Process Work and People Work

The #MYPChat this week is surfacing some ideas on how to transition into new schools, new framework, new practices.

The discomfort of being in a new environment, both physical and cognitive, is a natural result of recent immigration into new physical and cognitive spaces. As I read through the chat timeline, I am reminded once again that process work and people work are two sides of the same work – that of changing and becoming. Changing and becoming are remarkably intertwined in education, and this is one of the reasons why change is challenging in our profession.

The sense of urgency we feel in our profession stems from how educational systems around the world still lag behind the societies they are intended to serve and shape. For some time now, we have been seeing a growing realization that the ‘industrial’ models for schools that may have worked well enough in the 19th Century are ill-equipped for the demands of modern society. We are seeing steady cultural shifts. Our ongoing conversations touch upon agency, for example, from colleagues who take the opportunity to share their journeys. See Making Good Humans, What Ed Said, Alison Yang’s Blog, and Wayfinder Learning Lab, for examples.

From organizations shaped by an emphasis of moving students through the education system in an orderly, manageable fashion, we see schools becoming dedicated to developing the capacity of every individual student to succeed in a VUCA world that is constantly changing.

The sense of urgency also comes from educators recognizing that, in order to succeed when faced with unpredictable challenges, students need to be experts in the competency of learning itself, skilled in learning how to learn, to ‘grow into the intellectual life’ around them, as Vygotsky stated.  As we build cultures of learning, we see an emerging shift in all aspects of the institutions we call ‘school’. This is the difficult work we do.

Two kinds of work

In another conversation this week on Twitter, @IntlNadine and I touched upon the differences between process work and people work. Taking the example of transitioning teachers into a new school and new framework of teaching and learning, there are multiple changes that a teacher new to a school or system undergo, and in essence these tasks are also ours, those who have been ‘stayers’ in the school. Here’s a small list of some of the work we do, below.

Process work People work
Building coherent curriculum Understanding new
approaches to learning
Creating structures and systems
for curriculum
Learning out of implementation dip
Timetables and allocating time Using norms of collaboration
Prioritising action plans Taking risks with new pedagogy

The people work is more difficult, and it also makes it difficult to implement the process work if we do not do the people work.

A few points made in the Twitter chat this week were:

  • Avoid overwhelming teachers (@alisonkis)
  • Infuse the school with understanding (@JRafaelAngelM)
  • Teachers learn by supporting students in the personal project (@ggreen7)
  • Get into the heart of the learning at the start (@sjtylr)
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions (@giovanelliLor)

These tips are all about people work. Sure, process work may already be familiar. In every single school, people work on curriculum coherence, approaches to learning (skills, competencies), wellbeing (advisory, mentoring, homerooms), and a lot of other staples of schooling. In the list of tips, we see the tight intertwining of process work and people work.

If we aim to avoid overwhelming teachers, we have to create purposeful experiences that provide gradual immersion into the school culture.

If we want to infuse the school with understanding of the framework, we have to give opportunities to understand why we do things in the ways we do.

If we want teachers to dive into personal project work with students, they will need to embrace the teaching of process, something they may or may not be familiar with.

If we get into the heart of learning, we have to let go of the concept of ‘coverage’ over relationship building.

If we want adults to be comfortable with asking questions, essentially signalling they did not know something, we have to create an environment where asking questions is a norm and where it is OK to be in process of learning something new.

Alison captures this relationship between process work and people work in her Tweet this morning:

I want to echo Alison’s with adult learning in mind:

The school might use awesome strategies for inquiry, but the new teacher will not be engaged without trust.

The people work is us ‘working on the work.’ It’s working on the work because people work is creating a shared space where it is safe to be a work in progress, to be learning out of an implementation dip, to be an explorer rather than having arrived.

If we neglect the people work, we ignore one of the most valuable resources that we have in schools: the agency of the adults. It is this agency that allows for change to become practice. But it takes time and a sense of safety in taking that risky step toward change.

Featured Photo by Dương Hữu on Unsplash

Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

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