Education Opinion

Navigate Sweeping Change, One Conversation at a Time

By Learning Forward — July 11, 2013 2 min read
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Rumors abound, the water cooler is abuzz. You hear from different sources that big changes are coming to your district, and there may be layoffs soon. Or new teacher evaluation frameworks are coming — you’ve never had one and are concerned about what it will mean. You know the scenarios.

Every day we talk with educators around the world who are experiencing this kind of change to a degree they have never experienced before. Transition seems to be the name of the game.

With full plates and swift changes at hand, it’s easy to understand the refrain, “I don’t have time to have the conversations I need to have.” And yet there’s no more important time to focus on the conversations at hand.

During our Fierce work, this common initial pushback gives way to an “aha,” that conversations are not something to get through, they ARE the way through. Turning our attention to the conversations that are and are not happening, and to HOW they are happening is essential to the results we’re after.

Take the tough, often messy work of re-organizing school districts. A 2012 report about a whole state educational reorganization, School District Reorganization in Maine: Lessons Learned for Policy and Process, describes lessons learned over five years following a daunting state restructure of 290 districts down to 80. Most of the points centered on the need for clear, frequent communication, both to the masses, the districts, the teams, and the individuals.

Not surprisingly, the most common theme we hear is that clear communication is key. Everyone must be told about the change happening, including all leaders, staff, parents and the community, and how it’s going to affect them. They need to be told frequently over time and in many different ways.

The word “communication,” however, constitutes a large category — it includes advertisements, one-way speeches, and monologues. Conversation, on the other hand, is a dialogue in which we engage each other. As human beings, even as staunch resistors, we have a fundamental need to be seen and heard and acknowledged. Once we’re heard, it’s much easier to put down our arms and move into true dialogue. Acknowledging this human need helps us better grasp the importance of identifying and having courageous, transparent, and team conversations.

The task before us is twofold: to shift the mindset of conversations as time takers to time savers. We must then equip people to have the conversations central to their success. While many school initiatives are good ones, such as teacher evaluations, it becomes clear that we haven’t prepared the evaluators and those being developed with the conversational skills necessary to navigate these conversations and create true progress.

We are all definitely experiencing major change within educational structures, and much of what we knew in the past is now either gone or in the process of changing. However, if we can stay open, get our bearings, and create a healthy, vibrant school culture one conversation at a time, the future looks much brighter for us, and most of all for the kids we serve.

The next time we’re tempted to say, “I don’t have time to have the conversations I need to have,” let’s ask, “What prices will I pay by not having them?” And, “who do I need to speak with who could support me in having these conversations.” Begin with the conversation in front of you. Our most powerful leverage is the conversation we’re in now.

The Fierce in the Schools team:
Deli Moussavi-Bock
Janet Irving
Lisa Bresnahan

The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.