Monday, July 31, 2017

Preparing for schools and classrooms

As we approach the close of summer, there is a scent of change in the air. Stores started packing away the summer goods or putting them on sale or clearance, and rows of shelves are now filled with back-to-school products: rows and rows of binders, folder, crayons, markers, lunch bags, backpacks, and more.

Wrapping up summer activities and changing schedules in preparation for school is no small thing, but one that must be done.

Even kids who weren't overly fond of school may be looking forward to returning to school to see friends they haven't seen over the summer. Kindergartners and first graders might seem to tremble with excitement as they start to prepare for their First Day of School because it is a rite of passage.

Though there is the persistent myth that teachers get the summer off, my social media connections make it clear that while most teachers try to disengage for at least a couple of weeks to vacation with their families, their thoughts are rarely far from lesson plan ideas, new resources and strategies, things they want to learn to introduce to their students, and what they can do differently to organize and arrange their classrooms.

In the past two weeks, my Facebook and Twitter associations have been pinging almost non-stop with the growing excitement that many teachers have about returning to their classrooms. We don't always think about change when we think about the day-to-day for teachers in the classroom, but their worlds are fairly constantly bombarded by change. New policies with new administrators, new state or federal guidelines or regulations, new resources, new colleagues. For those who have changed schools, the laundry list of change is much longer and potentially riskier. But one thing that encourages them, even energizes them, is the opportunity to have a fresh start with a new group of students.

More teachers than most people imagine are quick to shuck off the lessons and strategies that didn't work. They work long and late hours to refine lesson plans; to find new resources; and to comb Pinterest, TeachersPayTeachers, their Facebook and Twitter groups for new ideas and to ask those same virtual colleagues for suggestions for improvement and change. When they have collegial relationships that work, they are eager to see those colleagues again to start planning and to share their summer learning. And often well before the official school year starts or before their contract year has begun.

More teachers than most people imagine are motivated by change and even welcome it. . . when it makes sense. #dowhatmakessense

Years ago I was introduced to Knoster's Model for Change. I embraced it with the fervor of a zealot and became a sort of evangelist for change management using that model. It made complete sense to me. It still does. The image I've shared with hundreds, maybe thousands, of educators is easy to follow. Inevitably I see heads nodding as they process the information as I review the model. We stumble a bit at the incentives column because we then have to talk about extrinsic and intrinsic incentives.

Yes, educators can be altruistic and often are. But they are also professionals too often treated unprofessionally which puts them on the defensive and which makes them seem greedier than they are when they expect to be paid for time spent on extra projects. They are more than willing to put in extra time--those long, late nights and weekends--as they work to improve opportunities for their students, but they will often balk, and rightly so, at unrealistic expectations that seem to be dumped on them. So the incentives for some change, at least for some teachers, needs to be intrinsic as well as extrinsic and there is no magic formula for either.

Even with that noted, administrators must examine the calculus for change in their buildings. As individuals who have had a career in the classroom, they are acutely aware of the vagaries of change simply proclaimed by a district with a vague expectation of implementation and no clear idea of a new policy's impact. They are equally aware of the fact that teachers will embrace change when there is a clear vision and plan for that change and when the district or administration is providing funding and opportunity for them to get the skills and resources they need to be successful. Provided the change makes sense. #dowhatmakessense

As an independent consultant, I get to work with companies that sell products and services to schools and districts but also provide the wherewithal for those schools and districts to be successful. There is a project manager who works with a point of contact (POC) to design the pathway that makes sense. They will customize when necessary but have been very successful in working with turnkey products that may only occasionally require some tailoring. They rely on the professional instincts and savviness of people like me to make adjustments as we go to ensure the experience is the right one, even the best one, for those educators.

I've had colleagues who hate change; it makes them cranky and nervous. When I asked one colleague why she didn't like change, she told me it's because she doesn't know what the outcomes be but she also worried about whether or not she would be able to keep up with any expectations brought by whatever the changes might be.

Thoughtful consideration of Knoster's Model of Change means that administrators have considered the skills and resources of their staff as well as their own skills and resources. It also means that administrators proceed with options to ensure the willing and the uncertain reluctant are able to be as successful as their efforts warrant. Let me talk about that for a bit.

Based on a couple of decades of anecdotal observation that teeters on the edge of legitimate empirical evidence, I've come to think of those faced with change as the willing, the uncertain reluctant, and mulish. I know the Law of Diffusion of Innovation has more and much cleverer distinctions, which often comes in handy. But most of the educators I know seem to fall into one of these three categories: the willing who embrace change and soak up new information, coaching, and training like they can't get enough; the uncertain reluctant who kinda sorta want to change but worry about being too far out of their comfort zones too soon (the image is my mind is that squirrel who ventures into the road, flicks its tail a few times, and then moves towards the center of the road then back towards the edge of the road, and then finally darts in some direction though you've already slammed on your brakes and heard everything on any seat slide onto the floor of the car); and the mulish who just don't see the point in change because it's just something old by a new name and besides it will change again next year. By the way, the mulish aren't always the long-term veterans who are in countdown mode towards retirement.

Regardless, my recommendation to administrators is to ignore the mulish for the time being and focus on the willing and the uncertain reluctant. The latter are more likely to commit to some degree of change if they feel fairly certain they're not about to be flattened.

So how does an administrator or an educator prepare for change? First, know your team. That might mean hauling out the diagram of the Law of Diffusion of Innovation which might make it easier to identify the strengths of one's staff, though I'm not sure if "laggards" is any nicer than "mulish" for those who humbug a trend.

It might also mean having them self-identify on this continuum because many will readily admit that they prefer to see how something works for others before they try to adopt, and that might be because of confidence, experience, time, or all of the above. Knowing where they place themselves and why will be invaluable information.

Second, know why. If you haven't watched Simon Sinek's TED Talk, do so. You don't have to watch the whole 18 minutes if you don't think you have time; watch the first five minutes. (Then you can skip to about 8 minutes in for the story of the Wright Brothers and how he connects that to the Law of Diffusion of Innovation and The Golden Circle.) Sinek talks about what he calls The Golden Circle with the emphasis on WHY people and organizations do what they do. I introduced this concept to some administrators who wrestled with it a little bit but weren't quite sure what to do with their discussion. I introduced it to another group of administrators who grappled with it as they contemplated how they wanted to be able to brand their schools and get teacher buy-in to a vision and a plan they had to improve the learning experiences of their schools. The difference in the two groups of administrators seemed to be a willingness to think beyond "I've got a great school with great teachers who will give their students a great education."
People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. --Simon Sinek
Knowing why gets us back to Knoster's Model of Change. Knowing why informs the vision which helps inform the plan which helps determine the needed skills and resources and might even help you land on the appropriate incentives.

I should note I share this model with teachers, too. Every day, or so we hope, they have a vision for how their students might learn and be successful and they have designed lesson plans to help their students learn and be successful. They have thought about their own skills and resources and they have thought about their students' skills and resources, which are two one of the reasons they cruise Pinterest and TeachersPayTeachers. They tend to stumble over incentives as well because not all students are motivated by good grades or the joy of learning.

I think most educators are already prepared for change. It's part of their professional DNA. Even so, administrators and classroom teachers both do well to think about how they prepare for what kind of change and how they implement change: district, school, or professional/personal, or all of the above.

Though most might readily prepare for any kind of change, it makes sense to provide an infrastructure to help everyone prepare for change and understand not just the "how" of change, but the "why."

Now if you get to end of Simon Sinek's TED Talk, you'll hear a few times that people do what they do because of what they believe. It is their "why."

Why do teachers continue to teach in difficult, troubled schools? It could be because they can't get a teaching job any place else. It could be because they're too close to retirement to start some place else. It could be because they like and trust the principal. I'd wager on the last one being part of the reason they stay, but it's likely that plus something else.

Towards the very end of Sinek's TED talk you'll hear him say, "Those who lead, inspire us. . . we follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to." That's true of administrators and that's so very true of classroom teachers.

Classroom teachers can be leaders in their own ways. We know that, but we need to acknowledge that consciously. Teachers can and do inspire students to follow them because of the way those teachers invest in their kids in ways that make sense to the kids.

So as administrators are preparing for change, the wise ones are thinking about their vision and their plan but also noting that some of the skills and resources that will contribute to the success of their schools are, in fact, their teachers. The wise ones are recognizing that their best and better teachers are leaders in their classrooms and one of the reasons for their success in the classroom is that they inspire their students because those teachers tap into something that helps students connect with their own why for learning.

As teachers are preparing for change, they are thinking about their students and how they can make those connections--whether it's the new products and services or the new strategies they've found or the new tools they've learned.

Whenever I get to deliver a training or a workshop, I can identify the best and better teachers because they are asking how this change will help their students in their own learning. The more I think on this, the more I realize I have to make some adjustments to help teachers contemplate what they are doing and what they are asking their students to do so the willing and the uncertain reluctant can embrace their own why for learning. As for the students who are mulish or the laggards, teachers will not give up on them. In fact, they will work harder to find what will make the difference for that kid or those kids. It's a very significant "why" teachers do what they do. #dowhatmakessense #nevergiveup