The Real Work of Alignment

Submitted by Katherine Coyle, Executive Director, Alignment Peoria

Slow and steady wins the race. While this is simple and sage advice, doing it isn’t as easy as it sounds. When it comes to building an Alignment community “slow and steady” should be heeded advice and yet, each of us is programmed to think and act in the interest of time. Schools and businesses have hours of operation, projects and assignments have deadlines, and races are won by those who run the fastest. This is why implementing Alignment can be challenging. Most of us are raised or trained to focus on time and not process. When time is prioritized over process, we run the stop signs created to protect us. Successful Alignment comes from building a culture and structure over time that requires thoughtful, intentional collaborative decision making. Business as usual is the enemy of successful Alignment.

Alignment Peoria is one of the newest Alignment communities and has endured a slow and steady process to arrive where we are today. Over a year ago leaders from Alignment Rockford made their first visit to Peoria to meet with our community leaders about the advantages of the Alignment model. During the summer of 2016 our founding members populated our Governing Board and adopted the nine principles by which we operate. In October, the board approved a three year contract with Alignment USA and hired an Executive Director. January and February were spent training board members, community speaking engagements to explain Alignment, and passing bylaws and a budget. While that may sound like an impressive list of accomplishments, there were many who asked “when the real work will begin?”  By real work, they meant the solution design and pilot implementation work of the Alignment teams. The challenge in getting to the “real work” was those darn stop signs forcing us to slow down. Before embarking on approving our two inaugural Alignment teams, we had to first spend hours discussing and coming to consensus on long term outcomes followed by debate on whether or not our A-teams would be population based or outcome based. Then even more hours were spent discussing how many teams our community and sole staff person could feasibly tackle in year one. Would those teams be chaired by an educator and co-chaired by a community member or the reverse?  How many people should be invited to serve on each team? Should we populate the teams with roughly equal numbers of stakeholders from the various sectors of our community to build the trust necessary for collaboration? The good news is, while the process took time, on May 9th, our board finally approved two teams, “College and Career Readiness” and “Student Health” to be led by two equal co-chairs. Our teams were populated last week and we are all looking forward to Alignment team training on June 7th so we can start the “real work” of an Alignment community.

Reflecting back over the last year, while the “real work” of the Alignment teams has yet to begin, the ultimate task of changing how we think and act as a community is well underway. As cited in “Winning Teams, Winning Cultures” by Larry Senn and Jim Hart, cultural transformation cannot occur without personal transformation. For Alignment Peoria, our transformation has been an amazing journey which will do doubt benefit how we support the school district but also how we live as a community. Learning to build bridges not silos, being more respectful of diverse perspectives and leaving our personal and organizational agendas at the door are huge accomplishments of which we are incredibly proud. If we continue to focus on building the right culture and stick to the proven Alignment process and structure, I have no doubt the “real work” we produce long term will be far more impactful for our school district and community.

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