Co-Laboring: Building Inclusive Communities

Thinking Collaborative thanks Winn Wheeler, Assistant Professor at Bellarmine University for her contributions to Sustaining the Journey for the month of April.

Co-Laboring: Building Inclusive Communities

For the month of April, the Sustaining the Thinking Collaborative Journey will focus on ways in which the Adaptive Schools seminar can be an empowering force within a school district. Drawing upon the dissertation study of Wheeler (2016), each column will focus on a way that Adaptive Schools supports the development of collaboration within an organization. Earlier columns focused on practices which supported members of the Smith County School District (Kentucky)* in listening well to others and ensuring the participation of all voices. This week’s column will focus on the role of Adaptive Schools in building inclusive communities.

There is an adage in teaching that suggests. “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The same could be said of adults. For educators to work together effectively, there must be trust between group members formed from a sense of shared identification with the group. The work of Adaptive Schools suggests that inclusion “begins the process of moving a group from me-ness to we-ness” by “set[ting] norms, focus[ing] attention inside the room, generat[ing] energy, and help[ing] people understand who they are in relation to the group” (Garmston & Wellman, 2009, p. 103).

Within the Smith County Schools, one shift which occurred as a result of the Adpative Schools Seminar was a decision to focus on grounding and inclusion as groups met for various purposes. Many participants in the study reflected on how this influenced opportunities for collaboration. Michele Gilespie shared how the practice of inclusion was important for the development of community and trust within a group of preservice teachers she facilitated:
I always start with a grounding activity to ground us into our work or an inclusion activity because early on they don’t know each other and I want them to have a network amongst themselves. You know for seven years there has always been a group of new teachers every year I start. So, anyway, I’m pulling them together, helping them get to know each other as well as kind of letting them know what the school is all about. I want them to get to know me as well, so they trust me and will utilize me. (Michele Gilespie, Individual Interview, June 2013 from Wheeler, 2016, p.109)

In this instance, building trust opened the door for collaboration and problem solving to occur. Wren Monroe, a lead teacher who participated in the Adaptive Schools Foundation Seminar reported that the work was particularly effective in achieving two goals, “getting people to work together and [building] a sense of trust” (WM, Individual Interview, January 16, 2016, from Wheeler, 2016, p. 109).

In essence, taking time as people gather in meetings to build a sense of being presence and to engage in some sort of interaction which fosters the development of community helps build a sense of “we-ness.” Though this takes time, it is worth it because people have the relationships and trust that are needed in order to support successful collaboration.
The collective value of these practices of listening well, ensuring voices are heard, and building an inclusive community are articulated by Krista Holland, agency trainer for Smith County Schools:
The intent of Adaptive Schools is to build the functionality of humans that are doing the work. It’s focused on group development; it’s focused on people being effective facilitating, people being effective as group members, being able to effectively interact with one another and have that interdependence . . . [and] having efficacy. And we spend a whole lot of time creating task lists of what work needs to be accomplished and leave off developing the individuals that have to accomplish that work – so, what’s so important about Adaptive Schools is that if you don’t do that [develop the individuals accomplishing the work], the work does not get done well. (Krista Holland, Individual Interview, November 11, 2015, from Wheeler, 2016, p. 136)

At the heart of collaborating – “laboring with” is the notion it that working together provides opportunities for doing work better. Adaptive Schools offers a framework which makes this notion both feasible and operational.
Wheeler, W. C. (2016), Adaptive Schools: Investigating impact, continuity, and change in one school district. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Electronic Theses and Dissertations. (Paper 2463).

https://doi.org/10.18297/etd/2463