The Negotiator Magazine

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Three Models for Implementing Change in 21st Century Schools

Irma Tyler-Wood, C. Mark Smith, and Charles Barker

As a school board member or school superintendent, even if you do not directly participate in collective bargaining, most of your work involves attempting to persuade or influence others - in other words, negotiating. How would you describe the process you and your board currently use to negotiate with teachers, other school personnel, vendors, parents, other board members, and the community at large? Is the process effective? Is it efficient? Does it build the kind of working relationships necessary for an effective school system? Do you negotiate as collaborative problem-solvers or as adversaries? Do the agreements you reach help achieve major educational and fiscal goals? Can you persuade your diverse constituencies that your agreements are legitimate, fiscally sound, and worthy of support? As third party facilitators, negotiation consultants and/or trainers, we have worked with school superintendents, school boards, teacher unions, support staff unions, government officials, school attorneys, business leaders and foundations in twenty different school systems across the country that have not liked their answers to these questions. This article briefly describes what we have learned about why school systems are changing their traditional negotiation process, the methods which were developed and implemented to initiate change in Greece (NY), Cincinnati (OH), Boston (MA) and by the California Public Employee Relations Board, and some possible implications for school systems and organizations considering similar changes.

Why Are Schools Changing Their Negotiation Process?
The impetus for change has been two-fold. First, an increasing number of school systems are reaching the conclusion that the traditional adversarial negotiation process does not work well in complex, multi-party, multi-issue negotiations in which intangible issues such as trust, working relationships and precedent, are as important as tangible issues like percentage of salary increase and defining school-based management. The traditional process does not work well because it forces each party to commit to a position early in the negotiation process; this creates an incentive to adopt extreme opening positions and then lock into those extreme positions. In order to reach agreement, each party must then make many concessions. Each concession is viewed by the parties or by their constituents as an indication of weakness; so, to demonstrate toughness each side makes concessions very slowly. Traditional adversarial negotiation is a difficult, unnecessarily protracted, and costly process that often damages working relationships among the parties and produces sub-optimal agreements. A second impetus for change has been the movement for major educational reform in public education. Reform issues such as school-based management, choice, accountability, teacher-empowerment, peer review, and merit pay require (1) innovative thinking about broader, more complex issues in education, and (2) a redefinition of relationships and roles among school boards, school superintendents, school administrators, teachers and staff. By focusing the attention of the parties on their differences, rather than on their shared interests, the traditional process makes it difficult to think creatively about new options. The innovative thinking and redefinition of roles, required by a new substantive agenda is virtually impossible without a concomitant change in process.

Is There A Better Process?
The negotiation process described in Getting to YES, sometimes called "principled negotiation" treats negotiation as a joint problem-solving process. A joint problem-solving negotiation process focuses the negotiators on their interests rather than their positions. Understanding and communicating those interests enhances each negotiator's ability to craft creative, persuasive options for joint gains. A joint problem-solving negotiation process gives each party tools to craft options that persuade the other side to accept their proposal because it is legitimate, rather than because they have the power to force agreement through threats to strike, or to fire the other party. A joint problem-solving approach to negotiation allows both parties to understand their alternatives to mutual agreement, thus improving each party's ability to determine just how any proposal meets its interests. Using this process, each is less likely to accept an offer that is not in their best interest, and more able to accurately assess the quality and legitimacy of proposals they receive. Some of our educational clients have described working relationships in school system negotiations as "a marriage in which divorce is not possible". Whether or not you agree with that characterization, a sound, effective working relationship that endures and improves over time is vitally important in school systems.

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