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Learning at its Best

Getting to the Change We Want: Developing an Easement Mindset

The following is also posted at stephenhurley.ca. I would love to hear whether this concept resonates with colleagues south of the border!

The degree to which education systems in Canada (and elsewhere, I suspect) are going to be capable of the substantial change to which an increasing number educators, parents, students and politicians aspire will hinge on just how open we are to shifting from an encroachment mindset to an attitude of easement.

Both encroachment and easement are terms very familiar to those involved in real estate law, but they have strong metaphorical impact when thinking about change in organizations where conversations, ideologies and relationships can be easily traced along very well-established and recognizable fault lines.

On the one hand, encroachment refers to an unauthorized and unwelcome intrusion on a person’s land holdings or territory. It is, indeed, a form of trespassing!

An easement, on the other hand, is an agreement that allows for someone to enter onto the land holdings of another, for a specific purpose and without the intention of possessing it.

Ironically, very little of our public education landscape actually remains in the public domain. In a very real sense, much of it has been divided up, parceled out and comes under the jurisdiction of one group or another.

At the school level, teachers are separated into divisions or departments that do more to keep each other apart than they do to draw them together.

Parents often struggle to find a place where they feel at ease.

In many places, administrators are shut out from open and honest conversations with unionized educators. Support staff are often made to feel less welcome and important than other members of the school community.

And students? Well, students are the nomads in this space!

At the district level, territorial issues are just as strong. Ongoing tensions between Finance, Academic and ICT Services are not uncommon.

And what of the growing divisions between various education-related union groups and management—well-documented divisions that cut across life in all dimensions of our education systems?

Over the years, many claims have been staked on the education landscape and, while I’m not arguing that any of these claims be given up, sold or bartered, I am suggesting that a mindset of easement might allow for freer and more creative movement across borders and boundaries, allowing us to discover new ways of working together on behalf of our students.

What might come of a school staff meeting where parents, administrators and school support staff were all made to feel welcome? Imagine the energy that could fill the room if more than one or two educators attended the monthly Parent Committee meetings? What could emerge if Information Technology department members sat in on Instructional Support meetings and vice versa. And what new understandings might emerge if union leaders were involved in district-level decision making right from the outset?

It’s difficult to give up territory, especially when rights and privileges have been negotiated and accrued over time. There is a sense of entitlement that accompanies any organization that is grounded in time and tradition.

That’s why, for me, beginning with an attitude of easement might just allow us to look for opportunities to forge new relationships, rediscover connections that have been lost along the way and, in doing so, find new sources of imagination, creativity and energy.

I’m just beginning to think more deeply about this idea, and I would like to continuing thinking out loud about its implications. For this reason, any input, reflections or constructive comments would be most helpful.

In the meantime…

Do you have an easement story from life in your organization? When has easing up on the traditional boundaries that have been established resulted in new approaches and new ways of thinking? What area of your organization would be most open to establishing a sense of easement? Where might you encounter the most resistance?

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About Stephen Hurley

After working for over 30 years in Ontario's public education system, I continue to work passionately throughout Canada, still very committed to the idea of effective, powerful learning experiences for all participants. A musician, technology-watcher, father, husband, I find life in the world of education, even when the conversations get a little contentious. If I were to be doing anything else right now, it would be hosting my own syndicated radio program on--you guessed it--education. I blog in a few spots. My personal blog can be found at http://stephenhurley.ca. I can also be found hanging around http://www.cea-ace.ca and, most recently, http://voicEd.ca I can be found on twitter as @stephen_hurley

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