Monday, February 21, 2011

Getting to Yes (or, Learning How to Be a Principled Negotiator)

I finished reading Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 1991) the other day.

I found the book to be extremely helpful and pithy in providing guidance on how to hone one's negotiation skills.  The authors assert that we can arrive at wiser agreements, in a more amicable manner, if we subscribe to four fundamental practices: 
  1. Separate the people from the problem 
  2. Focus on interests, not positions 
  3. Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do 
  4. Insist that the result be based on some objective standard 
I found myself wishing that I, like some I know, had been exposed to some formalized training on negotiations and conflict management in my graduate studies.  It seems like it would have been perfect content for the aspiring principal, since much of my time/effort/energy in that role was spent in managing conflict (in a million varieties) or trying to craft unique solutions to complex problems for people/groups with competing interests (negotiating!). 

I once heard a wise man say that the three problems we face in organizations are:  1) people, 2) People, and 3) PEOPLE.  He also said that the same three things were the solutions to the problems.  An interesting perspective, and one that I find hard to argue against.  The authors of Getting to Yes believe that the "people problems" can be categorized into Perception problems, Emotion problems, and Communication problems.  That seems to be a helpful way to conceptualize it.

Probably the most powerful sentence I found in the book was this one:  Active listening improves not only what you hear, but also what you say.” (p. 34)  I have personally been working diligently for several years to improve my listening skills.  I already had evidence that I was a better, more informed, more creative thinker as a result of improved listening; I had never considered the fact that those efforts at improved listening might also be improving what I say.  Cool!

I'll resist the temptation to write a full-length book report here.  Suffice to say, I can highly recommend the book and am very grateful to Jodie R. for recommending it to me.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Partnership of Learning

     On February 14, 2011, faculty and students of the Guthrie Common School District (GCSD) Elementary School continued their journey of learning in the use of technology in the instructional setting in ways that are meaningful and relevant.  For the past two years GCSD learners (young and old) have engaged in a joint learning venture of collaborative learning to make the classroom instructional setting ever more relevant and ever more meaningful for both students and teachers.  In the process they have been leveraging the many technological tools available to them.  The GCSD Board of Trustees has been very progressive in their thinking and aggressive in their pursuit of World Class learning by providing substantial resources to support this 21st Century learning model.
     On February 14, the elementary classes and their teachers displayed the results and impact of their learning over that two-year period.  The agenda for the day was designed by Technology Director Darren Wilson.  He charged teachers to participate with their students in presenting for the rest of the campus demonstrations of they are using new tools (both hardware and software) to enhance learning in their classrooms.  Each class was given approximately 20 minutes to present their learning.
     To be sure, there was a bit of anxiety associated with the process, both on the part of students and teachers.  However, the event came off beautifully.   The result was that all students and all teachers ended up learning with and from each other. Teachers Lynette Sweeney, Buffy Wilson, Shirley Hurt, Tammy Hatfield, Kelly McNeill, and Lynn Hill assisted their students in demonstrating use of the following kinds of technology: recording audio, digital cameras, Brain Pop, Edmodo, blogs, word processing, using the Internet, making presentations, Google Earth, etc.
     At the end of the day, Mr. Wilson said, “Referencing back to my show-and-tell story from 1976, Mrs. Bowen [his elementary teacher] would never have known what hit her today. With terms like: SoftSchool, Starfall, Shuttercal, Twitter Pals, Edmodo, Funbrain, Wordl and  Glogster, we sound a lot more techy than we give ourselves credit for.”

     It was a VERY good day of learning at GCSD!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Refresh of Previous Learning

I just finished rereading Improving Organizational Effectiveness Through Transformational Leadership (edited by B.M. Bass and B. J. Avolio, 1994).  I first encountered this work back around 1999, as part of my continual research on the topic of leadership.  Bass is perhaps the most prolific empirical researcher of the construct of leadership, to date.  A quick Google or Wikipedia search will provide you a plethora of works he has authored.

In my view his most powerful contribution to the study of leadership is his Full Range of Leadership Model, which is a conceptual "lens" through which we can view the concept of leadership.  Below is a quick summary, with the effectiveness range running highest at the top of the list, sequentially diminishing as you work your way down:

Transformational Leadership - the leader impacts followers through four operational leadership skills - 1) idealized influence, 2) inspirational motivation, 3) intellectual stimulation, and 4) individualized consideration.

Transactional Contingent Reward - followers compliantly do what the leader wants, and get rewarded for doing so, somehow.

Transactional Management-by-Exception (Active) - the leader actively monitors for deviances from expectations in follower behavior/performance, then reacts punitively when violations are identified.

Transactional Management-by-Exception (Passive) - the leader does not actively monitor for deviances from expectations in follower behavior/performance, but when those come to his/her attention, punitive responses follow.

Laissez-faire - the complete avoidance or absence of leadership.

We can probably all think of concrete examples in our experience that align with each description.  The more important response to me is examine carefully my own behaviors, thinking, and skills, and work actively to move my daily performance toward that Transformational level.