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Sunday, March 24, 2013


"Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change." -Wayne Dyer

I often plan and conduct professional development workshops.  Although these workshops in and of themselves have limited value for facilitating change, they provide an opportunity for the participants to start to think differently-in short workshops can "plant a seed" for change.  To stick with the garden analogy, you can't just plant a seed and then walk away from it and expect it to grow into a healthy plant.  It will need ongoing care and attention so the developing plant can adjust to changing environmental conditions.  
Ironically, the way we view workshops affects their ultimate value to us. 

Let's examine the life of a professional workshop.  People invest time and energy to leave their place of employment to attend a conference or a specific workshop.  Sometimes people choose to attend; sometimes they are told to attend-this does make a difference.  In both cases, optional or mandated attendance, participants often are looking for something that they can take back to their place of work and use with the intention of doing their job better.  Some workshops/conferences knowing this expectation will even advertise that the participants will emerge from the workshop with practical strategies they can take back and use right away to make a positive difference at work.  
In reality, this does not happen so even if someone walks out of a workshop thinking they got something very practical and are excited about using it, in most cases it won't work over time. 

 The reason for this failure can be found in the quotation I used in a previous post: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."  Any change, no matter how practical it is, will over time be overcome by the cultural norms of the organization-like a seedling that doesn't get enough water or gets stepped on because there is no fence around the garden.  This doesn't mean that the idea brought back isn't a worthy one, it just means that  the day to day life and habits of thought and action of the organization are so entrenched and well established that the idea has no place to take root or stick to. 

When ideas/strategies from workshops take hold so to speak is when they go back to a compatible culture.  A culture where there are ways of thinking and acting that actively embrace new ideas: cultures of learning.  Ironically those cultures are ones that would continue to change as a result of the daily interactions among the people in those cultures.  An idea or strategy taken back to those type of cultures wouldn't dramatically stick out from the norm and get blowback from people, instead it would attach or blend into what is already happening.  People from these cultures also don't go looking for magical solutions to problems expecting a workshop to provide them.  People from these cultures go looking for ideas that they think will nurture and support the thinking and learning of the people back at work who didn't attend the workshop.  This is a very different expectation and one that makes more sense: ideas can feed other ideas and  conversations among  people can lead to decisions that can ultimately support the growth that is already happening.  Learning cultures don't look for quick fixes or programs that will change everybody.  Learning cultures want to learn more and are open to anything that will support their learning-change in these cultures is evolutionary and emerges through a shared ownership and leadership from people who work together.

This phenomenon is why I am reluctant to do single, one time only workshops for schools that want to do a better job at preventing and reducing bullying.  I view workshops as opportunity to plant a seed, to  bring a different idea into the mix and hopefully promote a deeper and reflective conversation.  My best hope is to get even one or two people to start to think a little differently about something they thought they "knew".  Many people I would expect would find this approach not to be practical and I have received feedback  expressing frustration that the workshop offered "fluff" and failed to give any practical tools or strategies.
This is a catch 22, for cultures that aren't looking for the answers but are open to new ways of thinking, those cultures are probably already doing a pretty good job of preventing and reducing bullying because they already have a culture of respect and openness.  

Conversely, even the most practical hands-on strategy offered to schools who have cultures that don't value learning and thinking and want a "solution", would fail to make much of a difference at that school.

Probably the most practical thing a school can do is first change the way they look at school bullying. When schools do that "practical" shift of thinking, bullying is no longer just a problem to solve but it becomes an opportunity for the entire school culture to change for the better-not only will bullying decrease in that school,  the overall learning/achievement of that school will increase.  

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