Administration, General, Organization

How to Build Consensus for Change in Your School or District

Schools and districts have been working tirelessly since the COVID-19 crisis began to continue delivering rigorous education to students. This is forcing schools around the country, from the Kindergarten to Graduate level, to reinvent themselves at once. They are wrestling with a lot of difficult decisions. Some are fully remote and trying to educate at a distance. Others are in person and trying to best practice Social Distancing. The rest are somewhere between the two, attempting some sort of hybrid model. The structure and layout of each school’s Covid-19 response is not a choice taken lightly, with health and the future at stake. There are also many stakeholders — administrators, teachers, parents, and students just to name the obvious. Many of the choices and their details, and very likely the most successful ones, reflect the result of consensus building in schools and districts.

What is Consensus Building?

For schools and other sizable organizations collaboration is a must. A large amount of people doing a large amount of different things have to be in some sort of step for the whole to move forward. For this collaboration to take place smoothly there has to be some sort of consensus and successful schools and organizations will actively work on consensus building. Consensus building is a management or leadership tool for resolving disagreements and making decisions. Consensus building recognizes that people can have different ideas and views, even opposing. The beauty of consensus building is that with shared goals in mind these can all be brought into the dialog and contribute to an outcome. Of course the outcome might look different from what everyone first wanted, but the goals should reflect the important interests of the personnel involved.

Advantages of Consensus Building

The value of consensus building is that solutions meet the needs of stakeholders more fully than decisions that simply come down from the top, or elsewhere. As the final decision comes from a process with widespread participation the participants will see their impact, even if indirect, and role in the finalization. Consensus building can also work to bring about unity and solidarity with participants becoming more familiar with each other’s wants, needs, and perspectives. This makes putting decisions into action much easier as collaboration has already taken place and will be recognized. In successful consensus building everyone should feel that they were heard. This is especially important in the sphere of education as one of the biggest reasons for teachers leaving the profession is feeling like they have “no say in decisions.” By building consensus schools and districts not only resolve disagreements and make decisions but they secure staff longevity. Another benefit is that solutions may be completely new and fresh. In the calm discussion of differences something may arise that no single participant had originally conceived. This the true benefit of equitable back and forth dialog.

Strategies for Building Consensus

  • Identify and involve the stakeholders. Who would want to affect an outcome and who might be affected by an outcome? Building consensus begins with recognizing all of the parties with a stake in a decision.
  • Be clear on what needs to be decided. It can be useful to reexamine why a decision needs to be made with a thorough contextualizing. A proper focus keeps the process manageable and on track.
  • Use polling to see where participants stand. If there is some sort of majority work on addressing the concerns of dissenting voices. Look for a win-win solution that modifies the most popular solution with the dissenting concerns.
  • Allow open discussion. Let the participants voice their concerns and proposals. Give equal time and consideration to multiple sides. It can be useful to list out proposals and concerns so that they have time to settle over the course of the decision making process.
  • Before any final decision, hold another poll. Has the majority grown? Or do more participants have pause for thought? This can be a critical moment for reflection in consensus building to see if a decision needs to go in another direction.

Building consensus is a process. It’s not going to look the exact same every time but should always involve the examination of different ideas and views with resolution in mind. In this way the end result may be a bit of a meeting half-way, with no participant completely satisfied but all participants willing to support the outcome. It grounds the need for decision making in reality for both organizations and individuals. This is especially important at a time like this with such high stakes. We here at Script wish all the educators and school districts out there the best in dealing with the challenges of Remote, Hybrid, and in-person instruction in the time of Covid-19!