By Jason Hanson
Bridgeport Exempted Village School District
Upon entering the Fluency Project, I received a copy of Daniel Goleman and Peter Senge’s “The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education”. It sat in my school bag for some time before I decided to open it up and read it. As a Psychology major in college, I was familiar with some of Goleman’s work in regards to emotional intelligence, however it was not until I read this mighty, little book that the Fluency Project and my place in it began to make sense.
As teachers we are often asked to consider the stakeholders in the educational process. Identifying who the stakeholders are isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Professional development meetings end up with lists that include parents, alumni, school sponsors, teachers and school administration as stakeholders. Of course all of these groups are stakeholders, but after reading the work of Goleman and Senge and participating in the Fluency project, I realize this list is far from complete.
Early in the Fluency Project process my colleagues and I were called out into an open room with large Post-It paper placed on the walls. We were assigned the task of listing all of the groups that we could think of that had some interest or connection to our school district. We wrote these names down in a concentric model around our school’s name. What we ended up with was a huge list of people, businesses and agencies that we deemed were stakeholders in the educational process. Our list ranged from our local Sheriff’s Office to our State Representative, nothing was off limits.
As we stepped back to reflect on our newly created model, we were challenged with the task of evaluating each of those relationships and trying to determine what we, as a district, offer them and what they offer in return. This way of thinking about outside relationships is exactly what I believe Peter Senge was talking about when he discussed systems thinking, in particular the idea of interdependency. When we took the time to step back and look at our school district as a complex system with many dynamic parts we began to gain a deeper appreciation for the delicate balance between our school district and its many stakeholders. Furthermore, we came to the realization that these relationships are more than just stakeholders who hope for the best for our school district. They are actual resources our students can go to in order to have their voice heard. It is their audience. We were putting faces and names to these otherwise nebulous entities.
I thought it would be difficult to try this activity with my classes. I teach a Contemporary World Issues class. It consists of upper classmen and it provides me a lot of flexibility to try out new things. On my SMART board I wrote down Bridgeport School District in the center. I then proceeded to draw a series of circles “orbiting” our district name. I then challenged my students to come up with people, businesses and agencies that are connected to our district. Predictably they rattled off our nearest fast food places, the local car wash, the school resource officer as well as school personnel. I continued to prod them to think more specific and soon students started to list businesses like Nike or sports franchises like the Boston Celtics. Some students looked at other students with confusion, but when I asked my respondents to justify their answers they explained that our school basketball team purchases Nike uniforms and shoes and one of our greatest alumni was the great John Havlicek who played for the Boston Celtics.
Students then began to treat this exercise like 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon. They began rattling off many more names. I could see the excitement when they realized that the world is a lot closer to their fingertips than they ever imagined. Before we knew it our list consisted of Apple, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Oglebay Institute, Rolling Hills Nursing Facility and many more. Every single item on that list was justified in their minds. These were opportunities on the board, not just names. These are future employers, mentors, sources of information, leadership opportunities on that board.
Once we stepped back and looked at this list I then asked my students the following question: “Why Bridgeport?”. How would the following groups on the board answer this simple question? How would Apple answer “Why Bridgeport?”? How about Nike? Or the local sheriffs’ department? How would you or your friends? This systematic way of thinking transformed the way my students and myself began to see our roles in our community. This has led my students to want to use their student voice to give answers to these questions. They have begun conducting interviews and surveys and creating projects that help answer why our school district is worthy of investment and why our students are invested in the community.
We are currently in the infant stages of their project creations, but I can say that my classroom is now full of students who no longer look at their school district as static, but as a dynamic piece of a much larger system. This insight was made possible through the works of the Fluency Project and the research of Goleman and Senge.
Goleman, Daniel, and Peter M. Senge. The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education. 1st ed., More Than Sound, 2014.