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The goal for Elk Grove Unified School District is to help kids excel—academically, socially and mentally.

“The only way I know how to do that is if adults get better at what we do,” says Christopher Hoffman, the district’s superintendent. “When a student graduates, we want to make sure we gave them everything they needed to be successful, happy and healthy. For that to happen, our staff needs to be successful, happy and healthy, too.”

About two years ago, EGUSD partnered with The Arbinger Institute. According to its website, the institute “can positively affect an organization’s culture, resolve conflict and facilitate dramatically better organizational results.” Several Fortune 500 companies, municipal governments and professional sports teams have partnered with the institute.

The institute introduced Hoffman and several EGUSD staff members to the “outward mindset concept,” which Hoffman describes as “being open to the humanity of each person you come in contact with.” He said the concept resonated with him as a father, husband, brother and leader.

“Our vision is to help everyone understand the hopes, dreams and challenges of each person they work with,” Hoffman says. “As you understand their humanity—their hopes, dreams and challenges—can you align your goals, in the same way, to help them meet their hopes, dreams and challenges? Imagine if you had an entire organization that worked in this manner.”

Hoffman expects it will take three to five years before the vision is rolled out to the entire school district, which is the fifth largest in California (63,000 students and 7,000 staff members). This January and March, 360 staff members will be trained by EGUSD certified trainers with the hope that the information learned will support them in their personal and professional growth.

So far, approximately 100 district and school site leaders have been introduced to the outward mindset concept.

Richard Gutierrez, a new principal at Valley High School, says he likes the concept’s emphasis on engaging with others.

“This training has taught me how to reach out to staff, our communities and families,” Gutierrez says. “It has given me an opportunity to see what areas I need to focus on—such as communicating with others and understanding what everyone’s needs are. This training has given me a new perspective that I can share with my staff.”

Charles Amey, principal at Edward Harris Junior Middle School, said the concept has helped him to put others first.

“I learned how to take a step back and realize that our staff members have a million other things going on in their personal lives outside of the school day—whether it’s taking care of a sick parent or a child with special needs,” Amey says. “As a whole, we need to be sensitive to the needs of our staff.”

Hoffman is excited to see the concept reach more staff members over the next few years.

“I hope each individual has the same experience I had and find the opportunity to grow and relate to other people throughout our organization,” Hoffman says. “At EGUSD, we’re creating a place where kids and adults can achieve at high levels. We have lots of room for improvement, but there’s no place else where I’d rather be doing the work.”

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