Twenty-five people convened at Hamilton District Christian High (HDCH) Dec. 2 and 3 for a vision retreat using an open spaces format that produced exciting conversations that will move forward the school’s strategic plan, says Nathan Siebenga.
Open spaces is a self-organizing, organic method by which the community sets its own agenda and proceeds to discuss the items in a choice-rich way.
People make connections with people from different parts of the organization who they otherwise may have not talked with before, providing a whole-system response to possibilities.
“Any time you have an open spaces experience with more than one part of the organization you create synergy and excitement for the whole system as opposed to only one section and I would recommend that for any community,” says Siebenga, HDCH principal.
Siebenga says people start open spaces tentatively, but by the time it is over people build community and get to know each other on a different level.
“Relationally it also creates your link between content and community, so it’s in community that we create context for the content,” he tells the OACS News.
Siebenga says he sensed common purpose, goals and vision amongst the people present, which included the board of directors, leadership team, executive team and department heads.
“That’s exciting because you have an organization that’s moving forward on common ground, as opposed to always trying to create the ground for people to be common on, it’s very clear that we are moving forward as a school,” he says.
Open spaces doesn’t require buy-in because the people participating are creating it “which is a pretty healthy way of approaching visioning,” Siebenga says.
Siebenga first experienced open spaces during a summer educator’s conference, and says the approach aligns with the school’s desire to have many voices creating the future vision.
He says it was clear there were items the leaders wanted to talk about, and the agenda was set which has moved forward the school’s strategic plan.
Using open spaces allows conversations to move at a speed where you get delve into what matters, he says, likening it to a “chameleon effect” where you can go fast or slow based on the need.
Conversations were future-focused around the topics of sustainability, innovative learning spaces, and mission and vision.
The big question is what happens with the conversations and ideas gathered through the event, says Siebenga. Another group will be getting together called the Guardians of the Different Domains who will talk about what the strategic plan will look like and get down to work.
He says if the discussions are turned into a strategic plan that creates action it will have been well worth the investment, and the school will consider using open spaces again.
“The ownership is on us,” he adds.
He says when the strategic plan is presented to department heads and the school board they will know the context of it and see their own voice represented.
Learn more about what’s happening at HDCH through the school’s U-Knight newsletter.