To just simply say that change is a constant would be an understatement, and Education is no exception. I can look back over the past 18 yearsI’ve been in the profession and rattle off a number of different initiatives that have come and gone, some leaving a positive, meaningful and lasting impact…others not so much.
Reflecting on these initiatives, I think there are 2 distinct reasons that some of these have had staying power while others have not:
Relevance is probably the most effective of these two. Whether it is a new tool, strategy, pedagogy, etc…that is introduced, either through a mandate, through some current research, or through an author or speaker someone saw at a conference or workshop, if it improves learning, the classroom, and our students, that ‘thing’ tends to stay around. It could be something as simple as learning how to use Cornell Note-making for a Guided Lecture, something as intermediary as infusing technology into a Multi-genre Writing Project, or something as complex as participating in Project Global Inform. In all cases, the ‘new’ markedly amplified the learning experiences for the students by building in reflection, ownership, and/or student agency… therefore it continues to be useful and relevant.
The key, though, to any initiative having staying power and going systems wide, is ownership. The staff responsible for the ‘new’ must be given opportunities to have a voice in and input into the change, be given the proper support and professional development consistently throughout the change, and be allowed to give continuous feedback to help shape where and how the change plays out. Click the following link if you are interested in some further reading & thoughts on Collaboration and Empowerment.
The easy part of all of this is to nod our heads and talk ownership and empowerment, the hard part is to actually implement it. In the context of the Diffusion of Innovations model by Everett Rogers, let’s consider the following two scenarios:
Scenario 1: School and district administration get together and discuss some of the latest trends in education. They choose a topic that seems to be ‘hot’ right now and decide they are going to implement it. They talk with their building leadership, maybe a few of the staff teacher leaders, maybe they even form a ‘committee’ to weigh in (even though they are already going that direction), then announce that initiative X is happening next month. There may be a one size fits all inservice that brings in a speaker to introduce the topic, present on it, and leaves. The ‘follow up’ is left to the building level staff. The staff is left with doubts, questions, calls for ‘time’ to plan and troubleshoot and follow up on the topic.
This is the model in which the initiative can ‘happen tomorrow’, and one in which the Innovators probably were already doing initiative X and the Early Adopters jump on board. Initiative X will happen to a certain extent in pockets of classrooms across the school. In most cases it will stop there. To get to the Early Majority, a few pieces that come into play are relevance, professional learning, and/or if the building is lucky enough to have an instructional leader as a Principal or Assistant Principal, then initiative X may get some legs to continue.
However, in most cases if the initiative is done in this manner, if stays in small pockets across a district, and the length of its tenure will ebb and flow with the leadership and/or person who introduced it. I mean, how many of us can remember a ‘really cool initiative’ that slowly died out once the school leader who brought it in left?
Scenario 2: A new idea or initiative comes down the pike. Maybe a teacher heard about it at a conference or an administrator read about it in a journal. Either way it sounds like something that is worth exploring. School and district administration meet to discuss the merits of the idea, read some articles/watch some videos, discuss the why behind the potential initiative then, if they think it’s worth moving forward for discussion, begin to put a plan together for getting the teacher leaders and teachers into the conversation. The next steps may include running the idea through the building and/or district level teacher leadership group, then forming a committee to get together to follow a collaborative decision making procedure- we use what’s called an L.E.A. (League of Educational Advancement). The L.E.A. consists of representatives of stakeholders from all levels (Board members, students, teachers, parents, admin) that are necessary to successfully implement the potential change. The group develops norms for working together, spends time reading, watching, researching and discussing the ‘why’ for the change (in order to build background knowledge), then works to flesh out the ‘how’ this change will unfold and ‘what’ the end result may or may not look like. Also, the group develops communication plans and feedback loops to include the rest of the staff and stakeholders involved. Most of this work will be face to face, however some can be online. These groups can meet a few times a year (beginning-middle-end), or multiple times year depending on need. It could also be a multi-year process as well.
This is the model in which the initiative takes time. It’s the model in which there are days where the group can take 1 step forward, then, as we all grapple with the fears of change and trap of complacency, the next meeting can take 2 steps backwards as we re-hash ideas, question decisions we made, and deal with resistance from others. This is the model that, in order to meet the staff where they are, may take a year or more to implement a new idea. It may also be necessary to implement a piece of a new idea in Year 1, then roll out the rest as time goes.
However, in this model we include not just the Early Adopters, but all levels of Rogers’ change model- including the Laggards. It’s the model that can be frustrating at times, yet leads to true, authentic change. It’s the model in which all stakeholders have a voice, can help shape how the change or initiative looks and and is rolled out, work to build out a plan for professional learning, for revision if needed, and for long term sustainability. This is the model in which this ‘new’ isn’t just happening in 1 classroom, but the majority of classrooms across the district….again, authentically, not just for show.
IT IS NOT PERFECT
Don’t get me wrong, not everyone always agrees on the decisions or the directions these may take, but there is a seat at the table for many voices. Recently, I was in a conversation around the 2 approaches we can take when it comes to staff buy in for change:
- Based off of what we believe as a district when it comes to what’s best for students (our ‘WHY’), after some discussion (among stakeholders) initiative X is a direction we are going. We need your input and expertise on how to get us there, and what it will look like to be successful.
- Here is a ‘new’ initiative or topic that seems to be popular right now. We are not sure if this is something we want to do, or if we decide to do it we have no idea what it will look like. We need your input and expertise to learn about it, brainstorm ideas, and ultimately decide whether it is a path we want to go down.
Scenario 1 is one of those instances in which there are some changes that are just inevitable, ie-Personalized Learning, Digital Delivery of Learning, & Student Choice. Scenario 2 is one of those instances in which there is an idea or topic that may or may not fit or work in a district, ie-Game Based Learning. In either case the stakeholders should have a huge say in how the change plays out and what it looks like.
Like most of us that have been in education for at least a decade, I’ve been in both scenarios. Now being on the administrative side of things and wanting to not have the initiative or change be a ‘1 Hit Wonder’, wanting it to be sustainable and authentic, it has really hit home how much work it is, and how much time it takes to do it this way. What has also hit home, though, is how effective it is, AND how much more we can do through this process.
In the past 3-4 years, there has been a lot of ‘new’ in our district: new standards, new teacher evaluation system (including the Danielson Framework in its entirety being new, SLOs new, SPP new), all teachers having laptops being new just last year, Google Apps across the entire district being new, a consistent, K-12 Learning Management System being new, a new framework for Balanced Literacy, a curriculum development cycle (including the most up to date version of UbD2.0) being new…just to name a few. For a quick look at some of these changes, check out the following post and video: Seeing the Forest Through the Trees…
The amazing part to all of this is not only how much we’ve accomplished, but how authentic the work is that has been done. It is because of the amazing staff, students, and community that we have tapped into that this has all been possible. We have not just pushed down and idea and let the Early Adopters run with and said, ‘ok look that’s it!’ As a whole, we have taken the time and put the work in to foster a culture where this is possible, implement process that are collaborative and empowering, and accepted the idea that in order to be successful, sometimes we have to ‘Go Slow to Go Fast’.
Thanks for reading!