Community-The Structure of Belonging starts with a dense summary of prior research on leadership, community, and transformation. While I appreciated the background information, I found it a challenge to read. My biggest takeaway from the the first section (The Fabric of Community) was Block's diverse views on leadership. The role of a leader is to invite people, set up a hospitable meeting space, and encourage engagement through powerful conversations. The second section (The Alchemy of Belonging) provided specific examples of how to frame conversations. His examples were open-ended and applicable to many leadership situations in schools. Reading this book after our discussion about mission and vision was helpful. Below is a summary of the parts of the book that spoke loudest to me.
Bigger isn't better Community problems are not solved with big, top down programs that are heavy on mandates and requirements and are so large in scope that they were developed without collaboration. These programs do not elicit the passion and vigor required to truly impact day to day school operations.
Power in our hands True transformation occurs when leaders create an environment in which all members of an organization feel empowered. A symptom of an under performing school is when members of the organization have opinions and suggestions for change, but are waiting for "administration" to something about it.
Tilt the Floor It doesn't matter how dynamic, engaging, and powerful a leader is, he/she alone can not will a district to move exactly as they want. Smart leaders recognize that schools are always changing. It is important to analyze if these changes are moving the district to a more desirable position and if not what conditions need to be adjusted to move the district in a positive direction.
The Transforming Community (Chapter 7). This chapter had the most impact on me. Block asserts that our conventional focus on large systems, better leaders, clearer goals, and more controls is ineffective and leads to over-regulated and disconnected communities. He challenges both the belief that individual transformation leads to communal transformation and the traditional problem solving steps used in school. Block describes developing a mission and vision as "important" and "essential". However, the process must be followed up with continued engagement and involvement by all citizens. Developing a vision is not the end of the process, it is the beginning (p.73-81).
Engagement is the Point School leaders put a lot of pressure on themselves. We feel we have to be all things to all people. We need to have the answers for students, parents, teachers, community members, fellow administrators, and board members. Block's simplified, big picture look at leadership is important to remember. The essential role of a leader is to create the conditions for engagement. Each interaction is an opportunity to move the culture of the organization toward shared ownership. A leader must feel comfortable not having the answers, it is more important to ask questions that spur engagement and action within the organization. "The world does not need leaders to better define issues, or to orchestrate better planning or project managment. What it needs is for the issues or plans for have more of an impact." (p.86-87).
Conversations that Create more than "Just-Talk" Transformation occurs in a small group setting in which the focus is more on powerful questions and less on "solving" a problem. We used Block's trans-formative conversations to cultivate a new approach to co-curricular activities at Cashton. In my five years as principal I have had many conversations about improving student performance, increasing participation, and managing parent/student behavior and expectations. There is no shortage of opinions on these matters. However, I realized that our community was focused solely on the problems with our extra-curricular programs. In isolation, I was attempting to "solve" these problems. The extra curricular community engagement process didn't try identify problems and adjusting the athletic code. The charge for the group was to develop a plan in which all members of the community had a stake in its success. The result of the conversations was our "All-In" community plan.