Inertial Guidance System Back to Blog Articles

  • Posted on Jan 24, 2017

This story was originally published in Volume 39 of the Knightly Knews that you can download here.

It is Monday morning, and these group living staff members sit in a conference room around a table, planning to break inertia. Impromptu meetings are more their style, but with the balancing act of all of their responsibilities, and the fact that they spread out across campus, a formal meeting is needed. These staff members are some of the most veteran on campus and this meeting is one way that sets Woodward Academy a part from other residential facilities. Not the meeting itself, but what is accomplished.

In many ways, Woodward Academy prides itself on not being perfect. When your product is working with people, things go wrong and people make mistakes. With that notion in mind, change is easy to come by because it is built into the system. It is just something that naturally happens and the
culture evolves with it.

These weekly meetings are never the same, but have developed some consistencies over time. There is general information sharing, and opportunities to discuss calendar events. But much of the meeting is situational and addresses normative issues on campus. This team looks at what areas are lacking, how students can help brainstorm and resolve those issues, and then creates an actionable plan to work from.

When they all meet together, there is 140 years of Woodward Academy experience that helps develop the inertial guidance system that propels the school to success. Under the leadership of Group Living Director (GLD) Trent Fleshner, and newly promoted Assistant GLD Glen Miller, this group manages every student’s program at Woodward Academy, and supervises the vast majority of the staff members.

The primary job description of each Program Director is the management of a dormitory. From a general sense, this includes the staff team and the individual programs of each student. But on a daily and weekly basis, it is much more than that. They work with systems outside of campus, communicate progress with parents, and need to have a pulse on the student culture.

The jurisdiction of each Program Director is not limited to their dorm. In fact, they are true campus leaders and work with all of the students and staff. They are often required to take a campus look at things and work together in a true sense of the word “team.” They share on-call duties on the evenings and weekends, as one is required to be available at all times. Many are coaches (including all of the head coaches) of our six sports, and they all interview prospective staff members

All of the students at Woodward Academy interact with each other throughout the day, and are not strictly tied to the other members of their dormitory. They take classes together, and participate in sports and extracurricular activities together. For much of the day, each dorm blends across campus, which means that these group living leaders must also blend and work together. You’ll see these staff members working with student leaders in the Knights Club, and coaching them on the athletic field. Each has a dorm responsibility to ensure that each one of their students is progressing in their program, but they also have a campus responsibility to ensuring that the Woodward Academy way is preserved, independent of their dorm.

Across campus, Clinical Director Tonna Lawrenson and her team of clinicians and therapists work with students on a daily basis to help them develop their own guidance system. Whether through individual and family therapy sessions, using eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), or participating in mindfulness training, students are breaking the inertia in their life with a new perspective on how to move forward.

Like all good guidance systems, a system of check and balances must be put into place for it to operate successfully. In many ways, Quality Assurance Manager Michelle Fenelon plays that role. Her primary responsibility is to oversee content and completion of all documents. She also serves as a liaison with outside systems to ensure compliance with Iowa State and government regulator requirements that include the Joint Commission and PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act)

Over the years, many members from this team have also taken on additional leadership roles within Sequel Youth and Family Services. A number of them have temporarily assisted other facilities across the United States and participated in company-wide leadership initiatives. Some also serve as a part of the Sequel Training Team where they take their Woodward Academy experience and facilitate training sessions at other facilities, with the mission of establishing an inertial guidance system of their own.

Breaking inertia is a difficult task and requires a team effort. These group living leaders are some of the key members who have developed Woodward Academy’s unique inertial guidance system and are responsible for steering it into the future.


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