Thursday, 16 April 2015

Is it about getting the right strategy?

2 February 2015

Plan A - Have goal in sight


I met Pete, the Primary School Principal, during the last week of the school year in 2014 to discuss how the school might engage parents in developing a whole community approach to bullying.

We came up with a strategy that involved running a 1.5hr workshop for a group of about 20 people consisting of parents (with the core being Parents and Friends members), teachers and students.  The workshop would be designed to enable the group to:

  • consider what they would want to happen if their child was bullied (to help orient into a non-punitive ethos);
  • look at definitions of bullying;
  • explore different approaches to dealing with bullying (through a world cafĂ©),  including ones that we might not want;
  • suggest approaches/ethos for the school;
  • suggest ways to engage the whole community in a conversation.  
A key to this was to work with the Grade 4/5 class prior to the workshop to create some inputs to the workshop to provoke thinking (eg. Examples of bullying/not bullying. The conversation I would like to have with my parents. What I would like my parents to do.)  



Pete thought we would have no problem getting parents and that the School Newsletter would be the way to advertise. The timeline was to run the workshop within the third week of term 1 (Feb 20). Following the workshop the Grade 4/5 class would work on a way of stimulating conversation with the whole school community, creating a video that we could launch on the National Day of Action against bullying on March 20. It was a tight time-frame and we were wary that the focus point of the national day might be making us too goal oriented.

Listening to the dissonance


I could tell Pete was still concerned over the emphasis on bullying and whether this would drive approaches that wouldn’t necessarily fit into the whole school philosophy.  He was still juggling how bullying fit in terms of a respectful framework. Why the emphasis on bullying when it was just one of a number of disrespectful behaviours?

Our intention was to meet the week before school started and fill in the details.  After a months’ break I looked at my notes and experienced what can only be described as cognitive dissonance over this same issue. Intuitively something felt wrong, and I know to trust my unease about issues. I knew we had to think bigger than this. I then did lots of thinking, pacing, stewing and had little sleep. The only way to resolve it was to capture and map out the dilemmas.

What helped me was Pete’s statement that the benefit to him of being involved in this project was coming up with a generic process that could help him with any controversial issue. Too often controversy is solved by one person or a small group in power – the diverse perspectives are collapsed into an easy time saving message. Without seeing the alternatives people find it difficult to understand the ethos or principles behind what they do – so they follow rules or procedures, rather than empowered to make their own processes.  

So what is a generic tool kit that enables mapping of controversial issues? In mine are Integral Theory, 7 ways of Inquiry (Henderson and Kesson) and the use of hypotheticals – these can help to bring a rigor and clarity to the complex soundtrack in your brain.  In the next few posts I use each of these to tease out some of the competing perspectives and the different angles that might need to be considered when engaging others on controversial issues.


What excites me is that when I shared these with Pete something flowered in his thinking that took us to a whole new level.

Dr Sue Stack

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