As I watch the Sixers attempt to force a game seven against the Raptors, I recognize that the phrase Trust the Process has a slightly different meaning in Philly than other locations. Some of you may be disappointed that this post is not about the Sixers version of Trust the Process. It is also not related to Frozen at all. For all of the Elsa and Sam Hinkie fans that tuned in, you may want to stop here. This post is for anyone who teaches and attends faculty meetings, or most likely anyone who works with a group of people to make decisions. While it touches on the Design Thinking and Quaker decision making processes, the strategies I focus on can be applied to most situations.
Trust the Process
When I hear “Trust the process,” it makes me think that the person saying it knows what is coming is going to be long, arduous, slow, painful, frustrating, and difficult. Not something any of us look forward to. I do not think all processes need to be painful, but they will most likely include at least a few moments of discomfort. This past week, we came to the end of a process, although it’s never really the end, and the value of working through a process struck me in a different way.
Our school has been working on our schedule for a while now and, as someone who likes puzzles, I have been drawn to the multi-dimensional jigsaw that class schedules provide. As all teachers know, there is never a perfect schedule, and it feels like we’re always working toward something better. We have had a relatively traditional 5-day schedule in our lower school for the last five or so years. Another puzzle-minded teacher proposed the idea of a 6-day schedule and had some convincing arguments that it could help us all. I was happy to jump in and help.
We didn’t just jump into creating the schedule, but did a lot of leg work, using a good deal of the Design Thinking process (a number of us have been trained in this through Henry Ford Learning Institute over the past two years). We started by asking lots of questions about our current schedule – when it works and when it doesn’t, what do our students need? We defined the problem, or the goals of a new schedule – to provide more consistency for students and time for teachers, both in lessons and for shared planning.
Working with the framework of a six day cycle idea, we thought of a number of different ways to adjust our daily structures. We created a prototype, got some feedback, then went back to creating a more detailed prototype that faculty could use to make a decision. Then came the real feedback. Our faculty meeting this past weeks was the time for a decision and reflection.
Let it Go
Interestingly, our faculty went through a professional development session recently in which we discussed the key tenets of the Quaker decision making process, which we use in our meetings. One of those core ideas is that when we share with the group, we are expected to let that idea go. Our job is to explain our thinking as clearly as possible, but once we finish, it is the group’s responsibility to choose what to do with it. It is not our job to repeat the idea over and over until the idea or our voice has been exhausted.
This can be really difficult to do. It is tough to watch what you think of as a good idea fade away. Truthfully though, if it was a great idea, or if you had explained it more effectively, it wouldn’t have faded away. Sometimes you have to come from different angles, but harping on an idea over and over in a meeting is rarely the best approach to making something work.
The schedule my colleague and I were creating was our idea that we had to ‘let go’ to the group. I knew that the amount of time put into creating this schedule would make it a little harder to let go. This motivated us to make it as close to perfect as we could get. It also made it harder to read the feedback. One good thing was that the difficulties we ran into while making the schedule also helped us realize that our great idea may not be as much of a clear cut success as we thought a the beginning.
Prior to the faculty meeting, the schedule had been shared, feedback had been submitted, and the group creating the schedule discussed our plans. Sadly, one piece of data that we had overlooked made it impossible to move forward with the proposal. At the meeting, the head of our lower school explained the decision as well as the value of the process. Her words were met with mostly silence and we moved on to the next agenda item.
After working through the next topic, and reaching a decision, we started to bring the meeting to a close. I had come to terms with letting the schedule go, but was little disappointed with the lack of response and discussion. I would have almost preferred some form of frustration to the silence. As we moved to close the meeting, a voice spoke up. The voice came from one of the strongest critics of the schedule. She explained that after having some time to process the schedule decision, she was grateful for the process, for the time and effort put in, and for those who truly listened to the feedback from the faculty.
It felt like everyone in the room took a breath. A few others added similar sentiments, and my schedule-designing colleague and I were able to add that there were a number of positives that came out of the process. We found elements that could be applied to improve our schedule regardless of the cycle we chose. We also learned that a process can be successful even if it doesn’t lead to some brilliant new plan.
When we share an idea, we have to trust others to treat that idea with respect. Anyone who speaks up at a faculty meeting is taking a risk – at the end of a long day, what you say better be worthwhile, because our tolerance for time-wasting is typically at a low point. That risk can be increased or decreased depending on the culture of the place you work and the relationships you have built. It has taken time for our group to get to this point, and we are far from perfect. This experience, however, helped me trust the process a little more, and trust the group with an idea when someone ‘lets it go’ – not to accept it, but to give it the thoughtful feedback that each of our ideas deserves.