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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Response: Change In Schools ‘Is A Process, Not An Event’

By Larry Ferlazzo — June 18, 2015 14 min read
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(This is the first post in a two-part series on this topic)

The new “question-of-the-week” is from “Anonymous":

I have spent years working at a district, Territorial level attempting to bring new initiatives into the classes and schools. Time and time again I am confronted with the “no time” to do anything new. These are well meaning teachers so I have attempted to give them “bites” or “snippets” of info that they can run with, without having to spend much time. How can I get administrators to run and lead new changes and initiatives. I am working through policy but I would like to find other effective ways. Same holds true with the traditional teachers and the nay-sayers. Do you have any hints or tips on how to support teachers “take to” and then embrace change?

Most people are much more comfortable with the way things are than they are with change, and many of us teachers are no different. But sometimes change IS good. How can encourage our colleagues, and ourselves, to be more open to new ideas and then to actually implement them?

Today, educators Sally Zepeda, Bill Sterrett, Pete Hall, and Opal Davis Dawson share their responses to the question. You can also listen to a ten-minute conversation I had with Sally, Bill and Pete on my BAM! Radio Show. By they way, you can now access a list of all my previous shows - with links and descriptions.

I’ll be sharing comments from readers in Part Two, and there is still time to contribute!

Two years ago, I published a three-part series on a somewhat similar topic, and I shared my own thoughts at that time.

Response From Sally Zepeda

Sally J. Zepeda is a professor in the Department of Lifelong Education, Administration, and Policy at the University of Georgia (Athens) where she teaches courses related to teacher and leader professional development and instructional leadership. She also works extensively with the Clarke County School District to support teacher and leader quality. To learn more about change and learning for leaders go to The Principal as Instructional Leader: A Practical Handbook. To learn more about change related to professional learning see Professional Development: What Works (2nd ed.):

Teachers need to be in the loop, they need to know what is changing, staying the same, or being discontinued. As teachers and leaders, we are in the business of learning, and learning is in many ways about change. Change can only survive the “nay-sayers” in a school culture that embraces collaboration, where teachers are a part of the change process, and where policy is made public. Transparency is the watchword. As a district-wide person (Territorial Level), there might be additional barriers--entrée into the site and the cooperation and the understanding of building-level leaders--even before you can work more effectively with teachers.

For many, change elicits a fear of the unknown. For teachers to engage in learning experiences that signify changes in practices, routines, or rituals, they need to believe they are capable of enacting the changes that are mandated by policy (local, state, federal), and they must not feel intimidated by the change or the unknown and new. The leadership of the building needs to publicly walk the line with you as change as in policy moving from within the system to the building level.

How can teachers, leaders, and others who routinely must make or enact change ensure likelihood for success? The answer depends on the context in which the change is going to occur. However, most change does not magically occur. That is, planning for change is often part of the process. Although to some a sore subject, movement to the Common Core is a change that had plenty of up-front time to prepare.

I have always explained change by the “1/3" rule in which a 1/3 of any teaching faculty will embrace change, a 1/3 will vehemently dig their heels in against change, and a 1/3 will be neutral, sitting on the fence before deciding to embrace or nay-say change. Here are some considerations to think about and to adapt to your setting to enact change in a proactive way, reducing the noise of “nay-sayers” that often side-track efforts (the squeaky-wheel syndrome):

  • Work with building-level leaders--principals, assistant principals, deans, department chairs--anyone who is a formal and informal leader ensuring that they understand policy and subsequent changes that will occur as policy is enacted as practice. From this base, comes working more closely with teachers--school-wide. Change is multi-faceted and complex. Professionals need time to process the meaning of change. Building-level leaders need to be able to communicate with confidence with teachers, parents, and students. The time up front working with school leadership will go a long way to support what needs to get done.

  • Involve faculty--or those closest to the change: The higher the involvement, the higher the morale, ownership, and self-efficacy (I can do this!).

  • Follow a Process--a process that guides how the group moves forward, makes decisions, and engages in constructive “gritching” with one another.

  • Allow for Personalization: Change is a highly personal experience in which people feel that their vulnerabilities will be exposed. A change might require using digital tools to personalize instruction--if some do not have a grasp of using digital tools to personalize instruction, the change becomes a threat.

  • Small Steps enable teachers to incrementally change, try on, and modify their practices. Change is fast, change is not always nimble; therefore, people need to move slow but steady toward the change or desired results necessitating change.

  • Develop a common lexicon--sometimes we use too many acronyms in education. New ways of doing things often signal changes in what we call things. I was in a school listening to a group of teachers talk about SC Aps--which meant Safe Computer Applications. Wow--I learned something new, but does everyone use the same language to express ideas, concepts, or the curriculum?

  • Embrace divergent points-of-view. Many lessons can be learned by listening to “nay-sayers” who more than likely reside in the “1/3rd” of the group that is against change. The objective is to model learning from dissenting points-of-view, understanding the concept from differing perspectives, and paying respect to those who might not think like you. Just by listening to the nay-sayers, you are communicating that you care, and in the engagement of conversation may come enough confidence in the change for the nay-sayers to begin thinking differently.

  • Link changes to actionable items that teachers or others can do. Teachers want very specific information so much up-front work is needed. Teachers do not just want a copy of a policy and to be told, “make it happen.”

  • Provide needed professional learning so that teachers can refresh skills, update content knowledge, and see exemplars of best practice.

  • Coaching, coaching, coaching--teachers need and want feedback; they want to know whether they are making the mark or not as they change their practices. Coaching and the opportunity to interact with peers create a safety-net for teachers.

Response From Bill Sterrett

Bill Sterrett is a former principal and middle school science teacher. He serves as an educational leadership faculty member and program coordinator at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and is the author of the ASCD books Short on Time: How do I make time to lead and learn as a principal? and Insights into Action: Successful School Leaders Share What Works. Connect on Twitter @billsterrett:

Even the most effective principals and teachers struggle with a limited resource that we all have--time. Finding time to innovate, collaborate, and celebrate can be difficult. Principals and teachers can--and must--work collaboratively together to maximize time and innovation while minimizing frustration and isolation. The best principals never forget what’s it like to be a teacher; in fact, they still see themselves as teachers. And teachers need to be encouraged and empowered to lead within the school. In my ASCD Arias book, Short on Time: How do I make time to lead and learn as a principal? I offer 100 action steps for maximizing time in a collaborative manner. Here are a few examples:

  • First meeting of the year- When teachers start a new school year, they need time to prepare. Don’t overwhelm busy educators with long lists of managerial items. Focus on inspiration, not just information, when convening your staff. Meet for a short while (no more than 40 minutes) and highlight the vision and mission, affirming successes and pinpointing growth areas. Allow teachers time to work uninterrupted in their classrooms. Build in time to collaborate as a team.

  • Purposeful walk-throughs and sharing- Visit teachers at different times of the day and ensure that specialists (non-homeroom or non-core area teachers) are observed as well. Offer immediate feedback and encourage dialogue. Facilitate peer observations by providing coverage (teachers shouldn’t have to use precious planning time to observe) and affirm best practices by sharing in faculty meetings (either short video clips that the teacher introduces or a short mini-lesson led by teachers).

  • Ride the dismissal school bus- At the end of a busy day, it’s sometimes refreshing to “escape” the office atmosphere and get out into the school community. Bus drivers are often happy to accommodate the principal (or teacher) on the bus and bring them back to school. Get off at each stop and wave to parents. You’ll get to know the school community better, and parents will appreciate your accessibility.

  • Celebrate success- We must make time to affirm what’s right within our school! Recognize students and staff every Friday morning over the intercom. Create a slideshow on a screen in your office lobby highlighting teaching, learning, and innovating. Train and recognize volunteers who sustain important projects on the school grounds.

Carving out time to learn, share, and celebrate the work of the school in a more meaningful and practical manner can build and sustain momentum that moves the work of the school forward in a collaborative manner.

Response From Pete Hall

Pete Hall is a veteran teacher, principal, educational leadership consultant, and author of several books, including Teach, Reflect, Learn: Building Your Capacity for Success in the Classroom and Building Teachers’ Capacity for Success: A collaborative approach for coaches and school leaders, both co-authored with Alisa Simeral. He is a member of the ASCD Faculty. For more information, go to www.educationhall.com or email him at PeteHall@EducationHall.com:

The first questions we need to ask are, Where are the new initiatives coming from? Why are they important? What is their purpose? Teachers and principals tend to be rather skeptical about new initiatives being thrust at them - perhaps their reluctance is valid, and perhaps there’s a reason we talk about the “pendulum swing” in education.

But let’s give you, and our many other well-informed educational leaders out there, the benefit of the doubt and agree that the initiative is clearly based on decades of solid research, is proven to support student learning, and will help teachers and principals become more effective and successful.

The next question we need to be asking is, “Why are folks resistant?” There’s a reason for resistance. I wrote about this with Alisa Simeral in our 2008 ASCD book, Building Teachers’ Capacity for Success. We cited Rick Maurer (2007) in identifying three levels of resistance: Reluctance, Resistance, and Defiance.

Reluctance: “I don’t get it.” When we investigate or launch something new, there’s often plenty we don’t yet know about the venture. In order to rally the troops, we need to clearly identify the WHY, explaining how the future can be better, brighter, more robust than the present. Connect this to our organization’s stated mission: This is something we can all rally behind. Then we need to thoroughly communicate the information, provide the training, and offer opportunities for our people to digest, and own the information themselves. In addition, we tend to add initiatives to our educators’ already-overcrowded plates, without explicitly removing anything from their workload. A good rule for initiatives is like a good closet: for each item you add, remove two.

Resistance: “I don’t like it.” Here is where the fear of change comes into play: Educators may be asking questions like, What if the initiative doesn’t work? What if I’m not good at it? What punishments lurk around the corner? To address these, we need clearly articulated goals and a comprehensive plan, including ongoing professional development, support, and resources. When we’re proposing change, we need to ensure that everyone involved in the change has the opportunity to master it. Maintaining a transparent action plan, allowing folks to work together, and offering plenty of support throughout the initiative (not just during the launch) will help alleviate the fear of change and transfer it into the willingness to conquer the challenge!

Defiance: “I don’t like you.” Unfortunately, this level of resistance actually exists. As I mentioned earlier, one of the culprits could be our institutional fascination with launching new initiatives as often as possible. Additionally, a climate of mistrust occurs when a leader has either misled or has not provided clear, open, and honest communication with the folks in the trenches. The solution is complicated, though it sounds simple enough: communicate clearly, openly, and honestly. Share the information. Ask for questions and input, and respond accordingly. If the initiative in question truly merits our attention and dedication, then we shouldn’t lack for passion and evidence and resources to put it into place...together!

Response From Opal Davis Dawson

Opal Davis Dawson has been an educator in Kentucky for more than 25 years, including 17 years as principal of a public Montessori magnet school. As a faculty member with ASCD Professional Learning Services, Dawson has presented at conferences nationally and internationally and has provided professional development and coaching to teachers, teacher leaders, and administrators throughout the United States:

What do you need me to do and when do I find the time to do it?

I already do this, don’t I?

These are a couple of questions that you may have heard before if you’re trying to share new initiatives with colleagues. While you may feel like you’ve taken one step forward and then two steps back, you must remain positive and vigilant. I’ve found the best way to help this change process along is by first remembering that it is indeed a process and not an event. It’s important to take baby steps and begin by helping others see the value in the new initiative and ways of thinking.

Often times providing a clear and concise rationale for change that’s tied to research can be the first step. An example of how the idea has worked in another district or school with similar demographics may also be beneficial. Educational professionals appreciate being treated as such. Thus, it’s important that they are empowered to have input at all levels of implementation of a new initiative. Structures must be in place that provide time for professional learning, any required resources, open communication, flexibility and sustained support for all involved. While this may seem like an obvious outline for success, it actually lays the foundation for others to embrace the change while sharing the value with those who may be hesitant to try. We know change is never easy, but a transparent plan of action that empowers the change agents may help.

Thanks to Sally, Bill, Pete and Opal for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment sharing your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post. Part Two will include readers’ contributions.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

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