On Monday, April 14, 2008, I coordinated a meeting with a little over 1,000 participants—parents, students, and staff. Not too bad for a school with an enrollment of approximately 750 students. The objective of the meeting was to collectively begin developing a vision for a school that was scheduled to open in the 2008-2009 school year.
A few weeks prior to the event a communication was sent out to all the families informing them of the meeting time and date. The letter also urged each stakeholder to be prepared to participate in an extensive discussion surrounding a “Share an Experience” sheet that was included in the letter. It read:
Share in detail a memorable personal experience that you have had where a parent, student, or staff member from a particular school exceeded your expectations. What did that individual do to make the experience so extraordinary? Why was the experience so special? How did it make you feel?
As everyone excitedly squeezed into the Multi-Purpose room (with standing room only) for the much anticipated meeting, I introduced the staff and discussed the evenings agenda. The feeling in the air was indescribable.
Next, each of the families reported to designated classrooms throughout the school where teachers led structured conversations. Their goal was to develop values statements—encapsulating themes that emerged from each participants responses to the “Share an Experience” sheet. Each teacher, operating as a facilitator, was provided with the following directions.
As the facilitator:
- Direct everyone to get into groups of five and ask them to read one another’s completed “Share an Experience” sheet.
- Have each group dialogue to determine theme(s) and/or keyword(s) that emerge from the positive experiences.
- Have each group share out their theme(s) and/or keyword(s). Document those findings on the whiteboard.
- Jointly create a one-sentence value statement that captures each group’s theme(s) and/or keyword(s). Write the statement on a large poster.
- Assign a member of the group to share out during the whole group debrief. They must summarize the dialogues and read the statement.
As I walked into each classroom to observe the unique conversations, I noticed that pretty much everyone was engaged and sharing their own personal memorable experiences. The discussion was deep while all stakeholders were given the opportunity to be ‘heard.’
As the discussions came to an end, each breakout group transitioned back to the Multi-Purpose room. They were all charged with presenting their one-of-a-kind values statement to the whole group. Not only did they share their statements, but many commented on their appreciation for the process.
A couple of the statements that were conveyed included:
The parents, students, staff and community believe that a student’s voice should be an inspirational communication of positive reinforcement for the empowerment of confidence.
To promote our future leaders through high expectations, aggressive education, and community relationships.
Believing in each other leads to shared dreams and successful KIDS!
The crowd roared following each group’s presentation. Finally, I approached the podium and grabbed the microphone, scanning each of the posted values statements. I turned to the crowd and waited for a few seconds. You could hear a pin drop. What came out of my mouth next sparked a response that I will never forget.
I pointed to the posted statements and yelled,
“SO WHO WANTS THEIR CHILD TO ATTEND A SCHOOL WITH THESE VALUES?”
The place erupted. It was breathtaking and I will never forget it.
Perry Wiseman, author, Strong Schools, Strong Leaders: What matter most in times of change