Saturday, September 7, 2013

It's all in your persepctive

I've been thinking a lot about communication lately- how people view problems, and how their perspective impacts the way they view what is being communicated.  In my day job, I run a professional services practice, and this is second nature.  If we communicate the same information to a large number of clients, I know that some clients will react differently based on their own view and how the information is affected by where they are in their respective businesses.  This really came home to me when I watched two of our teams describe their perceptions of the same interaction.  Folks from both sides viewed it through their own specific lens- their role in our organization.

This was interesting, but it became a sort of epiphany this week as I was watching the videos of the first two LASD-BCS negotiation sessions.  For those who are interested in the videos, they can be found here:

Video 1: August 27th meeting
Video 2:  Thursday, August 29th meeting

There's an exchange at the end of the second meeting where BCS Board members are questioning the need for the detailed CEQA study, and LASD Board members are pushing back.  It got me thinking about the different perspectives at the table.

BCS is a charter school.  They are, by definition, not encumbered by most of the regulations that apply to traditional school districts.  Hence, it shouldn't surprise us when BCS board members are skeptical of the detailed process we have to follow.  They don't live in that same world, so they don't have the first-hand experience that compels us to be process-driven on issues like this.

Likewise, their leadership is appointed, not elected.  They feel that their ultimate accountability is whether or not parents choose to enroll students at the school.  This gives them the flexibility to do what the directors feel is right, and then see whether people continue to attend. 

The District operates very differently.  This isn't to say "better"- I'm simply highlighting how our operating environments drive different behaviors. 

LASD is not a charter school, so we have a lot of regulations that apply to us.  It's been estimated that charter schools only have to worry about 25% of the EdCode in California.  That means LASD has 4x the regulations that we deal with every day.  It is no wonder, then, that our institutional memory drives us to follow detailed processes.  That's not to say we don't innovate- we do, and we are very proud of the work that happens in our classrooms.  However, we also have to make sure we keep up with the myriad requirements from the State and Federal Government that are part of our daily existence.

The other piece is that we're an elected board, and we're driven by that connection to the broader community.  As mentioned above, a charter school is more-or-less accountable only to the parents of kids who attend.  LASD has enjoyed an extremely supportive relationship with the entire community- they support parcel taxes and bond measures, parents and community members volunteer as art docents and library assistants and lunch servers, and they participate fully in the process of running our schools.    In order to maintain this support, we are very careful to be extremely open, to include the broad community in all that we do. 

As a simple example, the LASD Blueprint Process intentionally included members of the public and folks who don't have kids in our schools.  When BCS did their strategic planning, they focused on input from existing parents.  The differences in how we operate drives the differences in our behaviors.

I'm not sure where to go with all of this.  It helps me think about their behaviors, and hopefully they'll understand our frame of reference too.  I don't yet know how we can help their board members understand our operating environment (other than continuing to explain it), but I'm going to be thinking about it.  In addressing this difference in our perspectives, we might find a way for us to bridge the gaps in our expectations.