How many times have you heard this?
It’s sounds so simple –
Just Do It!
Change is happening all over the place. In fact, so many of us jump into change that is rather life altering — marriage, children, new jobs…. pretty life altering! I mean, these changes are BIG!
Really, it’s not that people are totally afraid of changing.
New hair styles, wardrobe redos, new menu choices…. they’re all changes.
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!
Sometimes We See that Change is Necessary
I’m transitioning myself through a major life change — one that is extremely exciting — and scary and terrifying and exhausting and ……. but necessary.
I could no longer ignore that change needed to happen. I wasn’t happy, my family wasn’t happy. We made the decision — discussing it with my wife — to move on and try a new path.
To what, I not really sure 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.
Sometimes we wander across just the right thing at the right time.
A while back on twitter I happened upon this tweet
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. There’s a new train leaving and either they’re on it or …” In fact, the number of articles that are almost hostile to people who aren’t willing to change as quickly as they it is deemed 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 many 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 the children wouldn’t need time.
I recall my oldest boy, days before we were moving. 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. As a prime example, after moving to a new school, our staff was in the middle of a planning meeting as the old school was being demolished. Many of the teachers couldn’t concentrate on the meeting we were having – the old school being torn down! 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.
We took a break. People wandered outside. Some had spent nearly 30 years teaching in the school. They knew rationally that it needed to be done – but 30 years of drama, sports, graduations, first days….. you don’t just walk away.
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 changed. 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. Give them a wonderful gift, your attention!
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 everyone in education 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 time for feedback and reflection that can then be integrated into the next step.
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 with the person/school and nothing at all wrong with the plan.
Educational leaders 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. There is a large hue and cry for change – assessment, planning, cross-curricular integration, technology integration, flipped classrooms, blended learning, inquiry learning. Yet, it’s astounding how most of these come with a small range of implementation and time-lines.
5. Not all Teachers are the same!
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.
Change isn’t an event – it’s a movement.
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.” As Chip and Dan Heath explore in their book Switch.
Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives? The primary obstacle, say the Heaths, is a conflict that’s built into our brains. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind—that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.
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 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.
It’s a hard to accept.
According to Jia Jiang and his work on rejection, it touches us deep inside and causes pain that is equivalent to being struck, like a slap in the face.
Most of us get the advice to make a plan for our success. 1 year, 3 year, 5 year, 10 year. Each year we are suppose to revise, reflect, make adjustment and move on. But what if our plan runs into the Rejection Roadblock?
What does Rejection do?
I heard about Jia Jiang’s 100 Days of Rejection story through Todd Henry’s Accidental Creative Podcast episode Confronting Rejection In Life and Work. Later, I listened to Jiang’s interview with Jeff Brown on The ReadToLead podcast. In both interviews, Jiang describes how his fear of rejection almost paralyzed him from going out and chasing his dream of being an entrepreneur and how his wife really pushed him to not quit but keep going. In the 100 Days of Rejection, Jia purposefully seeks out rejection in order to become better at dealing with it.
Rejection as Learning and Change
“Sorry, but you’re just not what we’re looking for.”
In a four year span I heard that phrase, or something similar, over 30 times in my attempt to obtain a central office position. Yeah, that’s a lot of interviews and most people when they hear that comment
“Why keep trying?”
I also believe most people think “What’s wrong with this guy? There must be something wrong with him.”
That’s what I began to think too! There must be something wrong with me.
This is exactly what Jia says we do with rejection, we make it about us when it really isn’t, it’s about the other person. I recommend you listen to the interviews and check out the website.
The first couple of times I heard that I had been rejected it was really, really hard. At one point I decided that I wasn’t going to try any more, rationalizing that I didn’t have the skills or ability for such work. Compounding this was my battle with depression into which I would plunge after each attempt. I knew I wanted to do something different but was getting nowhere. Climbing out of depression became harder and harder.
Like Jiang, my wife supported me and encouraged me to continue. Without her love and insistence, I wouldn’t have faced my fear of depression and sought help. Eventually I tried again, only to meet more rejection. I began to wonder what was happening during the interviews. Was it something I was doing? Was it my answers? My experience? My suit? What? I began to ask for feedback. What where two or three things that I could do that would help. I received some great feedback at times. Others times, not so much.
As Jia Jiang points out, we take these rejections as affronts to us as individuals and, usually, we try to avoid such pain, avoiding any chance that we’ll be rejected. As I did more interviews and went through the process it helped me to become much more reflective and honest about my own strengths and weaknesses but, more importantly, what I really wanted to do. I came to realize that, in fact, it was time to do something different.
Maybe’s It’s Time to Quit
Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt book, Freakonomics, is an interesting mix of economics and seemingly miscellaneous and unconnected phenomenon. Their podcast – Freakonomics Radio – hosted by Stephen Dubner, is a continuation of this exploration. The Upside of Quitting explores why people will stay in a job even though they don’t like it and why people who seemingly have a great job quit. They examine whether “Quitters never win and winners never quit” is really a good thing to be telling people when it comes to a job, if quitting just might be a good strategic choice and a good plan, and most importantly, how our past investments keep us where we are.
To help us understand quitting, we look at a couple of key economic concepts in this episode: sunk cost and opportunity cost. Sunk cost is about the past – it’s the time or money or sweat equity you’ve put into a job or relationship or a project, and which makes quitting hard. Opportunity cost is about the future. It means that for every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else – something that might make your life better. If only you weren’t so worried about the sunk cost. If only you could …. quit.
For me, having put a great deal of time and effort into the sunk costs for education, I didn’t think there were any other options for me. However, over time I realized that all I was doing was limiting myself if I continue to knock at only one door. Through a series of events, I found myself in a position where I decided I needed to give myself a push to make change. So, on May 4th, 2013 I sent in my resignation even though I had no other job nor was I certain what was to come. Instead, I was going with the “gut feeling” that such a move was going to be the beginning of a new and wonderful adventure.
Quitting isn’t for everyone but it is for some people. Too often, as both Jiang and Dubner point out, we limit ourselves because we are afraid of rejection, of failing, of looking to other options and not trying. We are afraid of people saying to us
“Why would you do such a thing? I could never do that, it’s too risky. What about you pension?
Like so many, I was working in order to put in time so that at some date in the future I could retire and start living and doing the things I wanted to do. By stepping out of the rut, I pushed myself to look at life and what I was doing from a new perspective.
It’s Not Easy to Fail
I imagine many people have seen different versions of this. Or heard that schools and teachers need to be risk takers and innovators in environments of trust and safety. It’s easy to say –
“Take risks. Fail fast. Be innovative”
It’s completely another to actually take risks, “fail forward” or innovate. That’s hard. Really hard. Harder than most people will let on.
Seth Godin in Icarus Deception discusses how our Lizard Brain, that portion of the brain that developed for survival, is still keeping us from taking risks because risks are scary, lead to failure and failure leads to pain which is to be avoided. It’s easy to say we need to take risks and be risk takers but, in reality, many people would rather stay in a situation that was not doing them any good rather than venture into the unknown and change. Recent studies show that approximately 60% of employees worldwide are disengaged from their work but many stay where they are rather than make a big change. Like Jia Jiang, fear keeps many people from striking out on their own or taking risks. In a society where playing it safe is the norm and taking chances is for a few select who are brave enough , suggesting that schools, places that have traditionally been slow to change and embrace innovation, do an sudden about face and becomes places of innovation, experimentation and embrace failure as learning is a tall order.
Yes, there are teachers who will embrace these concepts and a few schools will begin to blaze a trail of their own but without a titanic shift in the worldview of parents, many who are reluctant to allow their children to face too many negative experiences in their childhood, schools are in tough.
Tell A Different Story
If we want schools to be places of innovation, risk-taking, and experimentation where “fail forward” (whatever that actually means) is acceptable for students and teachers, then the stories of school must change. The current hierarchical system inhibits people who are innovators and risk-takers, both students and teachers, through policies of conforming and norming. If our stories are still similar to what they have always been about learning and school, how can things be much different?
My experience is that most teachers were pretty good students. The story that comes from school is very similar to what it has always been, to what the story was for them as students. As someone who hasn’t had that story, even my story as a teacher wasn’t similar to other teachers. Is it possible to change this story?
…. how we can change the story that is told about learning that will embrace risk, failure and change?
….. if people who call for more risk and change fully understand what they are asking of people in schools?
….. if we don’t change the story we tell about learning whether innovation and risk-taking can ever be part of a majority of schools?
…. if people who ask others to be risk-takers and change agents have ever faced their fears of rejection or know what it takes to step boldly to the edge of possibility and look around?
Years back, my wife use to hate when she had a technology problem or couldn’t remember how to do something. In fact, when we (read I) first bought our imac, she wasn’t very happy with the whole thing because everything was “backwards” and she couldn’t find anything. She would avoid asking me to show how to do something AGAIN because of my “attitude” and how I did things. That was 8 years ago. Today is much different. I have learned to be patient, not sigh heavily (that use to drive her crazy) and take my time. If I don’t have the time at the moment, I say so, help out and then, when there is time, get her to show me what is frustrating her. It works the same for my children (well, most of the time. I still use the timeout to keep them alive!)
Over time I’ve been able to transfer this to school and what I do as a principal. In my capacity as administrator, there are many times when people come to me for information, advice or assistance. I use to react in a way that reflected my particular mood at the moment. Now, with all that goes on in a day, that was usually somewhere between stressed and freakin’ stressed. This caused all kinds of misunderstandings and miscommunication which eventually led to problems which led to more miscommunication and misunderstandings and so on (cue Faberge commercial with Farrah.) I knew that it wasn’t how I wanted things to go but I couldn’t understand how to change it. Thank goodness for my wife. She cleared a few things up for me after a particularly difficult day. She explained to me how she felt at times and then transferred it to the situation. The road to change had begun (well, after I stopped pouting!)
Having worked on this for some time, I really thought I’d mastered the whole thing. Seems I was wrong and I was in need of a reminder. Being reminded about something like that isn’t always easy but I realize that, as a leader, I need to be able to accept when someone gives me advice, even if it’s hard to take at the moment. It made me reflect on what I was doing and the impact it was having on those around me. To be an effective leader, one must be willing to ask trusted people to be honest with you and then take their words seriously.
This past week I was asked to describe the characteristics of an educational leader. For me, listening is one of the most important characteristics. Being able to “be in the room” when someone is with you is vitally important. No clock watching or doing other work. When someone is talking to you, you need to make it obvious that you are listening – 100%. Unfortunately, I stopped my description there. Now, listening is important but there are some other important characteristics that I didn’t mention.
Of all other characteristics, I believe this is the most important. This can be done in a number of ways. Listening is one of them. So is supporting them, seeking their opinion, seeing their strengths and allowing them to use them and allowing them to help themselves. As an administrator, I’ve come to learn that the best way to help others is to empower them to help themselves. Whether it is helping students to work through a problem, supporting a parent who is having difficulty, making a decision that moves things along, keeping the vision in front of others, cheering on the team or helping someone learn new skills so they can be independent, I’ve come to see myself as more as someone who is there to help empower others rather than having power over others. True, sometimes in my role I need to make decisions that may not make everyone happy or be involved in some form of discipline but in each instance there is an opportunity for empowerment of other individuals.
We can’t have winners and losers
I often find that this is one of the greatest obstacles to getting to a solution. In so many cases, people want there to be winner (usually them) and a loser (usually the other party.) Instead of looking to see how things might be done to create a solution for the problem, they come in with a predetermined solution and campaign for it. Now, it may be a bit easier to do the “you’re right, you’re wrong” decision but it doesn’t usually bring about a lasting solution. Like my wife who didn’t like my solution to her technical problems because, although it solved the immediate problem, it created a further problem that became much bigger than the original. Helping others to get past that initial campaigning is one of the most difficult things that I have to do and, unfortunately, I’m not always successful.
Helping Learners help themselves
As teachers, one of our goals is to have students become independent of us. We want to help them learn how to do things without us being there. Kind of like parenting, it’s not how your children act when you’re around that demonstrates what they have learned and value, it’s what they do when you’re NOT there. Eventually, all these students will venture out on their own and it will be how they function on their own that will be the true test of how well we’ve done. This is why it is so important to empower them to be learners – to give them the ability to trust themselves to make good decisions.
What does this have to do with technology?
Well, everything. Today as I was working with another administrator, it was clear that she was frustrated with how things were going and not just with the work we were doing. She was feeling overwhelmed in many different areas. Now, I could have gone the easy route and done the technology part for her but that would have solved nothing. Instead, we sat at the computer and I helped her (forced her at times) to continue doing things, trying things and retrying things. Was she frustrated? Yep. Will she remember it all? Nope but she will remember some of the basics that will get her moving on her own. Over time, she won’t need to call or email me as much. Hopefully she’ll become comfortable enough not to call me at all. While doing this, she was able to talk about other things that were on her mind, not something we get to do very often. We were able to share ideas and solutions about various difficulties we were both having.
This experience is a snapshot of something I’m seeing more and more in schools. People who are being overwhelmed by all the “things” that need to get done, being frustrated because they can’t learn some things as fast as they want which keeps them from doing other things that they want to do. Whether it’s kids or adults, it is becoming more and more common for people to stop trying once they can’t get something after a try or two. For those of us in the empowering role, it is important to acknowledge that frustration is part of learning and assist them to do the best they can at whatever level. Not everyone will be able to use technology in a seamless manner just like I’ll never play the piano (or any other musical instrument) at the same level as my children but that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate what they do or try it myself.
As a leader, one of my goals is to recognize those gifted in particular areas and get them to go further in that area while helping them to struggle along with something that is more difficult for them. Part of it is to listen to them but a greater part is to empower them and that is where our learning must always continue so that we can help them to help themselves. It was an eye opener for me when my wife first told me how I acted and reacted but it was one of the greatest gifts she has given me. Truly, she is a great part of my success – she empowered me.