On July 20, 2010 I was granted an opportunity to deliver a keynote at the NYSCATE Leadership Summit in Troy, NY. The topic of my talk was, “Leadership in the Digital Age.” During my talk I spoke about two paths that a leader could take, telling people what they want to hear, or taking them where they need to be. This theme served as a catalyst for my discussion on leading change in the 21st Century. Upon reflecting on my keynote, as well as other presentations given by Steve Anderson, Tom Whitby, and Sarah Brown Wessling, (2010 National Teacher of the Year) I have been able to identify common roadblocks to the change process. If identified and addressed appropriately these roadblocks can be overcome.
1. This is too hard: News flash, CHANGE IS NOT EASY! Please keep this in mind as I continue this post. Change in the field of education is as elusive as the Lock Ness Monster. 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.
2. I don’t 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 them 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: Sarah Wessling mentioned this during her talk yesterday. 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. No 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?
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 and antagonists: Well you should have known this was coming. Some people will never get on board with the change process for a variety of reasons (non of which we agree with). 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.
9. Poor 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 teachers, 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 presented 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.
Be a transformational leader and take people where they need to be!