How to Build Consensus for Change in Your School or District
Schools and districts have been working tirelessly since the onset of the pandemic to continue delivering rigorous education to students. This is forcing schools around the country, at all grade levels, to reinvent themselves, all at the same time! They are wrestling with a lot of difficult decisions, and are having to build consensus for change that is happening rapidly.
Some schools are fully remote and trying to educate at a distance. Others are in person and trying as best they can to practice Social Distancing. The rest are somewhere between the two, attempting their version of a hybrid model. The choices made to determine each district’s COVID-19 response were not made lightly, with the health of school community members at stake.
There are also many stakeholders — administrators, teachers, parents, and students just to name the obvious. Many of the choices and their details were the result of some sort of consensus among the school community members.
What is Consensus Building?
Consensus, put simply, is a general agreement among two or more stakeholders. For school districts and other large organizations, it is a must if widespread changes are to take place. A large number of people doing a fair amount of work have to be in agreement to keep things moving forward. For that level of collaboration to take place smoothly, there has to be a general agreement among the group – a consensus.
To build consensus, then, is getting everyone to that point of general agreement so that important decisions can be made and implemented. The goals of each person are taken into account for this to happen.
Of course, the final outcome may look different than what everyone imagined (having a hybrid remote/in-person learning model, for example) but it should reflect the important interests of the stakeholders involved.
Advantages of Consensus Building
The value of consensus building is that the solutions reached meet the needs of stakeholders more fully than decisions that simply come down from the top. Especially in the world of education, and especially now, when the biggest reason teachers report leaving the profession is feeling like they have no say in decisions that are made. They are the ones in the classroom. Each day, they are doing their very best for their students. They deserve to have their opinions taken into account.
Consensus building can also bring about unity and solidarity, with members of the community becoming more familiar with each other’s wants, needs and perspectives. You will know you have reached a consensus when everyone feels like their opinion matters.
By building consensus schools and districts not only resolve disagreements and make decisions but they secure staff longevity.
Strategies for Building Consensus
- Identify and involve the stakeholders. Identify the people who would be affected by the decision and involve them in the process. To build consensus, begin by recognizing all of the parties with a stake in the decision and give them an opportunity to be heard.
- Be clear on what needs to be decided. It can be useful to reexamine the purpose of the decision. Being able to explain this to stakeholders will also aid in getting everyone on board. Any decision involving the integration of new software, for example, may require explanation before stakeholders will even consider it.
- Use polling to see where participants stand. If there is some sort of majority, work on addressing the concerns of dissenting voices. Look for a win-win solution that modifies the most popular solution with the dissenting concerns.
- Allow open discussion. Let the participants voice their concerns and proposals, and give equal time and consideration to multiple sides. It can be useful to list out proposals and concerns so that they have time to settle over the course of the decision making process.
- Before any final decision, hold another poll. Has the majority grown? Are more participants hesitant? This is a critical moment for reflection in consensus building. Here your organization will see if a decision needs to go in another direction.
Building consensus is a process. It’s not going to look the exact same every time but should always involve the examination of different ideas and views with a resolution that benefits everyone in mind.