Thursday, July 5, 2012

Change Should Be a Reality, Not a Possibility

Change in education seems to be as illusive as the Loch Ness Monster.  Everyone seems to be talking about it, but little action leading to meaningful results seems to be the mainstay in many schools.   Through my work over the years as a teacher, educational administrator,  and learner through I have identified common roadblocks to the change process.   If identified and addressed appropriately these roadblocks can be overcome.   

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1 - It is too hard:  News flash, CHANGE IS NOT EASY!  Please keep this in mind as I continue this post. There is more talk about change in the field of education than actual change.  If it were easy we would see innovative programs, authentic learning experiences, successful integration of technology, and students yearning to arrive at school each day.  The fact of the matter is that nothing in life comes easy, let alone transformation change in education.  Educators must be willing to take risks, learn from mistakes, and put in the time.  Realize going in that it is going to be a difficult process, but rewarding in the end.

2 - I do not have the time for this: Ah, the old time excuse.  This is probably the most common excuse given when educators and the thought or sight of change come together.  We are in a profession to make a difference in the life of a child, leave a lasting impact, motivate students to achieve, instill a sense of life-long learning, and prepare them for success once they leave our schools.  If someone says they don't have time to work towards change that helps to achieve these goals then they should question why they are in the field of education.  Dedicated educators make the time because it is their job!  You ask any child who had a teacher that turned their life around and they will tell you that the time spent was priceless!

3- Lack of collaboration:  The field of education has been moving from a profession that hoarded ideas, lessons, and successful strategies to one that is openly willing to share this bounty with as many passionate educators as possible.  Innovation and change is a collective process and schools that get this concept have personnel who routinely collaborate amongst each other and with those outside of their schools.  "Together we are better," is the motto that change agents abide by.

4- Directive approach:  Ok, I have been guilty of this when trying to get my staff to utilize Skype.  Thankfully I learned from this mistake and have found that change occurs through shared-decision making, consensus, collaboration (see #3), and modeling.  As a leader, I had better be able to effectively model what I want my teachers to implement if I have any hopes of seeing the idea succeed and be sustainable.  In education you can't just tell someone to do something because you are mesmerized by a piece of technology, read the latest book on innovative practices, or heard a great speaker discuss PLC's.  You need to get each and every stakeholder involved in the process (see #3), properly model the strategy, and put the time forth to ensure successful implementation (see # 1 and 2).

5- Hierarchy in schools: The hierarchical structure in many schools is most often a deterrent to innovation and change.  This results in #4 being prevalent and no chance of #3 because ideas have to go through so many layers and red tape to even be considered.  Schools that have moved away from this structure support learning cultures that are innovative.  Educators need to be placed in environments where flexibility and freedom to take risks and try out new ideas and initiatives without fear of repercussion are actively fostered.

6- Lack of support:  As leaders how can we expect teachers to be innovative and move towards change if we don't support them 100% of the time? Support can come in many forms, such as release time, supplies/equipment, professional development opportunities, feedback, and just god old fashioned listening.

7- Fear of change:  This is a given, so it had better be expected.  If numbers 1-5 are addressed this will help to alleviate this feeling.  Passion for helping kids succeed on the part of administrators and teachers will always work to one's advantage when trying to subdue the fear a group might experience when trying to initiate new ideas.  Passion is what drives us!  Use it to your advantage.

8- The naysayers,  antagonists, and "self-proclaimed" experts:  Well you should have known this was coming.  Some people will never get on board with the change process for a variety of reasons (none of which we agree with).  Then there are those individuals that do not even work in schools that think they have all the answers to everything and will immediately shoot down ideas that have the potential to enhance learning just because they personally don't like them.  Those that embrace change and experience success should be celebrated, honored, and commended.  This is the best way to motivate others and inspire them to willingly become part of the process.  Ideas that work in one school might not work in another and that's OK.

9- Ineffective professional development:  How many times have we sat through training sessions that were boring, meaningless, and didn't provide any practical implementation ideas?  Professional development has to be relevant to educators, contain numerous choices, and be hands-on.  More often than not this can be done with teacher leaders present in all buildings.  If money is going to be spent make sure it is on a vetted, well-respected presenter where you will get your monies worth.

10 - Frivolous purchases:  Money does not equate into innovation and change.  Just because you purchase the latest technology doesn't mean everyone will use it correctly or productively.  Professional development (see #9) is key.

Sustainable change leading to a cultural transformation does not have to be an illusive or long, drawn out process.  Begin by identifying your own potential roadblocks that may or may not be mentioned above and focus on developing solutions instead of excuses through consensus with a variety of stakeholders.  Be a transformational leader and take people where they need to be!


  1. Eric,

    Thank you for succinctly providing an easy list to help move educators forward. I struggle(d) with #4 and have come to realize that we have to help staff embrace (using your term!) the change process and not direct them to do so.

    Another aspect of the change process is first explaining WHY. I now have a picture in my office of the golden circle: "Why" in the center surrounded by "What" and "How" to remind myself to explain why something is being introduced, practiced, or discussed. As always, thanks for the inspiration!

    Be Great,


  2. We do talk a good deal about change, but we are really not willing to make enough changes to make a difference. Our structure no longer fits our purpose or the reality of the current student/society. I just read an interesting book talking about the transformation of education, "Inevitable-Mass Customized Learning".

  3. Overcoming (or really, "embracing") change often begins with the culture created by a principal who is willing to change him/herself. Like the war captain who is first out of the foxhole, these principals are willing to admit they are wrong and persuasive when they believe they are right. As a teacher, I'll follow such a principal through almost any change.

  4. Eric, Many good ideas. On the topic of change, doesn't it frustrate you that so many people in general say they want better schools, yet this doesn't happen? The public are the ones with the money; they ought to be able to improve the schools if that is what they really want, right? I mean, even if we do have some "dysfunctional" levels between us and the public, if the ones with the money are on our side, we ought to be able to move forward. Yet we don't, in general.

    This shows that we have a problem with how we interact with the public; the whole public, not just the parents. It is very hard for them to see how we are benefiting them. We do, but just how is not clear to anyone. This is one of the central problems with our whole system of public education. The public, the ones who fund our schools, do not have an incentive to fund improvements, since they cannot see how they would benefit from this. The result, it seems to me, has to be stagnation.

    What can we do about this? Good question. The reason this topic is ignored is that it involves so many "touchy" topics like state and local government and the difference between public and parent needs. But if we never fix it I don't think we can ever make the public school system change for the better.

  5. Just a quick comment... I am currently an educator within a school which has under gone a huge transformation over the last 4 years. One of the main challenges we have faced is in regards to collaboration time. We are actually looking at lengthening our day to accommodate this very important activity.