“Learning is clearly the best immunization for the disruptiveness associated with change, and the changes of the 21st century can only be embraced with a genuine disposition to permanently learn.” – Gabriel Rshaid
The case for change in schools is compelling. Most thoughtful educational leaders have moved beyond the “why” conversation to the “how” of school reform. This, of course, is a much more complex discussion. Schools and communities approach this task from a variety of starting places, dependent on context. Regardless of the starting point, any successful change process contains some core truths. At my school, our process of moving beyond disruption has been the impetus for several significant changes in recent years. Each change process had some common principles embedded. Below are the 4 tenets that have guided much of our change management thinking.
Learning Before Leading
As Rshaid states, permanent learning is the only way to handle disruption, and educators are no exception to this. We now have access to a vast array of resources; including research studies, blog posts, connections to like-minded professionals grappling with similar issues. We must embrace the type of learning we want our students to engage in. This is not to say that educators must have all the answers as they embark on change, far from it. But leaders must model the learning they want to see in others and empower their teachers to demonstrate independent, modern learning habits themselves, too.
Conversations, Conversations, Conversations
Disruption is unsettling for many. Teachers, parents, and students need to be provided with a clear understanding of how change is going to improve student learning. Parents must be allowed to ask questions, and not be seen as problematic or challenging when they do so. The dialectic of open, honest conversations is how change really happens and how ideas are improved. Teachers need opportunities to express their thoughts, and talk through the proposed change. A collaborative and supportive culture is essential to these conversations.
Students First, All the Time
Change is messy, complex and, at times, frustrating. What students need to be successful learners is clear. Keeping student learning at the center of all decisions maintains focus and momentum. In conversations with uncertain community members, putting students first gives all participants a common starting point. There are very few teachers in the profession – and none that I work with – who do not want to do what is in the best interest of students.
Be Comfortable With Uncertainty
Navigating disruption is not a straight path. Forward movement is often slow, and usually not steady. Some plans will work beyond expectation, some will not, for reasons not immediately apparent. Often, the next step is not readily apparent. Not all educators are at ease with this. In the old learning paradigm, things were certain. Teachers owned, delivered, and assessed learning. As we transform classrooms to communities of learners, some teachers will struggle with lack of control and the desire for bygone certainties. The same is true as schools embark on a transformational path.
Change management is an iterative process. Disrupting schools to meet the learning needs of our rapidly-changing world is challenging, rewarding, and difficult work. We may not always be certain of the way forward, but standing still is not an option. To disrupt is to think anew. Educators must go forth boldly in new directions, embracing challenges and opportunities. Our students and our times demand it of us.