– This article may be copied and distributed without permission. Electronic reproduction is not permitted.
Joseph S. Renzulli
University of Connecticut
The goals of each stage of the following process are (1) to determine whether or not the school should proceed with the adoption of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM), (2) to achieve consensus about a vision and mission statement that describes what they want their school to be, and (3) to develop an action plan and time line for implementing the model in their school.
The Importance of Building Trust and Consensus
The effectiveness of any group effort is based on the amount of trust that exists within the group. Forming groups without trust-building usually results in the creation of traditional barriers to problem solving such as criticism, blaming others for past problems, and attempts to seize power on the parts of individual or coalitions within the group. Because people assume that mutual trust is present in the pursuit of a common goal, they often overlook the important benefits of taking some time at the beginning of their work to build trusting relationships. As more schools move toward shared decision-making and the use of teams to tackle problems and initiate new programs, the tools and strategies of management science are being applied to the group decision-making process.
We have examined a large number of research studies, theories of organizational behavior and management, and how-to books that can be used to promote effective team work. References to some of the most practical material discovered in our search are included at the end of this section. We recommend that a small group of persons who will be involved in the planning process review these materials, and select a small number of activities that are designed to build trusting relationships and to provide guidance in developing consensus about important decisions that each group will make. Our experience has shown that even eager and optimistic people, as well as those who are pessimists and nay-sayers, will think that engaging in group process training activities is a waste of time. Typical comments range from, “We don’t need any of that group stuff,” to “Let’s get right down to business so we can get this job done. “We urge you to consider the benefits of investing a small amount of front-end time in getting ready for a very complex and demanding process. All of us have served on committees and task forces; and we are therefore aware of the kinds of personal dynamics and “power games” that often result in domination by a few individuals, acquiescence on the parts of others, and a general decline in enthusiasm that converts initial optimism into a “let’s-get-it-over-with” attitude. When this attitude takes hold, the quality of the final product and the personal satisfaction that comes from contributing to the product are compromised. A few resources for team building are listed at the end of this article.
The very best advice I can give to any advocate (of anything) is to make a list of meanest, nastiest, most horrid questions that you hope no one will ask . . . and then, prepare answers for these questions!
The following five stages of this planning process are presented in a diagram on the last page of this document.
Stage 1: Steering Committee
The unit of change upon which this planning process focuses is the individual school. If a district wide plan to examine the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) is being considered, one or more representatives of the school level steering committee should serve as representatives on a district committee; however, it is important to emphasize that decisions effecting individual schools should be made by teachers, administrators, and parents in those schools.
The first stage consists of forming a school steering committee that includes the building principal, three to five teachers, and three to five parents. Board of education members should be informed of and invited to attend all meetings. It is also desirable to have a central office administrator as a member of the steering committee. Needless to say, persons invited to be on the steering committee should have a positive outlook, a can-do attitude, and a high energy level.
The responsibilities of the steering committee are as follow:
- To become familiar with the SEM through review of print material, videos, and related information about the model. An 11 minute video entitled A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships (available from the NRC/GT for only $10) can be shown at board, faculty, and parent meetings, and, along with some very brief print materials, can serve as the basis for discussion and planning. There are three levels of printed material about the model: A bird’s eye view of the SEM and an executive summary, both of which can be downloaded and reproduced without permission. There are also several books and manuals (see attached resource list) that deal with the specifics of implementing the model. Steering committee members should be provided with copies of both the bird’s eye view and the executive summary, and they should have access to the book-length version for more detailed material. It would also be wise for the steering committee to view key video tapes related to the model Renzulli, 1993; Reis, 1993).
- To discuss the model among themselves and to prepare a list of questions that might be raised with consultants or persons who have had direct experience in implementing the model.
- To prepare a draft mission statement that reflects a shared system of beliefs among the committee members. This mission statement should address the question, “What do we want our school to be, and how can we get where we want to be?” This mission statement should attempt to achieve a unity of purpose among committee members, but it should be viewed as a working draft that reflects only the opinions of this committee. At subsequent stages of the process, input about the mission statement will be sought from constituent groups; and therefore, at this stage we do not want them to perceive the steering committee’s statement as yet another top-down approach. The process followed by the steering committee will be replicated by other groups under the leadership of steering committee members. By going through the process themselves, members of the steering committee can “practice” facilitating the process with groups of their constituents.
If a majority decision is reached to recommend further exploration of the SEM among the school community at large, the steering committee should initiate action leading to Stage II.
Stage 2: Discussion Groups
Stage 2 is essentially a reiteration of the work of the steering committee; however, at this stage the goal is to expand the number of people involved in the planning process. Each member of the steering committed should serve as a facilitator for one or more discussion groups, but it is important for each discussion group to elect or appoint its own leader. The groups should be provided with the three levels of printed information about the SEM, and they should also have access to the video tapes. The same goals should be pursued (i.e., to become familiar with the SEM, to discuss the model and raise questions, and to prepare a draft mission statement). The questions and draft mission statement should be submitted to the steering committee.
Stage 3: Steering Committee and Representatives of the Discussion Groups
The original steering committee and one representative from each discussion group should convene to examine all of the questions and draft mission statements prepared by the individual groups. An attempt should be made to reach consensus on a mission statement that reflects the majority of opinions expressed by the discussion groups. The statement should be circulated to all members of the school community, and a “straw poll” should be taken to determine the extent of support for the mission statement. Although the steering committee (including representatives from the discussions groups) should set its own criteria for acceptance of the mission statement, we recommend that at least 80% of the persons responding to the straw poll should be in favor of the statement before steps are taken to proceed to the planning stage. If support is strong, but not at a level that will insure broad based cooperation on the parts of teachers, parents, and administrators, another round of input should be sought and a second straw poll should be conducted. If an acceptable level of support is not achieved, it would be wise to examine another model! It is important to mention at this point that even when a go-ahead position is reached, the mission statement should still be viewed as a draft or working statement. If we want the mission to eventually become “school policy,” we should also keep in mind that policies are most successfully achieved when they are developed in conjunction with actual educational practices. As the practices begin to be implemented, it may be necessary to review the mission statement and make modifications that reflect an interaction between the mission and the practices that define the program.
Stage 4: Planning Groups
Interconnected planning groups should be formed so that there is vertical (across grade level by subject areas or departments) and horizontal (within grade level) representation. Thus, for example, in a K-4 school, all third grade teachers might meet as a group to deal with the respective subject areas (i.e., Reading and Language Arts, Math, etc.), and a third grade representative would then meet with a schoolwide (K-4) group that focuses exclusively on one subject area at a time. This approach will provide coordination and articulation within and across both subject areas and grade levels. In middle and secondary schools, which are usually organized by departments, existing subject matter teams should be supplemented with an across-subject matter group that includes one representative from each content area. Administrators and parents should be represented on each team, and a master wall chart should be prepared to designate team names and membership.
A central planning group should coordinate the work of the respective groups. Each planning group should address questions based on the interaction between the school structures and the service delivery dimensions of the SEM. Thus, for example, the third grade team mentioned above should consider how the Total Talent Portfolio, Curricular Modification Techniques, and Enrichment Learning and Teaching can be infused into the Regular Curriculum, the Enrichment Clusters, and the Continuum of Special Services. The teams should also examine roles and responsibilities and the needed resources for addressing the “slabs” designated by the organizational components of the model. For example, what types of training and resource materials are necessary in the Professional Staff Development slab to address curriculum modification training needs in individual subject areas?
Stage 5: Program Proposal and Time Line
The goal of the planning teams is to produce a comprehensive proposal and time line for implementing the SEM. Needless to say, it is not intended that all components of the model be implemented at once! Priorities should be set, and target dates should be established that extend over a three to five year period. Two of the easiest and most visible components to begin with are curriculum compacting and the enrichment clusters. Guidance for organizing and implementing these components, as well as other components of the model, can be found in the resource books, planning guides, and related materials that describe the various dimensions of the SEM.
This five stage planning process and the resulting proposal should always be viewed as “experimental” and subject to revision based on actual implementation experiences. One of our chief concerns as the developers of the SEM is that each school develops its own unique application of the model that capitalizes on local creativity, resources, and initiative. It is only by encouraging local ownership and involvement, and by advocating continuous modification and adaptation, that we can insure real and lasting change, and the creative professional development of all persons who are involved striving for school improvement. As has been pointed out in Schools for Talent Development, top-down models that are imposed on schools by external forces, seldom have endurance, and are frequently viewed by teachers and others as yet another flavor-of-the-month “innovation” that will quickly fade from popularity. Similarly, “canned” programs that do not allow for maximum input and decision making on the parts of those persons who actually will implement the program have been singularly unsuccessful in bringing about real and lasting change. All persons involved in this planning process should view themselves as inventors, architects, engineers, and artists! The SEM is based on a clear and reasonable set of common goals, but the many and varied ways that each school reaches these goals are the breeding ground for an untold amount of creativity on the parts of program developers, and opportunities to scale new heights of professionalism on the parts of school personnel.
Resources on Team Building
Key References and Resources on Schoolwide Enrichment