Creating Coherence

Wendy Gudalewicz is Superintendent of the Cupertino Union School District in Cupertino, CA, and uses Adaptive Action in her day-to-day work, as well as in her strategic action to shape patterns across her system. She was a contributing storyteller for Adaptive Action: Leveraging Uncertainty in Your Organization, and shares another story here about how she looks for and shapes patterns as a school district leader. For more about her district, check out the Cupertino Union School District website .

Wendy GudalewiczI recently took a position as a superintendent for a large K-8 district in California. The district was and is very well managed. As I stepped into my new role I interviewed site leaders, district office staff, teachers, community leaders and was told that while everyone loves the level of autonomy both schools and teachers are afforded, they felt the district needed some coherence. After identifying the containers, differences and exchanges in the district (The What), I decided to focus on exchanges (The So What) because the people I had interviewed were feeling disconnected. However, once I began to initiate a shift in exchanges I realized I was creating a new container.

My Now What began with what I called a weekly postcard. The postcard is a written communication that I email every Monday morning to all employees. The postcard includes several sections that do not change, “role models”, “going the extra mile”, “thoughts for the week” and “up and coming”. Each week I highlight employees from throughout the district for being excellent role models and for going the extra mile. I also include quotes that will get people thinking about similar subjects and I include what is happening  throughout the district two weeks out. Initially I wondered if everyone would read the postcard or if they would find it too cliché; however, within the first two weeks I began receiving emails from teachers, secretaries, bus drivers, instructional associates, food service personnel, etc. telling me they loved the positive tone.  I also started receiving wonderful stories from employees sharing about their colleagues. I began to place the stories that were shared in the postcard and letting everyone know where the stories came from. I now receive more stories than I can print! I am regularly stopped while at schools or when I am out in the community to be told how much the postcard is appreciated and what a positive tone it has set for everyone in the district. I often receive notes telling me how much the thought for the week impacted an individual both in his or her professional life and personal life.

While this adaptive action began with a shift in an exchange, I soon realized that I had created a new container. Rather than 25 school sites each in their own silo, we became one large container. This larger container is giving all employees a place to learn about each other, share great stories, and to begin to dialogue about who we are and where we are going, moving toward coherence!

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