I have been working with Laurie Mandel, Ed.D., founder and Executive Director of Get-A-Voice™, recently. As I dove deeply into her philosophy, I ended up revisiting elements of systems knowledge intermingled with a motivation to establish conscious school cultures—from the student level!
After nearly two months of work, these foundational systems Laurie “suspected” would spark cultures of acceptance have been interconnected through a comprehensive plan to bring Get-A-Voice™ (or GAV) to the national market. The GAV systems may appear to skirt around the real issue it intends to address—bullying in schools—but it doesn’t. Instead, Dr. Mandel has opted for a systemic way to address human relationship building in the formation years of social interactions.
By contrast, last year I witnessed a school in a bit of a half-witted attempt—though I’m sure, well-intentioned—attack and reward students in a Pavlovian manner. It struck how the administrators were over-rewarding children with “blue slips” for standard behaviors—didn’t anyone read Ed Deci and Rich Ryan’s seminal work on self-determinism theory and human motivation? How unaware are administrators in establishing systems of sustaining humanistic values? What systems are baked into our schools that breed visions of limitation and reduction versus possibility and potential? Students are not dogs and blue slips aren’t biscuits.
If cultures of cooperation, collaboration, and acceptance are “supposed” to be the intended outcome of school life in North America, why are there businesses being birthed to integrate new systemic approached to overlay or intercept the incumbent systems? The answer is simple: our schools are a bit broken and mostly represent cultures of compliance and even political behaviors—behaviors that are witnessed by America’s youth.
The organizational nature of schools promotes political savvy. How can these behaviors steeped in power struggles, turf wars, and job trumping at one a year job fairs inspire children to “find their voice” and gain “collective courage” in order to take a stand?
Dr. Mandel’s approach offers varying systemic solutions to school culture change via a library of methodologies that address social norms, artifact creation, and even stories of voice-finding. Organizational theorist Edgar Schein would be proud of Dr. Mandel and perhaps even offer her a note of support once her cultural work is brought to his attention.
Even though Dr. Mandel has never studied Schein, she stumbled with Schein-like grace into a sure-fire systems approach to culture change, sustainability, and consciousness. Schein asserts that as we become more familiar with the dynamics of culture, we are likely less puzzled, less anxious, and less concerned because we discover why and how an organization breathes. It is my experience that if we look around us, scan and scrape about our immediate work and recreation worlds that we may find reason to take pause and recorded how others like Dr. Mandel are building better ways to manage and motivate organizational shifts.
Collective courage may be Dr.Mandel’s brain child with respect to prompting school children to get-a-voice, but it is through systems approaches that we carve out cultures of care, consideration, and collective wisdom. Perhaps schools are broken or perhaps they are only waving their hand at us in reminder that schools house our future in America; perhaps it is time we ensure these daytime dwelling places for our youth become cultures ripe with the very desirable descriptors that we can’t find in organizational life as students. Standing unconscious as aging adults in workplace cultures of limitations and voids versus inter-dependence and acceptance is a reminder that perhaps Dr. Mandel knows what matters most in her world: the school systems of Long Island, New York.
The real question is does this story give you reason to find your voice and stand up for your beliefs and concerns enough to join the collection of courageous community members that are rising to reach to our children so that their futures are filled with possibilities instead of loneliness and limitation?