The landscape, it communicates so much more than the physical attributes observable to the human eye. If you let your mind melt into it, then it can conjure stories for you from your favorite literary category, be it history, the fairy tale, a mystery, science fiction or philosophy, to name a few. The landscape, it quietly speaks – and if you listen carefully, then you may be able to draw meaning about an experience or even a way of being. So it was for me.
This July, I cycled from Kalispell, Montana to Jackson, Wyoming – a span of distance that revealed diverse landscapes from high elevation mountains with stunning snow melt waterfalls, frigid mountain lakes reflecting the peaks that tower above, and a maze of tributaries forming the headwaters of our Nation’s mightiest rivers on both sides of the Continental Divide.
Then onto to the Great Plains, prairie grasslands and foothills, dry and without contrast, stretching for miles, desolate and without mercy under the broiling summer sun. Last, the various forest communities – low and high elevation pines, the riparian and deciduous, some dry, others encased by wetlands.
For ten days, I marveled at the beauty. I melted into the landscape and the stories it told. Yet, interestingly enough, it was the acres of forest in the southern most corner of Yellowstone National Park that spoke to me. The heat of the day was unforgiving. The forest, devastated by fire, charred black, and with a lingering acrid odor, only served to enhance my riding discomfort. Then the hills lengthened and the headwind intensified; I was desperate to pass beyond this torment.
Then I began to look and listen more closely, hear the story, and focus on the message; it was about a forest in transition. Indeed, upon closer study, the forest was dotted by a mosaic of change, adaptation and growth stages – moss, sage and wildflowers struggling to take hold, a denser, lush undergrowth of ferns and laurel thriving in the ashy soil, and young, rapidly growing pines taking advantage of exposure to the life giving elements of sun and water.
I began to think about my own transition and realized, all of MMRHS, like the forest, would be experiencing this transition, and it would look different for everyone. What would it take to be successful? As I posed and then pondered this question over the ensuing weeks, I began to draw on the ideas of Michael Fullan from his book, Change Forces: The Sequel.
In brief, he cleverly applies scientific and social research theory of complex living systems to organizations. In particular, his ideas about the importance of interactions and diversity, along with the understanding of the ‘tacit knowledge’; that is the underlying beliefs, skills, subjective insights… of individuals and groups as a means to create the ‘explicit knowledge’ required for the organization to thrive, grow and ultimately achieve a purpose greater than itself were relevant. Throughout the remainder of the book, he provides a framework for how to conduct this ‘conversion’ of knowledge.
In thinking about my transition – the new leader for MMRHS, I will strive to create, in collaboration with others, the characteristics Fullan outlined as key for organizational efficacy. It is my hope that a commitment to these tenets will support our transition and further contribute to the positive growth of MMRHS.
- Collective capacity – creating opportunities for quality interactions and to share and access varied expertise in creating ‘explicit’ organizational knowledge.
- Respect for diversity and conflict – understanding that creative problem solving, new ideas and methods, and tools to enhance teaching and learning can’t come from organizational knowledge that is static and uniform.
- Emotional Intelligence – transitions create anxiety. To that end, it is essential to support and strengthen our skills to manage uncertainty.
- Coherence – understanding the connection between various initiatives and staying focused on the work that has value toward improved student outcomes.