Agreement Crafting: The New Work of EdLeaders

Two EdLeaders Shaking Hands in a business meeting after finishing with agreement crafting

The craft of leading schools and education systems is evolving rapidly because tools, learning models and communities are changing fast. The increased velocity has three implications:

  • You need to learn more and faster than ever before;
  • You need to help your colleagues learn more faster; and
  • You need to craft new agreements.

It’s a series of agreements that help a school community meet new challenges, adopt new learning models and leverage new partnerships.

School communities need:

  • System agreements: the “vision” thing
  • Good school agreements: how things should work on a good day
    • A learning model & school model (how kids learn and how everything else supports that)
    • Teacher roles & supports (what they’re responsible for and what they can expect)
    • Student supports & partnerships (how kids and families are supported)
    • Balance of improvement and innovation (better or different?)
    • Tools & systems (see 8 Learning Platform Observations)
    • Calendar & schedule
  • Path agreements: how we get where we’re going
    • Phases & milestones (including a fast lane and slow lane for change)
    • Public and private investments
    • Partner commitments

That’s a lot of agreements—and some of them need tweaking every year. As a result, three things are important:

1. Make clear who makes what decision. John Carver’s Policy Governance model is a good example of a framework for decision clarity—it separates issues of organizational purpose (ends) from all other organizational issues (means). The Center for Reform of School Systems is a great resource. For charter schools, see Charter Board Partners.

Once the ‘how the system should work’ stuff is figured out, write it down, make it clear and stand behind it with word and deed.

2. Sweat the process. Architect a good agreement by figuring out who needs to be involved and how to best engage them, providing several entry points and making the timeline and process clear.

3. Create role & goal clarity. When there’s a lot in motion, it’s critical—for as long as possible—to make clear who does what, what outcomes matter and what supports are available.

Tips and Tools

The work of agreement crafting is aided by some relatively new process tools including collective impact, design thinking, lean startup and project management.

Collective impact is an effort to align community action around common goals and metrics.  See the StriveTogether theory of action and tips from Billions Institute.

According to the Stanford Institute of Design (d.School) “Design thinking combines creative and analytical approaches, and requires collaboration across disciplines.” They promote “radical collaboration” in rapid cycles of iteration.

6 hexagons from left to right, with one word in each: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test

Lean startup, piloted in Silicon Valley startups by Eric Ries, is an iterative approach to quickly testing new ideas with customers. The approach as been adapted by important networks including Summit Public Schools.

And as recently noted, the best way to manage an innovation and improvement agenda is to break it into a connected series of projects and launch them in phases. Projects can be managed by emerging leaders—anyone in the organization that has expressed the interest and ability to handle broader responsibilities. Managing projects can be a great way to practice facilitation and leadership skills.

Dr. George Wood, Superintendent of Federal Hocking Schools in Ohio, told Arthur Baraf on the Student Centered Learning podcast, that another key role of the leader is “protecting the perimeter”, creating space for teachers to engage students in deeper learning.

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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