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Gerzon advises leaders to listen for the 'sacred' in discourse

Mark Gerzon, author of A House Divided: Six Belief Systems Struggling for America's Soul, as well as The Democracy Toolbox: Skills for Civic Leadership, and an expert in civil discourse, gave a unique presentation on how to bind up conflicts within communities in order to improve the success of public schools.

Using an anecdotal approach, Gerzon urged the audience of school leaders to find ways to work with their communities. He also talked about several specific principles for dealing more effectively with those school communities during the second General Session of the Triple I Conference in Chicago.

He began by praising the power of integrity, and willingness to lead with an awareness of the entire community. "The way you define 'us' versus 'them' is critical to how you lead," he said. Learning about one another is vitally important, he added, particularly through what he called "witnessing" or actively "listening for the sacred in one another's hearts."

Gerzon suggested that engaging in open dialogue is yet another essential tool for use in dealing with conflicts within the community or on a school board. That dialogue must include words or actions extending respect, compassion and empowerment to others, and he argued that a lack of good dialogue leads to a lack of empathy and, ultimately, to a dysfunctional school district.

Gerzon recalled that in 1999, when he was selected to design and facilitate the working sessions of the U.S. House of Representatives' Bipartisan Congressional Retreat, he found that true dialogue had become all but extinct. "We developed some ground rules to improve it," he said.

Inclusion of new people, ideas, and regions was a principle Gerzon suggested, along with respect and collaboration. In conclusion, he said that when the appropriate people are included in a constructive process of collaboration with reliable information, they will take effective action in the best interest of the whole community.

But Gerzon also believes for the need to separate dialogue from decision-making activities in public meetings. Thus, when holding school board meetings, participants may wish to take a break between discussion and decision times, even if it's only a short break.

Before Gerzon's remarks, James T. Rosborg of Belleville SD 118, was recognized as Superintendent of the Year by the Illinois Association of School Administrators.

Rosborg described the award as one belonging to the entire school district for achieving high test scores, but said it was an honor to be acclaimed by his fellow school administrators. He now will be competing in the National Superintendent of the Year Award, which will be announced in February 2004.



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