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“Transition and change is difficult. It takes time.”

How many times have you heard this? How many times has this been seen as an excuse for not changing? I know I’ve read more than a few blog articles about no longer accepting the “excuses” for not changing – there needs to be a change and we need to move on – NOW!

I’ve been working on transitioning myself through a major life change – one that is extremely exciting – and scary and terrifying and exhausting and ……. but it was time. Not being one to ignore that change needs to happen, I made the decision – discussing it with my wife – to move on. To what, I have no idea but the rut was starting to get too deep. I wasn’t seeing things with new lenses anymore. I was starting to look for “easy” solutions at times – not the right solutions. In short, I was not being the educational leader I expected myself to be.

A while back on twitter I happened upon this tweet

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As I read through the article there were so many things that struck me as being important in the educational context.

1. Healing takes time – change requires healing time

Often I’ve heard “Well, they need to get over it. That’s the way it is and it’s time to get with the times”. In fact, the number of articles that are almost hostile to people who aren’t willing to change as quickly as they should is somewhat surprising given we are suppose to be an empathetic and concerned group of individuals. As an administrator who has been involved in working with a number of staffs in different schools on improvement and change – I didn’t always understand this and often thought “Let’s move on. We’ve been going over this and rehashing this.” I didn’t understand that, as the educational leader, I needed to listen to where they were in the change process – not where I was or where I wanted to be. But that’s only the start – the next step is empathizing and then help them move forward with the understanding that staying put isn’t an option and support will be in place to transition.

2. Telling someone that change is going to happen doesn’t eliminate the need for time for healing.

As a parent, this has been so real for me and my wife. We have lived in 7 different communities. As parents, we learned that we needed to discuss the move with our children well before it happened BUT that didn’t mean they wouldn’t need time. I still remember my oldest boy, days before we were moving our last time. He had never really experienced leaving friends. There he was, with his best friend, walking behind our house in the late evening along the back road. The two of them, arms over each others shoulders walking – occasionally talking – stopping to look, point, talk. It nearly broke my heart as I watched these two friends help one another – tears rolling down my cheeks as I witnessed friendship as it best. Later that night, before bed, we talked about how he was feeling. LIke it was yesterday, his reply was “I’ll be okay. I know it will be okay. I just need time to get use to this.” He was 8. He taught me that change was okay – but it wasn’t easy no matter how much advanced warning.

As an administrator, I constantly remember this as I have worked with teachers, parents and students moving through the change process. After moving to a new school, our staff was in the middle of a planning meeting as the old school was being demolished. As we watched the old school being torn down – there were many teachers who couldn’t concentrate on the meeting we were having – so we stopped. Watched. Some tears were shed. Memories were shared. They knew for 2 years that this was going to happen. It didn’t make it easier.

Too often, in the name of progress, the rush to change becomes a litany of initiative after initiative in the name of “Doing what’s best for students” with new ideas coming from all over the place. Telling people that change is coming doesn’t mean you don’t have to help them when it actually happens. Again, empathy is a big part of this and giving teachers a list of 10 things isn’t empathetic. Neither is listing all the benefits or, like I’ve seen, ridiculing those who aren’t changing in forums of those who’ve change. The last one, sorry to say, is somewhat of a staple in some twitter circles and is so embarrassing that people with fairly large followings talk about other people like that yet do it in the name of “What’s best for students”. Exactly what would children learn from that?

Another group I’ve especially seen this with is new teachers. “10 things to you need to know as you begin teaching” is a great title but if you’re really concerned about new teachers, you’ll talk to them – constantly – not just at the beginning of the year or during the new teacher follow-up meetings or class observations. Even if it means making a note to yourself to stop by after school or in the morning to “talk” (I mean listen) to them, it’s needed. They need to “hear” from you in more than emails, memos and observations. And, no, you don’t have the answers – they aren’t asking questions but working through change.

3. Change goals are too vague and too longterm.

“It’s what’s best for students” isn’t good enough anymore. For everyone who pulls this phrase out when referring to school reform and the advancement of technology, quit saying it because I can give you a whole grocery list of items that would fall in this category and fulfill the criteria.

And the rationale that “It’s what is happening everywhere outside of school” is another one that needs to hit the dumpster for the same reason as above. Again, there’s a grocery list of things that fit here. Yes “everyone is on ______________” but, that’s doesn’t mean it’s for everyone or that we will find the same fulfillment/satisfaction/learning/growth. This is as ridiculous as saying we’ll teach all the students in our room the same way with the same material and expect them all to learn and be excited about it. How about let’s stop this “one size fits all” for teachers and, instead, help teachers with some long-term goals for change and then short-term feedback goals for success. “Everyone’s doing it” is something a teenager says to their parents not something that I would expect in a conversation concerning educational change that is impacting the lives of teachers.

Goals need to be specific – we’re moving to use ePortfolios because….. – and have the people doing the change fill in some of the reasons because there are people who will be ready and accepting of the change and be prepared to move things forward. Constant initiatives from out there “in the best interest of students” hasn’t really worked so far – why do we expect them to suddenly work? Be specific about the change. Set a longterm goal – but then set short term goals and allow people to move forward, make mistakes and work through the changes. Give individuals the assistance they need to move forward, hold them accountable and be expected to be amazed.

As an administrator, one thing I’ve encountered numerous times is the “3 year plan – 1 year mindset”. The initiative is given 3 years to be fully implemented but that is 2 years longer than the timelines given for seeing results. There will always be those people who want to impress and will be willing to “succeed” at all costs – but in education, the human cost – especially when it relates to teachers, students and parents – is just too much. Either live by the 3 years or stop the smoke and mirrors and be honest about the change timeline. People may not be happy but they will know what is expected of them – especially the leaders in the school – and adjust accordingly. Support for a 3 year initiative is much different than that of a 1 year initiative.

4. Not everyone moves at the same rate or has the same needs

Individual needs are not usually part of the planning process when discussing change. People talk about them and acknowledge them but don’t plan for the differences. Instead, whether it’s teachers within a school or schools within a division/district, the expectation is that the change will look and proceed along a certain path and, if it doesn’t, there is something wrong. Similar to how we talk about students with different learning needs yet I’m still somewhat astounded at how similar so many classrooms look. Talk isn’t action and for the latter to occur there needs to be specific planning and supports integrated to help with the transition.

Planning for different needs and different progress is messy and isn’t without problems – which you would think would be understood given the situation. Yet, it is not uncommon to have educational leaders compare teacher A to B&C&D because A is a “rock star”. The reasons for this are numerous but it’s usually doesn’t have the desired impact. Which, really shouldn’t be a surprise. Instead, leaders should be a) continuing to support teacher A with their work but also providing support for B, C & D. Not being a “rock star” shouldn’t be seen as a negative or be used as a comparison of ability. Instead, plan for individual differences, identify who might need assistance, be open to working with them and provide supports with short-term goals and help to move them along. Too often, the expectation is that with adults, the learning will be similar for everyone and, as organizations, the same inputs will provide consistent results across the domain.

Individuals need time to move through significant change. Too often, because teachers are adults, the assumption is that they will not need that much time or they will be able to rationally see the need for change and will “Get on with it.” Too often, this mistake becomes costly in terms of the human factor which then affects the school culture and, well, my experience in changing these errors is that it leads to a negative and unproductive working and learning environment. Maybe it’s time that people focused a bit more on the individuals in the change process and less time telling them to “just get on with it.” because “there’s no excuse not to move on.” In my experience, there may not be an excuse but there is a reason and, if you take the time, not only will you find out why but you’ll be amazed at the change that will take place.

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