An Integrated Approach to Improving School Systems

In the past year we have been using a tool from the work of Margaret Wheatley called ‘the six circles model’ or as some refer to it, ‘above and below the green line.’ It is a simple visual to use in a planning discussion or any meeting that helps focus people’s attention on both the rational (technical, operational) and the non-rational (cultural, psychological) dimensions of your work.  There are many possible versions of the tool, and here is one that we have used:

More than one team we are working with has been using this tool or a similar version to sharpen their hiring practices. This is an exciting development where we see an integrated approach being applied to a practical problem that has received a lot of attention in policy discussion – the teacher and broader staff pipeline – without much attention to the complex, below the green line issues.

One central office spoke of “hiring below the green line” because they are tired of staff with apparently strong technical skills that are unable to develop new solutions that meet the real needs of students and families or to lead real change. Here are some key points that came out of their discussion:

Don’t ask the typical questions. Downplay the operational questions, many of these can be answered through the resume, and get to issues of belief, commitment, and passion. Look for how the interviewee responds to even being asked such questions – are they thrown for a loop, do they give canned answers, do they speak in a way that resonates with your gut?

Keep your organization’s story front and center. Your school or district is or should be continually creating its mission-based story, one that clarifies your larger purpose and inspires your people. How does what the interviewee say fit into that story? What questions can help you make that assessment?

Turn the hiring process into an org development process. The process of coming up with ‘below the green line’ questions can help your team get more clarity around the relational, cultural, and story-based (mythic) qualities you are trying to foster.

Careful of people who talk the walk. This interview focus has its pitfalls, and one is that some people may be good at talking this talk but not walking the walk, or not putting the passion into action.  Be sure to probe how the passion translates into teaching and learning, instructional practice, and other aspects of student impact. It’s not equity if student outcomes don’t change.

P.S. Why a green line? Apparently it’s what the evolutionary biologists call a QWERTY development, from the top row of the keyboard, meaning an inefficient or random seeming development that was contingent on the available resources and survives to seem normal. In the brainstorming session where Wheatley and colleagues came up with this diagram, the green marker was just the one that was handy. There is no special meaning to the color of the line.

This entry was posted in Changing the Discourse, Constructivist Listening, education reform, Policy, Relationships, school improvement and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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