Consensus: Timing is Everything

All the talk about reform; educational transformation; and change, in general, has propelled me into many conversations about consensus lately. Many people tout the importance of consensus building. Some even view it as a do-or-die step in the process of bringing about true and lasting change.

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After much introspection, I suppose I am one of those people. I know nothing can actually get done without group solidarity. I understand that the true power of transformation rests with the teachers who are the doers so often overlooked in a world of loud thinkers.

But here’s the catch…

I think we are often ill-timed with our consensus-building efforts. And, as usual, timing is everything. I propose that the right time to engage in consensus building is AFTER a vision is established.

As school leaders, we often start with some dissonance—an experience, a question, a problem—that causes us to think that perhaps our current way of doing business isn’t working anymore.

At this point, it seems many default to our tendency toward systemic ad hocracy and form a committee to study, recommend, or just fruitlessly toil. We tend to default to consensus building at this point, but I propose that aiming for consensus at this stage, at best, just promotes the status quo and, at worst,  derails positive change efforts.

Vision is leader-initiated with consensus built. That means that the process of consensus building comes AFTER the development of a vision for change. Keep in mind that I use the term leader to describe a function, not a position. I recognize that a school’s strongest leaders are more often than not those without formal leadership titles.

Furthermore, I don’t propose for a vision to be developed in isolation. It should be informed by wide input, which is qualitatively different than consensus. Input comes BEFORE vision development. Consensus comes AFTER vision development.

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