Surviving a renovation process is a learning experience, and it has me thinking about stakeholders and decision-making.

What happens to decision-making when key stakeholders are left out?   What happens to schools when we don’t ask for our student voices for example?  What happens when we don’t garner the collective wisdom of our experienced teachers when making decisions?

I have said to a few people that I felt honored to have been given so much input into our library design, because I know it’s unusual.   But I’ve stopped saying that, because, it’s actually as it should be.

Why wouldn’t a librarian have input into the design of a library space?  Why wouldn’t students, for that matter?

I think individually, teachers in their classrooms are definitely responsive to students as stakeholders, and I think principals and other administrators are generally responsive to teachers.  But sometimes the further you get from the end user, the institution as a whole makes decisions on behalf of “all” without always gathering the information from the specific stake-holders.   (Someone recently wrote a great blog post about this, but I have lost track of the link–so if it’s you, please claim it!)

 Part of running a student-centered library is including the students in the process.   For example, we did surveys of students long before our renovation asking what features they felt were most important in the renovation.   We had sample furniture delivered and asked students and teachers to sit in it, and test it for comfort.    But looking back over the process, I wish I had assembled a student team to look over the plans and give input from their point of view.   And I realize that I found myself slipping into the thinking of “I’ll provide the students with ‘x’, instead of asking them about ‘x’.  It’s easy to do that.)

The courtyard adjacent to the library is going to be completely re-done as well.  So I am planning to do a better job of asking for input. One of our students won a national Redesign Your School competition, and his design included the courtyard, so we are planning to meet with him and the architect to hear his ideas for a comfortable space.   After all, the students are the ones using the courtyard the most.

Other ways we can involve our stakeholders?  One library in our district has a library council, made up of students.  I’d like to find some good end of year evaluation tools to use with students regarding library services, so if any of you know of some, please share.  

On Twitter, a couple of my colleagues mentioned that their school boards include one student as a board member.  What a great method of institutionalizing the student voice!

One of the great things about building a relationship with your stakeholders is that it builds passion and commitment and loyalty for your school, library, or district.  When people feel a personal investment in the mission, they care.    I think of schools where students are leaving in droves, or scores or low, and I wonder if those students feel a commitment to their campus–if their ideas are included, if the campus has built a relationship with those students where they feel like THEY are the customers.   In fact, I wonder how many of our campuses really do that.

It’s a complex proposition, I agree.   And it’s not generally the way we are used to making decisions in school, from the program level.   

The other side of including stakeholders on a campus is being sure teachers are included in decision making.   One struggle I’ve had during our renovation is being sure that I’m included in meetings regarding our facility, now that we’ve moved into the construction phase.   But in this case, it’s more efficient to include the stakeholders because, for example, I know our program and also the design of the new space backwards and forwards.  I can help decisions be made in a way that meets the library needs.  

On a larger scale, teachers know how decisions affect their classrooms.   So having a team of teachers that is in open communication with the administration regarding the school is important.  Again, I think many campuses, at the campus level, are responsive.  But as you move further away from the campus level, it’s easy for that process to fail.   And as you move into the levels of government, again, it’s amazing how stakeholder’s(educators) voices aren’t included.

Recently, a blog I read posted a link to a site that is collecting educator’s voices on NCLB–teacher’s voices need to be heard on this.

So much of what we do in schools is based on a paternal or factory model.   Questioning isn’t really always encouraged, nor is innovation.   Communication isn’t always considered necessary because the paternal model is based on “I know what is good for you and will decide that.”

What if schools were based on a web 2.0 model–a crowd-sourcing model where we harness the “wisdom of crowds” to help guide our decision making?   

Why do this?–Well, think about what happens when stakeholders aren’t included.  So many times it’s innocent enough.  I’m sure we have all seen this played out in our libraries, tech departments,  and on our campuses and district wide.   People get angry and frustrated.  Teachers feel like they aren’t included as professionals.  They feel like their input isn’t valued and may resent being treated as  dependent children.    And it makes students feel like their opinions don’t matter and aren’t represented.   People like to have communication and control regarding their daily activities.  And the frustration doesn’t always contribute to a very positive climate.

The irony is–team decision making has a very practical benefit. The stakeholders are happier, the entire team works more smoothly, and the person making the decision has support and help, so if it is unpopular, they have the backing of a team.   

The keys to all of this?  It takes a paradigm shift(the decision making patterns) and excellent communication (letting stakeholders know what is going on).   The communication has to happen from all different directions–and in order for that to happen, the lines of communication have to be open.

Relationship building is part of communication as well.  The paternal decision making model expects the “recipients” to trust that the decision maker has everyone’s good at heart.  But unless there is a pre-existing relationship built on trust and mutual respect, the stakeholders won’t automatically have that sense of trust.  

But I do believe if we all have the same end in mind and continue to communicate about our goals,  it can make a real difference in how we get there.    Whatever job we do, we always need to keep in mind our “customers” and consider how their input can make us better at what we do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *