Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, identifies key factors for why some organizations achieve greatness and others do not. His third chapter entitled First Who, Then What is about getting the right people in play or as he puts it “on the bus.” This idea is great when you have just one organization to focus on, but what about when you need multiple organizations to come together? Can this Good to Great concept work in something like large scale community development? This is the question I keep asking myself as I am in the middle of a wonderful education/industry opportunity – growing talent.

As a community developer and former educator, I wear many hats while working in the school district.  I am a community liaison, strategic planner, program coordinator, and grant writer.  With these positions, I get to play a role in connecting the dots. In that role I am seeing a lot of “right people on the bus” these days and it fills me with hope for my community. As a highly collaborative type (no, I’m not an extrovert; yes, I love a team) I reach out to see who in my community is open to working together. However, in order for me to even be able to reach out, my organization had to have some key practices already in play. Here’s what we have done to be ready for growing talent.

The school district had to get strategic

In the past, I have created strategic plans for communities and nonprofits. When the district decided to get serious about changing the way they were preparing students for the radically new, knowledge-based, global economy, we got serious about planning. This was not planning for routine compliance measures required by the state that reduced our students to data points but rather planning for growing human potential, real lives that would lead our community successfully into the coming decades. We created a comprehensive stakeholder-driven strategic plan that would reflect both workforce and student needs.

The school district recognized the value of collaboration internally and externally

The truth is, Kindergarten through grade 12 schools have historically been places of fierce independence and individuality. Teachers had their rooms and their methods  I recall my first year of teaching fourth grade at a small private school in California. I spent a year trying to get a very seasoned teacher to enlighten me on our unique school/parent culture, best methods for homework assignments, and how to benchmark my ability to get through the content. She was an amazing teacher but getting her to share her insights was incredibly difficult. I found this to be true again as I began teaching special education in another state. This silo mentality prevalent in education is crippling, retards innovation, creativity, and engagement of most teachers.

Our district has been breaking out of those silos thanks to an effort on the part of our administration to get serious about the concept of collaboration time. While this may sound utterly bizarre to business where collaboration is a mainstay for solving big problems, educators historically had neither the time nor the permission to work through the complexities of teaching and learning together outside of formal professional development time. Having permission not only to meet but to share one’s pain points honestly is critical to good collaboration. Those leading the organizational culture of school have to create this new space for educators in healthy ways.

We also reached out to industry in very public ways. Our superintendent got very active in personally attending and connecting with industry partners at Rotary, Chamber, and other events where our intentions could be made known. This signaled to others that we were open to collaboration and within months new opportunities that we never could have imagined opened up.

The school district recognized it’s need to leverage community partners

Once the proverbial door was opened, amazing things have started happening. We have been clear about what we need – meaningful, hands-on learning opportunities – and within six months, one of our local hospitals asked that we hold our health science course in the hospital just across the street (another perk for being physically connected to the community). Eighty students tried to sign up for this class (it only held 18) because it resonated with their need to have relevant learning experiences. At the time, we didn’t anticipate how motivating those experiences would be. We certainly do now.

In the weeks to come, I’ll continue to share our journey in growing talent as educators and the process of re-framing our role within the community and among ourselves.