Mind-Set Meeting Reflections

Photo Courtesy: emdot at Flickr Creative Commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/emdot/73537086/

Photo Courtesy: emdot at Flickr Creative Commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/emdot/73537086/

A pause to reflect on the decision-making process our school working party has embarked on. Meeting on a weekly basis means it is easy for the week to slip by and not get any thoughts down.

Our first meeting involved only Step One – Mind-Setting (which needs to occur before the situation can be properly defined). It was very enlightening to get everyone’s perception of the problem/situation on to the table. Like the story of the blind men describing the elephant, it was important for everyone to see what everyone else assumed they were talking about. There was recognition of the complexity of the issue and that many were only considering one aspect of it. There was recognition that perhaps only symptoms of the actual situation had been dealt with in the past and so the actions were not successful. The picture became clearer as each member spoke around the circle and the the situation gained a seriousness it hadn’t had before; it became obvious that quick answers would not ‘fix it’ but that good decisions were possible.

The idea of information under-girding each step is one that I will have to further reinforce. We have talked about our feelings but now will need facts to base decisions on.

The most difficult aspect of the first meeting was for members to keep solutions out of the conversation when talking of their perceptions. I must be more strict about them not being verbalised at this point. I don’t want shortcuts to bias any definitions or criteria.

Just an interesting observation, but one I will address at the next meeting, is that of eye contact. I was surprised to see each member of the group when sharing their perceptions did not look at the group but spent the majority of the time making eye contact with me, the facilitator. I wonder if this is a hangover from ‘old school days’ when the student always addressed the teacher not the class’. Even the teachers in the working party did it. I tried to non-verbally encourage people to address the group by looking round at the group myself as each spoke, but that didn’t work. I’ll have to say directly.

Communication Guidelines from Day-time Soaps

OK, I confess. When I was a uni student in the 1980’s I used to race home from my final lecture (just like the rest of the dorm students) to catch the “Days of Our Lives”. My lasting impressions are: the drapes always seemed to be drawn in the houses and the Lawry organ music  gave it a silent movie atmosphere.  But there was one very important lesson in all the soapy episodes if you were paying attention. It had to do with communication. Most of the problems the characters found themselves in had to do with NOT saying something rather than what they did say.

If only Rachel had told John that she was pregnant ..

If only Thorn said he had seen Ashley being comforted by Dallas (and jumped to a terrible conclusion) …

Anyways you get the drift. Not being open and honest can lead to drama but not to good teams or to good decisions. And I am very interested in having good decisions made.

I am preparing to facilitate a decision-making working party at school. It is my first time facilitating at school and the Situation-that-needs-attention (SITNA) is complex. I gave a presentation to the working group a fortnight ago about the 6 Step Core Decision Making Model as outlined by Harvey, Bearley and Corkrum in The Practical Decision-Maker. (This model was part of our course studies). The group has agreed to working through this model. In the first step, Mind-Set, the group is asked to address the circumstances and state of the situation. Getting the context right is my priority at this first meeting. The The Practical Decision-Maker authors state:

Often, you must deal with concerns about conflict, openness, trust, and communication as part of establishing a mind-set that is supportive of problem solving. (Harvey, Bearley and Corkrum, 2001, 21)

And I know this will be true so I am re-readng everything I own about effective communication and conflict management.

The soaps provided a good lesson about honest communication, other communication/conflict resolution gems I’ve revisited are from (a great book with an unfortunate title) Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring out the Best in People at Their Worst

  • Poor communication/negative remarks often have positive intent – look for the underlying good purpose that was meant and acknowledge it ( don’t know what it is? make one up – communicator will either agree or make their good intent clear) Egs. want to get something done right, want acknowledgement for something done, want support.
  • State your own positive intent. Tell people why you are telling them something before telling them. Directs more positive attention to your message.
  • Whenever a discussion starts to degenerate into conflict, try to ascertain the reasons why people are for or against something.

I read on …


Brinkman, R. and Kirschner, Rick. (1994). Dealing with people you can’t stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst. McGraw Hill: New York.

Harvey, TR, Bearley, Wl & Corkrum, SM. (2001) “Core steps in decision making”, in The practical decision maker: A handbook for decision making and problem solving in organizations, The Scarecrow Press, Lanham, MD and London, pp. 17-34.


The Practical Decision Maker

Another powerful read from our ETL504 Study Guide is a chapter from T.R. Harvey, W.L. Bearley and S.M. Corkrum’s The Practical decision maker: A handbook for decision making and problem solving in organizations. Victor Kiam once said, “I was so impressed with the product, I bought the company.” Well, I’ve not got the money but I know what he meant. I was so impressed with the idea, I’ve booked myself into a school council meeting to show them this six-step decision-making process. This is the magic bullet they have been looking for.

When critically reflecting on things in this course, questions we are to ask ourselves are:

What do you think are the important features of …?

Why do you think that?

If you are correct, what would desirable effects be??

Why would these results be desirable?

What actions of yours would deliver those results?

Why do you think those actions would be effective?

So to begin …

The six step process of decision making starts with pre-prep work, ground work that I believe is often missing when groups are dealing with ‘situations that need attention’. Helping people recognize and adjust their perception/feelings toward a problem or problems in general can empower a demoralized group to start afresh or at least to have another go at something rather than throwing their hands in the air. It can ‘bring them back to the table’.

Next the process brings objectivity to the ‘situation that needs attention’ (SITNA) often a situation that until then has been charged with emotion and/or ego. The 80/20 ratio focusses on the four initial steps which clarify the situation and help to give a complete picture to often complex situations rather than trying to make things simple. This means the chance for better choices instead of ‘either/or’ decisions that no one is really satisfied with.

This leads to perhaps the feature that I see as the strongest; that decisions are reached by consensus not by a vote. Voting can leave certain people unconvinced of the solution and gives those people the power to cut off at the knees any action (based on the vote). I have seen this happen time and again. Consensus means that while not everyone is 100% convinced, they are at least in agreement enough to give the decision a go.

This brought to mind another article, A school Without a Principal, which described the staff’s decision-making process. They use a ‘fist-o-five’ consensus model that I think is brilliant (and has the bonus of feeling a bit pirate-y).

After discussion of a proposal, the facilitator calls for a fist-o-five vote. Five extended fingers signifies total support; four down to two indicates graduated degrees of support. Anyone who blocks a proposal (with a finger or a fist) must propose an alternative. We are encouraged to voice dissenting ideas; meetings are never boring … (Barnett, McKowen and Bloom, 1998, p. 49).

The advantage of having a team all pulling together is obvious — action.


Barnett, D., McKowen, C., & Bloom, G. (1998). A School without a principal. Educational Leadership, 55(7), 48-49. Retrieved July 20, 2008, from ERIC database. (EJ563903)

Harvey, TR, Bearley, WL & Corkrum, SM 2001, ‘Core steps in decision making’, in The practical decision maker: A handbook for decision making and problem solving in organizations, The Scarecrow Press, Lanham, MD & London, pp. 17-34.

Communicating Online

Things relevant to my study have a lovely way of hopping onto the path in front of me and today was no exception. The Age on Thursday (and I skimmed on Sat) ran an article entitled “Eight signs your workplace is crook” by James Adonis. One of the eight signs had to do with communication so my TL caterpillar antenna went up (metaphorically speaking).

The statement that caught my attention the most was Adonis’s statement:

People falsely believe that email is communication. It’s not. Email is just a means of transferring information. It’s certainly not communication.

I have been coming to this conclusion myself, both as a TL at work and as a member of a team collaborating on an assignment for one of my subjects. Here’s my take on why emails are not communication.

Communication is meant to be two way. Emails get written and sent but that doesn’t mean they are received or read or responded to or that the content is understood.

Having a conversation via email even when the other party responds has complications. Like letter writing in days of old, it is hard to express the feeling, the weight or the intent of things you are trying to say. Even with the extensive use of emoticons (which can end up looking rather juvenile) nothing written can truly convey meaning like tone of voice, pauses, immediate clarification and feedback and the chance to hear the other person do the same.


Paradigms and School Culture — pt 2

When a group of people share the same world view, when their paradigms are consistent with each other or are sufficiently homogenous in their core assumptions, then a common ‘culture’ emerges…. parallel behaviours, common speech patterns, common ways of explaining … In short, the group becomes tribal. Thus the principal, if he or she wishes to develop a strongly cohesive culture for his or her school, must address those elements which handle the school’s environment for learning. … there are always some common ideas which do emerge when you listen carefully … There are, in short, common paradigms which will give clues for action and planning. (Beare, 1989, p. 18)

Here is one excellent piece of advice that needs to be taken as a person learning to lead. Listen. Listen for clues when parents and potential parents speak about the school. Look for clues to their paradigms.

As a person who takes potential families through on Tour Days I will now be listening more closely for this. Do their paradigms sound similar to ours. If not, if they have other maps of what schools should be, but like what they ‘see’ (horses, happy children, beautiful bush setting) then sooner or later ‘things’ will not be the way they like. Equally I must check that they clearly hear and understand our school’s paradigms.

Beare, H. (1989). The movement to create excellent schools. In Creating an excellent school: Some new management techniques (pp. 1-22). London: Routledge.