The Region 8 Comprehensive Center (CC) team recently had a meeting to learn more deeply about our capacity building framework. This framework guides our work with state departments of education and helps us design meaningful technical assistance based on where they are and where they want to go with particular priorities, initiatives, and projects. It is an especially useful tool in helping us articulate how we are supporting states in their many efforts to best serve students.
But an important part of our practice could be added to the framework—a focus on relationships. My new colleague, Emir Davis, noted that while we are focused on success, he also wondered if we are focused specifically on “humans at the center”, and how that success impacts the people – your stakeholders, your students, your districts, your families—and the emotions of the people who are driving the implementation. How do we move them from fear and suspicion to more trust and openness? Our fearless co-leader, Caitlin Howley noted, “We need to connect with our state partners on a human level, prioritize relationships, and check in, because none of this works without the people.” This is why I love this team. They get it.
Recently, I had the pleasure of participating in a meeting with some of our amazing colleagues at the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). We have met regularly over the course of the last three years to further the work of the Early Literacy Excellence initiative. This work has primarily involved the development of a number of resources for school leaders, educators, and families in an effort to bridge learning from school to home and supporting families in partnerships to enhance literacy skills.
The most recent meeting was different in that we met in person! While we all have grown accustomed to virtual meetings, and I honestly appreciate not putting miles on my car or spending time commuting, there is still something special about being in the same room with other people. We have always been cordial, professional, and friendly with each other. But Zoom does not allow for a quick conversation while grabbing a cup of coffee during a break, or even to adequately assess the energy in the room. We had a great agenda that we planned together with tangible objectives; however, we achieved so much more than that.
The success of that meeting was more than the “to do’s” checked off the list. We actually got to know each other. We laughed. We problem solved. Most importantly, we elevated our relationship in a way that probably could not have happened, at least not in a few hours, if we had not made the trip to Lansing. This reinvigorated our internal Region 8 CC team exponentially. This idea has been rolling around in my mind ever since that meeting, and our recent meeting on our framework with those poignant words from Emir and Caitlin continue to resonate for me. I know there are a number of exceedingly high functioning teams that meet only virtually – I am on quite a few. But this in-person meeting with MDE gave us an opportunity to put our partners at the center of the work in a unique way. It gave us a chance to check in with them. We could have had our usual Zoom meeting, but our team was looking to enhance our relationship with our MDE colleagues in a different way as we begin our fourth year together, knowing our time to really make a difference is short as this initiative is nearly at its end. We always worked well together. Now, though, our team dynamic is more firmly rooted in “humans at the center.” If you ever wondered, a day can make a world of difference.