Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Power of Protocols: An Educator's Guide to Better Practice

The power of protocols: an educator's guide to better practice. (2007). New York City, New York: Teachers College Press.

The first edition of The Power of Protocols, published in 1991 introduced the Tuning Protocol to teachers which was unique in that it outlined a deliberate way to "constrain participation in order to heighten it." The second edition which I read, builds on the first edition and highlights what the authors believe: that the use of protocols prize "diversity, universal participation, and wide cultivation of what we call facilitative leadership" and help to foster a democratic working environment at a school. The first chapter in the book gives educators a solid rationale for the use of protocols and how protocols help support a new kind of educational setting that is truly democratic. Protocols allow for new insight and energy for the important work that educators have to do every day and the protocols allow teachers to give and receive honest feedback and take on new perspectives. The book also explores what it means to create facilitative leadership, which is explained as the "lubricant of democracy" and can inform how meetings are run in a democratic way that promotes consensus building. The book provides practical examples of protocols to use for problem solving in schools, exploring student work and drawing advice from experts and a variety of text.

This book was really helpful for me in thinking about how to best promote adult learning and adult understanding within a democratic school environment. The first few chapters are especially helpful in terms of getting adults "on board" with using protocols and helping them feel bought into the power of protocols. Many of the protocols outlined in the book are ones we use at High Tech Middle Media Arts on a regular basis and I have seen how a protocol can shape the conversation, provide multiple perspectives and create an atmosphere where all adult opinions are valued and appreciated. The protocols from the book we have used and found very helpful include: The Final Word, the Descriptive Consultancy, and the Tuning Protocol. There are so many other protocols in the book that I would like to try and for each one, the authors provide a description, the purpose, details, the steps of the actual protocol and tips for facilitation. The chapter on improving oneself, when in the facilitation role, would be really helpful for a staff that is used to protocols but wanting to take their conversations to the next level. Finally, the book ends with "Ways to Get Started" and "Things that Make it Easier" which can be really useful for any school leaders or teachers hoping to use protocols in their work.


"We think that product worth producing begins with thoughtful process.  Teaching is first of all a process.  Leadership is, too... There is no way to solve a complex problem without listening to the perspectives on the problem of all those immersed in it." p. x

"Meanwhile, as the use of protocols continues to spread from conferences and workshops to everyday settings where colleagues meet to plan and work together and teachers and students meet to learn together, it becomes possible for all of us to imagine a new kind of educational setting-- not cellular but collaborative, not isolated but networked, not opaque but transparent and accountable." p. xiii

"The first basic idea is that we professional educators should take charge of our own learning... To say that we ought to educate ourselves, therefore, means that professional development activities for educators that are designed and conducted without benefit or inside perspectives are not worth the time and money they cost." p. 1

"In formal settings, just talking can be counterproductive... meetings called to address serious problems frequently fail because of underregulated talking. Often those leading the meetings talk too much, and often they let others talk too much. Together the talkers choke off real listening, and the kind of distributed and beyond-your-comfort zone learning that solving serious problems usually requires." p. 5

"In forcing transparency, protocols again teach us habits that we wish we already had: to take the time to think about what we want to say, to work without rushing, to speak less (or speak up more)." p. 7

"Facilitating protocols involves macro planning-- as in what protocol to use when, and how to open and close the meeting-- and also in micro planning done in the moment-- as in how to intervene when something goes wrong and when to change one's plans." p. 18

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