Three Key Elements

The three key elements in "OUR" really sum up what OUR Network is about:

The first key is Owning our responsibility to get clear about what we want for our children and ourselves.

The second key is a strongly committed Unifying focus on our future. This is the future we will create together. It is NOT about bogging down in our current reality.

Finally, what we are all about: Releasing human potential. OUR Network is highly democractic. We are welcoming, we are open, and we want others to join us.

Releasing Our Potentials

How do we release the potential of our families, our staff, and our children? Through the four Release R's:

  • RESPECT for what we already know.
  • RESEARCH to learn what we do not know.
  • REPERTOIRE of skills, models and processes to grow ourselves forward.
  • READING our own context, making sure it works for us.

Our Fundamental Belief

The fundamental belief underpinning OUR Network is that the most powerful resources in any school are already present. They are the professional knowledge and values of the staff and the school community members.

Our process provides the teachers and community with absolute ownership. The key is freedom to create the school we have always wanted. The most important decisions made in a school are those made daily by teachers and students. When these decisions are aligned to a collaboratively designed shared vision, their impact is significantly magnified.

Key outcomes of each phase.

Each phase is contextually based taking an organization from where they are currently. Key aspects of each phase will include:

Phase one:
  • Collaborative identification of our Shared Vision (the picture of our collective desired state)
  • Collaborative identification of our core values (how we will live together everyday)
  • Identifying our personal and collective responsibility to reach our destination
  • Collaboratively unpacking what the words we have identified in our shared vision and values mean in every day life – clear expectations of self and others
  • Preparing for action so we are able to live our truth by researching best practice in identified themes
  • Opportunities for networking with other organisations who use these tools and processes
  • Coaching of the leadership to be clear, strong and stay to the path
Read more detail below…
Phase Two:
  • Team presentations of the findings from the phase one preparation for action process – the best ideas to take us forward
  • Deciding as a whole group the priorities that will take us closer to living our shared vision
  • Understanding how we teach our core values to everyone – students, parents, colleagues
  • Crafting a draft long term sequence from what our research has taught us
  • More tools for everyone to add to their leadership toolkit
  • Identifying an effective way to start implementation together
  • Opportunities for networking with other organisations who use these tools and processes
  • Coaching of the leadership to be clear, strong and stay to the path
Read more detail below…
Phase Three:
  • Very contextually planned depending on how you are travelling and where your people are currently
  • A time of refocus on what is really important
  • More tools for the toolkit to assist us all to face change positively
  • Opportunities for networking with other organisations who use these tools and processes
  • Coaching of the leadership to be clear, strong and stay to the path
Read more detail below…

Phase 1 of OUR Process: Creating a Shared Vision

This phase begins with the school gathering contextual data on their current situation and any plans for the future. These are sent to OUR Network Team. We design a set of draft Inquiry Probes in alignment with the school’s mission. The school leadership team select, or design for themselves, the eight most relevant Probes for their context.

Inquiry Probes are questions designed to draw out rich personal practical knowledge, and beliefs and values. They will be used with the staff and other key members of the school community. Between them, these Probes are designed to cover all of the key aspects of life in the school community.

Two OUR Network Team Members spend two days in the school during Phase 1.

On Day One we facilitate an Inquiry Probes Workshop. This is four hours of intense professional work. It is done using two key processes: classic brainstorming, and a consensus-generating tool (10-4 voting). These tools extract the best ideas from those attending. These form the foundation for a clear vision of the school we wish to create together for our community.

To do this, those attending work in teams of eight or less, and each team is led by an internal facilitator. These facilitators are pre-trained by OUR Network staff, a process which takes an hour. Each school chooses who to invite to join the staff for the Inquiry Probes Workshop. This can be any mixture of parents, Board members, present and/or past students, and key community members.

Later in the day everyone gets a second vote, from amongst the leading ideas from every group, to identify the key components for the Shared Vision.

The power and transparency of this process has produced strong positive feedback in every school where it has been used. Even the most resistant and cynical of staff find the totally democratic and fair processes convincing.

Overnight, three draft shared visions for the school are written These are based on the rich data that is generated by the Inquiry Probes: one is written by the principal, and two by other staff. These vision statements are about one page in length. They are a rich description of what the school will be like when the vision is realised. They are written in the present tense.

We have two common processes for the second day of Phase 1. Which we use depends on what is feasible for teacher free days at the school. We have also made a number of other adaptations to meet the particular constraints under which schools operate. A format can be designed to meet any situation.

Version One – where staff have to teach for the full second day

On the morning of Day Two, staff are given the draft vision statements and a summary of the data collected from Day One. They then use a designed critique process to provide rich feedback on the three draft visions. After this the staff continue with their teaching for the day, while OUR Network Team work with the broad school leadership team.

This work focuses on the key processes needed to lead the school through the next twelve months of the process. We also use the staff feedback to prepare a second draft of the Shared Vision. We also identify the emerging vision achievement themes that will become the focus for the school-based action research in the year ahead.

At the end of Day Two, after teaching, the staff meet with OUR Network Team. This is usually for two and a half hours. Together we explore a meta-analysis of the last twenty years of educational research on student achievement. This research is matched with our own experience, our teaching, our school, our students, and our community.

At this time staff also identify the core values in their Shared Vision. We also agree on the vision achievement action research themes. These will be explored for twelve months, to help shift the school from where it is currently to the Shared Vision. Staff form into Action Research Teams around these themes. These teams do the Preparation for Action work. Commonly there are between three and seven themes, depending on the size of the school.

VERSION TWO – where staff can be free for both days

In this version, the same processes are followed as for Version 1, except that all staff participate in all activities. Practical experience has shown us that this is the preferable process, if it is feasible.

NETWORK LEADERS’ DAY

Up to five members of the leadership team from each Network school attend an annual Leaders’ Day in each country. On this day key leadership skills and processes are shared. Powerful networking opportunities are created as well. These days are designed to share personal practical knowledge and are highly interactive and innovative. Feedback on the benefits of this day has been universally positive. Each principal sets up formal links with two other Network leaders. These are to provide mentoring and coaching, and professional challenge and support.

The topics covered on the Leaders’ Day vary, but the following are commonly included:

  • The use of facilitative questioning to identify mental models.
  • Processes for identifying world’s best educational practice.
  • The realities of the change process and ways to maintain momentum.
  • The use of systems thinking to gather and analyse feedback from staff.
  • A process for identifying, articulating, modelling and teaching the core values of the school.
  • Ways to lead rather than manage the school, and to escape the “busyness” trap.
  • Processes for drawing on the richness of OUR international network.

On this day a variety of thinking tools and teaching strategies are modelled.

During this first year, the staff work in Action Research Teams, around the identified themes. They generate the needed innovations to achieve the Shared Vision. These are presented as a set of formal recommendations for school action. They are designed to bring the best of international practice to the school. Nothing less should be accepted.

Each team appoints its own leader and has a member of the school leadership team attached as a sponsor. Sponsors ensure alignment to the Shared Vision. They also ensure that any necessary resources are available for the Action Research Teams.

This “preparation for action” period usually begins with exploring internal and local resources. This then extends to exploring world’s best practice. Each of our teams decides how to bring “the best” to our school, and have it work in our context. Often this involves small-scale trials within the school. During this phase, teacher designed innovations begin to emerge in the school. At the same time the staff go through continuing critique of the draft Shared Vision. When genuine consensus is reached, the Shared Vision is finalised. This commonly takes two to three months.

Each school develops a set of academic excellence indicators. Base-line data is gathered in each of these areas to act as a benchmark. These provide insight into the impact of our designed developments and innovations over the next five to eight years. Schools are encouraged to use the indicators that are commonly valued in their country or wider community.

During year one there is also a focus on modelling and articulating the Core Values from the Shared Vision. Examples of each Core Value being lived out are gathered from the students, staff and wider school community. These form the basis for the operational definition of each of the core values, as they will be taught in year two.

The principal establishes the forms and frequency of contact with OUR Network Team. This is in keeping with their needs and their ways of working. OUR Team are personal coaches for the principal throughout the year. Leaders also receive eight newsletters from Bill and John during the year, focussing on key emerging issues in Network Schools. The school leadership team prepare progress reports at the end of each term. These are shared with OUR Team.

Phase 2 of OUR Process: Develop and implement the Long-Term School Development Plan

In the second year OUR Team return for two days, one with the staff and one with the leadership team.

On Day One, Action Research Teams report back on the outcomes of our year-long search. This is in the form of a set of recommendations for action, with associated documentation and justification. Each Team provides detailed recommendations to the leadership team, fellow staff and invited community members. These are based on our own explorations, and what actions we believe will best help achieve the Shared Vision. We also identify the key professional development lessons from year one. We use these to build continuous improvement into year two.

On this day staff are also introduced to, and practice, a process for creating a powerful, effective feedback culture across the school. Commonly work is also done on either:

  • teaching the school’s core values, or
  • an innovative approach to building a consistent school-wide behaviour management system, and/or processes for completing skills audits on oneself.

On Day Two, OUR Team work with the school leadership team. This focuses on:

  • Processing the experiences from Phase 1.
  • Further developing their leadership repertoire.
  • Creating a draft Long-Term School Development Plan from the output of the Action Research Teams.
  • Ways to design for effective implementation.

The Plan is built around staff feedback, leverage potential, impact on student achievement, cost involved, implicit training needs, and the time demands of each task. We ensure that the Plan is realistic, and achievable within the reality of balanced lives for the staff, and families. Leaders are introduced to the latest models for skill acquisition, and ways to conduct stewardship conferences with all staff.

Stewardship conferences are one-on-one meetings held with each staff member to establish mutual accountability. Each staff member makes an individual commitment to their role in the Shared Vision implementation. The leaders provide challenge and support for the staff member in this implementation work and in achieving their personal vision.

An induction program for new staff, new leaders, and new community members is developed to ensure their easy transition into OUR Process. Many schools and Boards have found the Shared Vision, Vision Achievement Themes, and Long-Term School Development Plan to be extremely valuable. They help with interviewing and selecting new staff and new leaders who are in alignment with where the school is heading.

Once again there is the annual one-day Network Leaders’ Meeting between the leadership teams from each school in the country.

During this second year, implementation of the early phases of the long-term plan begins. There are usually noticeable improvements in the school during Phase 1. In Phase 2, major improvements emerge as soon as implementation of the Development Plan moves into its mature phase. The implementation of any single recommendation by staff, backed by their ownership and commitment, always produces noticeable benefits. As these implementations start to build one upon the other, the real benefits of OUR Process become clear. The emphasis here is on sensible pacing and quality. Together we absolutely nail one implementation task to the satisfaction of all, before moving to the next one. “Slower is faster” and “Less is more” are the key guiding principles at this stage.

OUR Team are once again personal coaches to the principal throughout this second year, at whatever level is most effective.

Phase 3 of OUR Process: Continuous school improvement and ongoing growth

In the third year OUR Team return for their final two days with the school. The design for these two days is totally contextual and unique – this is done jointly by the Leadership Team and OUR Team around the emergent reality.

On Day One, OUR Team commonly work with staff to further broaden staff repertoires. These focus on:

  • Evolving areas of interest.
  • Better understanding of the realities of change in this particular context.
  • Fine-tuning the use of processes already learned so that they are embedded deeply in the everyday life of the school.

This requires the processing of deep reflection on what has been experienced over the two years to date. It also involves understanding how to adjust systems, structures and mental models as necessary.

Processes for ongoing implementation of the plan, and fundamental models for understanding the change process that lies ahead, are also explored. The Shared Vision is revisited based on what has been learned, and the design for the future of the school. This also allows for creative input from new staff, leaders and community members.

On Day Two, OUR team work with the leadership team on systems and structures for ongoing growth. We help the leaders to check the alignment of all school systems and structures to the Shared Vision. Together we ensure that rich data sources are in place to monitor the match between the espoused theories and the theories-in-use. Systems thinking processes for driving action learning forward are matched against the data emerging from the implementation experiences.

Once again there is a one-day annual Network Leaders’ Meeting between the leadership teams from each school in the country. OUR Team provide ongoing principal coaching throughout the year. Principals and their leadership teams also use the networking opportunities that have developed through their contacts with other Network school leaders.

Phase 4 of OUR Process: Graduate Program

It is often in years four to seven that schools really "take off". Ongoing contact with the Network is maintained through the Graduate Program. This provides ongoing networking, continuing coaching for the principal, attendance at the National Leaders’ day, and a subscription to the Graduate Newsletter.