A few of our favorite things exchanges: The top 5 questions innovative leaders asked in 2018

Colin Payne

With apologies to Maria von Trapp: “Brave conversations and vulnerability, visionary courage and deep humility, fun conversations with down-to-earth beings, these are a few of our favorite things”—about you, our customers.

As 2018 comes to a close, we’ve been reflecting on what we appreciate most about the people we serve. When it comes to our customers, there’s too much we like to list in any Sound of Music-inspired rhyme.

That said, among our most-loved things of 2018 were the impressive exchanges we’ve helped you host with your communities. The past 365 (or so) days have seen some of the most innovative engagements to ever grace a ThoughtExchange server. From celebrating staff to community conversations on challenging issues, it’s been one great discussion after another.

With so many incredible exchanges, we knew choosing our favorites wouldn’t be easy. Luckily, our Account Managers stepped up to the task and selected the five conversations they feel had the most impact on the customers they serve.

We hope these exchanges inspire you to kickstart the new year with similar conversations in your district.

Colin Doherty

Q. What are some perspectives we should consider as we work to ensure our schools are as safe and secure as possible for our students and staff?

While school districts may be diligent and proactive when it comes to school safety, their efforts aren’t always apparent to constituents.

In the face of growing concerns about school safety in their district, one customer I work with used this question to show their community it was a top priority. The exchange let leadership clearly communicate the initiatives they had in place and discover important safety perspectives they might have otherwise missed.

By creating a productive dialogue on such an emotionally-charged topic, this district also set a solid foundation for further discussions and exchanges leading up to a bond election in 2020.

Student safety is one of the hardest topics we help our customers tackle. It was rewarding to help this leadership team highlight their successes and bring polarized people together around their shared interests.

Rita Macleod

Q. Who was your favorite teacher? What made them so special?

When customers are first introducing ThoughtExchange to their leadership teams, we usually recommend they start with a fun and straightforward question. It gives an opportunity for everyone to try the platform in a safe space.  

In this case, the district chose to ask a question that would connect with important topics they’re already discussing: the whole child and student wellness. Asking this question gave leaders a fun way to talk about what’s most important in classrooms by reflecting on their own experiences as kids.

Running this exchange also built strong internal support for ThoughtExchange. The superintendent now has a leadership team that understands the platform and can help champion a community-wide exchange on the same topic.

It felt great to be part of this. This exchange made space for leaders to talk about what really matters in education. We achieved multiple objectives with one question while spending time sharing something that was personal and meaningful.

Tristan Read

Q. What is most important to you about how we make decisions about boundary changes?

When it comes to contentious decisions in a school district, boundary changes are near the top of the list.

A customer I work with used this question to start a community discussion as they prepared to shift boundaries to accommodate a new grade configuration. The question was great because it let people contribute in a way that would help frame decision-making guidelines, instead of encouraging people to ask for what they wanted.

This exchange was part of a series of discussions related to an upcoming bond election. It let leaders understand what really matters to their community when it comes to making major decisions like boundary changes. At the same time, it continued their efforts to include everyone in the conversation and build the trust required for a successful bond.

It’s fantastic to see how this leadership team is willing to shift the way they work based on the community’s needs. I’m continually inspired to be part of their engagement process.  

Alan Miljkovic

Q. What are your thoughts about our current language offerings and what are some important things we should consider as we plan our world language opportunities for the future?

The ability to make data-driven programming decisions is becoming increasingly important for school district leaders.

My favorite exchange of 2018 came from a customer who wanted to uncover priorities around language programming in their schools. Asking this question let parents and students from the district’s high school and middle school share their feedback and recommendations on world language program offerings.  

The prioritized results and data gave leadership clear insight into what was working well, how they could improve current courses, and which future language programs families wanted most. This information let the district make wise use of their funds by prioritizing program spending where it would have the most significant impact.

The best part of this exchange for me was seeing students get the chance to have their say in the exchange alongside their parents. Being able to listen and learn from each other in this way is powerful, and I’m happy to help make this kind of exchange possible.

Team Pick

Q. What are some perspectives we need to consider as we make decisions about the new school in our community?

How do you move forward when your community has to choose between a new charter or public school?

We worked with a customer this year who faced just this challenge. The charter district and public district were already strongly divided with significant animosities. When the opportunity for a joint purchase of land came up, the community had to decide whether it would be designated a charter or public facility.

The public school district leadership used ThoughtExchange to reach out to the whole community and learn what people thought about their new school. The exchange showed the community was evenly split on which option was best. However, it also showed there was common ground between the two sides, including a value of neighborhood schools, and finding a solution that would end the community divide.

In a community already divided on such a polarizing topic, this exchange created a safe space for people to share with and learn from each other. It allowed for civil, open community discussion that would have been impossible to facilitate in a town-hall meeting format.

It feels good to know we helped bring so many voices together in one conversation and built common ground between a sharply divided group.

Inspired? Get in touch today to start your next exchange or get more info!

About the Author

Colin Payne

Colin has been playing with words and telling stories for as long as he can remember. His knack for narratives led him to award-winning work in newspapers and seven successful years as an independent content creator. Along the way, Colin learned to use a camera. Pretty well. He has created images for major corporate clients and national publications while winning international awards for his nature photography. Colin’s quest for meaningful work and drive to do some good in the world eventually led him to ThoughtExchange. He’s continually stoked to help tell the ThoughtExchange story and share how leaders are moving their organizations forward by bringing people together. When not at the keyboard, Colin can be found chasing his two young children or exploring the mountains around his home in Nelson, BC. Find Colin on Twitter @colinpayne_te.