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Friday, April 12, 2013

Crossing Boundaries

You might remember a few years ago there was a terrible mine collapse in Chile.  It took months for the trapped miners to finally be rescued.  This disaster that turned into a miracle rescue is used by Amy Edmundson in her book, Teaming, as an example of how teams of people working in different locations with different roles, levels of expertise came together to do what many would have felt was impossible at the start. She used this story to emphasize the importance of teams being to cross "boundaries" to truly collaborate for creative solutions to new and challenging problems.

One of the teams were the miners themselves.  They had to face the challenge of staying physically and more importantly psychologically healthy in order to survive as long as it ended up taking for the outside teams to learn how to rescue them.  Their survival involved reaching consensus on organizing their time, distributing jobs and responsibilities for all members and have a daily ritual when they all came together to pray every morning.

One team up above was the government of Chile.  The newly elected president stated a clear goal to everyone-get the miners out alive and spare no expense. He took a risk politically, because failing to do so would look bad afterward.  This clear and direct (unambiguous) goal also had the effect of organizing and uniting these teams across the world.  This type of goal made their efforts "heroic" rather than correcting a mistake.  They could focus on solutions rather than looking for someone to blame for the problem.

Each team involved had to acknowledge the need for help-their efforts had to be interdependent.  There was no predetermined method or technique to discover that they had to apply to the situation.  Instead these teams had to learn together and try things out knowing that many efforts wouldn't work.  Their "failures" were opportunities for ultimately learning about what would work.

One of the main initial tasks of the team above the ground was to find where the miners were.  They had to drill down into the ground carefully in order not to make the collapse worse.  They had to figure out how to drill at the proper angle but ultimately they had to locate the miners and be able to communicate with them and provide them with supplies.

Most of all the success of this mission depended upon people communicating across all types of boundaries of many she divided into three main types: physical distance, status and knowledge.

This story in way mirrors bullying prevention in schools in the following ways:

The student world and the adult world are separate entities each with their own set of rules and ways of interacting.

Kids who are bullied often feel trapped and disconnected from others in their peer group and the adult world.

No one group alone can solve the unique manifestation of bullying in a school.

Because the manifestation of bullying is unique in each school, new and creative solutions to the problem can only emerge when all the groups work together.  They cannot rely on canned solutions.

Likewise bullying prevention can learn from this story in the following ways:

There should be a clear aspiration goal uniting the work of all the members of the school community.  It shouldn't be "let's solve the problem of bullying" but instead something akin to "Create a school environment where each student can confidently walk through the door ready to learn free from fear and anxiety."

The boundaries of the adult world need to be crossed-administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals and parents have to respect the contribution that each has to solving the problem.  They cannot work at cross purposes and no one group is more at fault than another-there is no fault only shared responsibility borne out of mutual respect. (These are the teams above the ground.)  

Each team has to realize that there are no easy answers but that the mission is not just worth the effort; the mission is at the heart of what they are about as people.

The adult world (teams above the ground) bear the responsibility of figuring out the best way to reach the the student world (those below the ground).  There must be lines of communication flowing back and forth between these two worlds.  The adult world must recognize that ultimately the student world has most influence on its own members but the student world does need their resources, wisdom and guidance (not their direct control or manipulation).

When all the members of the school community embrace bullying prevention not as another problem on a list of things to do but rather as their central mission of making schools safe places for optimal learning for all members of the community,  success in spite of the odds becomes not just possible but inevitable.

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