- What the heck is going on? When I walk into a Topeka BBQ restaurant and the first question the owner asks me after not seeing me for three months is, “Are we going to have HS football?” I can say with certainty that everyone wants to know what is going on. Donald Rumsfeld famously talked about known knows and known unknowns, and that is where we are now. The time to communicate what you know and don’t know is yesterday. School leaders, PLEASE, approach communication as you would good instruction. It takes many forms, it is adaptive, and it is differentiated. Sending a daily or weekly email is nice, but the most effective way to communicate is to sit down and have a conversation. Start now to design communication processes that aren’t based upon “telling” but are based on “teaching!” Start with the facts, the move to the synthesis and application of those facts. In the absence of information, people create their own reality even if it is wrong.
- Everyone wants some sense of order. Some folks need more than others. Your school community needs to know the rules to make their individual choices in response to those rules. A lack of order creates fear, fight or flight kicks in, and people tend to lash out or withdraw. We end up at extremes of caution, apathy, and/or anger. Anxiety among educators is at an all-time high right now because we are rule followers, and right now, we don’t know what the rules are.
- You aren’t listening to me! Everyone wants their voice to be heard. Babies cry, executive directors write blogs, and school districts create committees, do surveys, and have listening tours. What are your processes for getting information from those affected by your decisions? Who knows the most about their child’s overall needs? Who knows the most about classroom organization and structure? Who knows the most about the health and safety of the community? Who knows the most about organizing a school building? Who knows the most about cleaning processes and procedures? If you aren’t soliciting the knowledge and information that these people hold in an organized fashion, you are making a mistake.
CCOI is the acronym of the day, but the cow is in the chute, so it is time to glove up and get down to business. Pay attention to these four steps when you move forward, and we will have a successful rebirth of education in August.