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  • Writer's pictureKaitlin Torphy

Balancing Voices Working to Change How Schools Implement Innovation

Balancing Voices: Working to Change How Schools Implement Innovation For the past several years, Ken Frank, Foundations Professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University, has sought to change how schools implement innovations and make difficult but necessary decisions. He devised a system of checks and balances that allow for more democratic school governance and, after many iterations of his ideas, now calls his project “Balancing Voices.” He enlisted the help of others in the College of Education at Michigan State University including Kaitlin Torphy (head of the Teachers and Social Media project), John Lane (Outreach Specialist in the Office of K-12 Outreach), and Dirk Zuschlag (PhD candidate in Educational Policy). Together the Balancing Voices team has presented their ideas in a variety of venues with the intent of finding schools who would be willing to experiment with Balancing Voices governance and with the purpose of building evidence that their approach worked. Fortunately, Balancing Voices has found a willing and enthusiastic partner, Jamie Bandstra, Superintendent and Principal for Gateway to Success Academy in Scottville, Michigan. Mr. Bandstra has been employing the Balancing Voices governance framework to help him innovate new reforms and initiatives at his school. In addition to partnering with local schools, Balancing Voices has also used presentations to lead audience members through a series of simulations that ask participants to make a decision about a sensitive topic (e.g., laying off an underperforming teacher). Participants are randomly assigned to either reach a decision using traditional rules or the Balancing Voices framework. After the group has finished the simulation, the Balancing Voice team surveys participants about their experience. The results from these surveys is clear—participants who are assigned the Balancing Voice framework believe that the process for decision making is fairer and they have a higher regard for the legitimacy of formally designated leaders (e.g., principals, district administrators). Most recently the Balancing Voices team presented these finding at the annual University Council of Educational Administration (UCEA) conference in New Orleans and is now preparing a paper for publication.

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