If you’re a leader and want to see broad, authentic participation in a school initiative, you’ll need to think it through carefully, according to leadership consultants Ronald Williamson and Barbara Blackburn in their recent MiddleWeb article "How Leaders Develop Stakeholder Ownership." The top-down approach won’t work: Asking stakeholders—like teachers, parents and students—to get involved has to be an organic and meaningful process, and not merely lip service. “Involvement can’t be trivialized or used to mask the decisions of administrators,” say Williamson and Blackburn.
Grassroots ownership requires leaders to take the following steps:
The first step is to determine who should be involved in decision-making and implementation. Ask whether a possible participant has adequate time for the initiative and a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished. When deciding who to involve, think not only about availability and suitability for the role, but also about the person’s stake in the outcome. Individuals who are most affected by an initiative should be integral in the decision-making process. A limited stake in the outcome doesn’t mean a person can’t participate, but consider limiting their involvement in favor of someone with a deeper connection to the initiative.
Communication is another key to success: “Good communication is two-way. That is, you both gather (listen) and share information” Williamson and Blackburn write. “That may sound simple, but too often, we inadvertently create a culture that does not encourage input, especially authentic input.” For example, one principal claimed the teachers at his school were involved in determining what professional development opportunities would be offered. In reality, the teachers were selecting from a list of options generated by the principal, and “they felt the principal had already decided what to do and was only using the survey to later say that teachers were involved.”
Using simple techniques to focus and refocus discussion on a topic can help move towards meaningful engagement by all participants. Williamson and Blackburn suggest providing an agenda before the meeting, reminding participants of the purpose of the meeting at the outset, and ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to participate in the conversation “by thanking participants in advance for honoring others’ voices.”