Harnessing the Power of Simulations for Transformative Learning and Collaboration

September 11, 2023

By SchoolSims & Dr. Trent Grundmeyer

In today’s ever-evolving educational landscape, the need for innovative approaches to foster understanding, collaboration, and shared vision among stakeholders has become increasingly apparent. Dr. Trent Grundmeyer, a former Superintendent and now Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at Buena Vista University and also the founder of Grundmeyer Leader Services LLC, highlights the transformative potential of simulation-based experiential learning in his recent insights on a board and administrator retreat. These simulations provide a unique opportunity for individuals and teams to learn, grow, and bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Experience is the Best Teacher

One of the central themes of Dr. Grundmeyer’s exploration is the power of experience as a teacher. When thoughtfully designed, simulations allow participants to learn by doing within a contextual framework. They encourage individuals to experiment, make choices, and face the consequences of those choices, whether positive or negative. Simulations shift the focus from traditional teaching methods to active application and resilience-building.

The ultimate goal is to provide learners practical experience in a realistic context to hone their judgment and decision-making skills for real-life situations. This hands-on approach deepens understanding and promotes critical thinking and adaptability.

Simulations: A Social and Collaborative Endeavor

While simulations can undoubtedly benefit individuals, their true power shines when experienced as part of a group or team. Humans are creatures of habit and tend to stick with what we know, even if it may not be the best approach. Simulations challenge these habits by offering participants a fresh perspective on alternative approaches to problem-solving.

Moreover, humans are inherently social creatures. When simulations are conducted within a group setting, they tap into our natural inclination for social interaction, resulting in a highly engaging and developmental experience. Collaborative learning, shared insights, and the opportunity to learn from peers amplify the impact of simulations.

Simulations: Bridging Stakeholder Divides

In the current educational climate, tensions often run high among stakeholders, including parents, administrators, and school boards. Dr. Grundmeyer suggests that simulations can be a powerful tool to bridge these divides and facilitate constructive communication.

He shares a real-life example of a retreat conducted by his team for a local district. The retreat brought together the school board and administrative team to promote understanding and a shared vision. Through a carefully chosen Board Relations simulation, they could unearth underlying challenges and differences in perspectives that had caused friction.

The Board Relations Simulation

During this retreat, the agenda was carefully crafted to include individual DISC profiles in the morning and a board relations simulation in the afternoon. The simulation fostered deep conversations about policies, processes, and expected outcomes for the board of education and the administrative team.

Notably, the simulation involved a scenario concerning a school board member’s child, adding a layer of personal investment to the exercise. Dr. Grundmeyer encouraged all participants to approach the simulation with open-mindedness and honesty, asking them to explain their rationale for decision-making. The board relations simulation was suitable for the retreat as the participants shared that several challenging situations had arisen in the district the previous year that caused friction between the board and the administrative team. Group members prioritized different things when decisions were made; rarely do boards of education and executive teams meet together to discuss policy and handle difficult situations.

As the retreat continued and the simulation unfolded with this background, fascinating expectations, and decision-making rationale differences emerged. The administrative team often relied on precedent and focused on timelines and stakeholder communication. In contrast, the board members emphasized policy and outcomes, revealing a significant disconnect in their perspectives. The simulation allowed the collective group to discuss policies, processes, and expected results intensely with and for the board of education and administrative team.

Transformative Learning and Collaboration

The conclusion of the retreat left all participants eager for more simulations. Dr. Grundmeyer noted that the lessons learned during the simulation were likely to be applied in real situations in the future. This experience demonstrated the significant potential of simulations to enhance understanding, collegiality, and teamwork among educational governing teams.

Simulations are a powerful tool that can transform professional development and collaboration. When experienced as part of a team, they tap into the social learning aspect and create shared experiences that foster growth and understanding. In a time when effective communication and collaboration are more crucial than ever, simulations offer a promising path forward for educational institutions and their stakeholders.

Trent Grundmeyer, Ph.D.
Former Superintendent
Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at Buena Vista University
Founder of Grundmeyer Leader Services LLC

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