Friday, 16 October 2015

Engaging parents café style!

I was fortunate to come across the text The World Café – Shaping our futures through conversations that matter (Juanita Brown, 2005) and have used its process many times for fostering collaborative dialogue. The book demonstrates, using seven core design principles, practical ways of hosting “conversations that matter” in groups of any size – strengthening both personal relationships and people’s capacity to shape the future together.

I love the café style environment it promotes such as paper tablecloths for doodling or brainstorming, background music, plants and greenery, hospitality and comfort.

World Café provides Café Assumptions and Café Etiquette which orient participants to underlying beliefs and personal behaviours that are useful in supporting constructive dialogue. In other words the how and why of the process and how we are expected to behave.

I decided to add in group roles and group etiquette to ensure high expectations and tight facilitation within a tight timeframe; I always ensure one and a half hour maximum fast timing and work them hard!

Of course I adapted the process tweeking it to fit the school context and focus.

The following is the plan that I followed for a parent forum dinner. The focus was a WOO (window of opportunity) as I was new to the school. I chose relatively contentious topics on purpose to stimulate strong discussion and strong perspectives to emerge.

Parent Dinner Discussion

Main Aim:  To gather collective wisdom around a WOO (window of opportunity) & hot issues
Welcome and 30 minute eating period (finger food, each parent to bring a plate)
Six tables of 6 parents
Tonight’s focus questions for discussion are organised around 5 themes (see below).

10 mins per theme
10 mins prep time – go over themes, stick it charts, group behaviour sheet, group roles chosen
10 mins sharing time – posters on walls & parents move around reading

WOO (windows of opportunity)
·      What is working well? (4 mins)
·      What needs to be improved? (3 mins)
·      Prioritise top 5 issues (3 mins)

Prize Giving
·      What do you like about Prizegiving? (4 mins)
·      What could be improved? (3 mins)
·      Prioritise top 5 issues (3 mins)

·      How do you define ‘bullying’ (4 mins)
·      Describe how the school should address ‘bullying’ (4 mins)
·      Highlight the main ideas (2 mins)

·      How can communication be improved? (5 mins)
·      Prioritise top 6 ideas (5 mins)

The data gathered was extremely valuable to management and when merged with other data  ensured we had a mandate for change.
Parents appreciated not only the opportunity to give their viewpoints but also the style of the forum, short, sharp and focused.

It was also valuable for parents to hear the diverse opinions about the topics from only one table gendering a sense of understanding around how hard it is for management to keep all school community members happy with decisions made. 

I highly recommend the World Café as a method of gathering parent feedback and ideas.

Feel free to contact me for support.

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