“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” by Barack Obama
Using a consultancy protocol is authentic learning at its best. A consultancy protocol is a structured process for helping an individual or team think more expansively about a particular dilemma or barrier. I believe this format is a great way to ignite change in a school and/or classroom, as it allows teachers and students voices to be heard. (Norms would have to be set and most take place in a safe environment.) Holding consultancy protocols helps build better school and classroom environments because it builds trust and relationships. Instead of listing problems and complaining like at a typical meeting, everyone becomes part of the solution and time is well spent. This could easily be done for students during morning meeting/class meeting or during a staff meeting for teachers.
Below is the process to hold a consultancy but know there are different variations out there as well. I adapted this one from a Bill Gates Convening I attended. Below are approximate times but I have done “mini” versions of this in 30 minutes. There are different roles and responsibilities for each person participating:
- Presenter: Person who brings the dilemma or barrier to the group and whose work is being discussed by group (Staff Member or Student)
- Facilitator: Person who facilitates discussion and moves group through the Consultancy Phases (Facilitator can also participate in discussion) (Principal or Teacher)
- Consultancy Group: Group of individuals that discuss the problem and provide the Presenter with feedback. (School Staff or Classroom of Students)
The Consultancy Process
Step 1: Presenter Overview (5 – 10 mins)
The Presenter gives an overview of the dilemma or barrier with which s/he is struggling and frames a question to the Consultancy Group to consider A write-up of the problem may be shared as well but the problem must be presented orally. Here are steps in writing about the dilemma or barrier:
- Step 1: Consider the Dilemma This should be an issue with which you are struggling, that has a way to go before being resolved, that is up to you to control, and that it is critical to your work. It is important that your problem is authentic and fresh – that is, not already solved or nearly solved.
- Step 2: Write about the Dilemma Here are questions to guide your writing:
- Why is this a dilemma or barrier for you? Why is this dilemma or barrier important to you?
- If you could take a snapshot of this dilemma, what would you/we see?
- What have you done already to try to remedy or manage the dilemma or barrier? If so, what have been the results of those attempts?
- What do you assume to be true about this dilemma or barrier, and how have these assumptions influenced your thinking about the problem?
The framing of this question is key to the effectiveness of the Protocol. The focus of the Group’s conversation will be on this dilemma and barrier.
Step 2: Clarifying Questions (5 – 10 mins)
The group asks clarifying questions of the Presenter, that is, questions that have brief, factual answers. Clarifying questions ask the Presenter the “who, what, where, when, and how” of their problem. These are not “why” questions, and generally can be answered quickly and succinctly, often in a sentence or two. These questions are not meant to fuel discussion, but rather to make clear any important points of reference.
Step 3: Probing Questions (5 – 10 mins)
The group asks probing questions of the Presenter. These questions should be worded to help the Presenter clarify and expand his/her thinking about the dilemma or barrier presented to the Consultancy Group. Probing questions get to the “why” of the Presenter’s problem. These may be open-ended inquiries, requiring answers based both in factual detail and the subjective understanding of the Presenter. The purpose of a probing question is to push the Presenter’s thinking about his/her problem to a deep level of analysis. The Presenter may respond to the questions, but there is no discussion by the Consultancy Group of the Presenter’s responses. At the end of the 10 minutes, the Facilitator will ask the Presenter to restate his/her question to the Group.
Step 4: Group Dilemma Discussion (15 – 20 mins)
The Consultancy Group analyzes the problem while the Presenter moves back from the circle, remains quiet, does not interrupt or add information, and takes notes during the discussion. Possible questions to frame the discussion:
- What did we hear?
- What didn’t we hear?
- What assumptions seem to be operating?
- What questions does the dilemma or barrier raise for us?
- What do we think about the dilemma or barrier?
- What might we do or try to do if faced with the same dilemma or barrier?
Members of the Group sometimes suggest actions the Presenter might consider taking. However, they work to define the issue more thoroughly and objectively.
Step 5: Presenter Reflection (5 – 10 mins)
The Presenter reflects on what s/he heard and on what s/he is now thinking. S/he shares with the group anything that particularly resonated during the Consultancy.
Step 6: Facilitator Debrief (2 – 5 mins)
The Facilitator leads a brief discussion about the group’s observation of the Consultancy Process.
This format allows issues to be addressed and solutions created. It allow students to use all their 21st century skills (Communication, Collaboration, Critically Thinking and Creating) no matter if they are the presenter or in the group. If you have done a consultancy protocol in your school or classroom, I would love to hear what worked and what didn’t, please share int he comments.