There have been a number of situations over the years where I have been surprised by the way people have reacted to proposed changes. To be clear, I am not surprised when people push back on changes with a clear opposing point of view (i.e. homework, later school start for teens, master schedule, 1:1 devices, etc.). When we have done things a certain way for a long time in education and most students have been successful, I can understand stakeholders questioning the need for change.
However, the one thing that still surprises me is when people lash out and make personal attacks and bring up issues that have nothing to do with the actual change itself. I know this is the result of fear and what it does to people that are fearful of change. I would also like to say that I always handle these situations deftly, but that would be inaccurate.
So, I am writing this a reminder to myself and hoping it might help others avoid getting caught up in the negative undercurrents that are always part of the change process. One way that I have found defuses some situations is to allow for a time where people can list all of their fears/concerns about a particular change. Once the list of fear and concerns is finalized, ask people to go through and cross off all of the things that we do not have control over. My experience is that many of the things on the list get wiped off and you end up left with a list of manageable items that you can work on to help facilitate the change you seek.
One of my favorite leadership books of all-time is Good to Great by Jim Collins. He captured my attention three sentences in with the following statement:
“We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools.”
It is ironic that when I first read the book shortly after its publication in 2001 I skipped quickly past Chapter 7 which is titled “Technology Accelerators.” At the time, I was in a place where technology purchases were few and far between and that was fine with me as I dealt with so many of the overwhelming details of being a brand new Principal. Another reason for my jumping past the chapter was that Collins said the following about technology:
“Technology and technology-driven change has virtually nothing to do with igniting a transformation from good to great”
I have to admit that my perception of the situation was that we had a great deal of work to do in creating a more student-centered approach and coming to agreement on learning expectations. So, I was happy to put technology discussions on the back burner and have one less thing to worry about.
Fast forward to Burlington in the present and I have a different view of Chapter 7 from Good to Great. The quotation from Collins about technology has become a “yeah, but…” for me. While I know that technology alone cannot change an organization, it is now clear to me that technology when deployed thoughtfully can bolster improvement efforts. It gets to the heart of what is intended in the quote from Sheryl Nussbaum Beach above. Technology alone is not going to move an organization or an individual from Good to Great. However, technology that is thoughtfully deployed can help us move a bit faster.
Great schools and teachers will share that traits of the great companies that Collins described by “selecting and focusing solely upon the development of a few technologies that are fundamentally compatible with their established strengths and objectives.” They will not fall in love with the newest or shiniest toy that the vendors are peddling. I can’t help but wonder how many millions of dollars have been wasted on Interactive White Boards in schools that did not first consider how they would be used or if they fit well with the goals and objectives of teachers who received them.
As we receive visitors, calls, emails, etc here in Burlington about our iPad initiative, I caution schools to employ Collins approach to adopting technology – “Pause — Think — Crawl — Walk — Run.”
Here is my interpretation of each term:
Pause – Don’t get caught up in the initial wow factor of a new resource.
Think – How would this support current objectives and initiatives you are currently working on?
Crawl – Have some teachers start to utilize the resource on a small scale and provide school-wide feedback to all staff. Also begin staff training on use of resource in the classroom.
Walk – Get a whole department or cohort going with the resource and have them report out to the entire school community staff members on how the resource is impacting learning outcomes. Ramp up training. Ensure all staff have access to differentiated training.
Run – Continue to ensure that there are frequent opportunities for learners (all school community members) to provide feedback on best practices. These opportunities should extend to other school communities doing similar work.