5 Ideas for Conversations on Change

“Teachers don’t want to change.”

I hate this statement.

It does more to end a conversation than it does to start it.

It is a comment I have heard far too often, and honestly, believe less and less and seems to be a way of blaming others for lack of growth in an organization.  We only have a finite amount of time in our day, and because of this, simply saying something is better doesn’t mean others agree.  A lack of change in any organization is often more a reflection on leadership than any group of people, or an individual.  The ability to “sell” change and create systems and a culture where trying something different is not only encouraged, but applauded, needs to be something that people in traditional leadership positions needs to constantly focus on.  Learning is something that never stops or stays stagnate, and because of that, organizations must reflect that we are not only in the business of “people”, but also of being open to and leading change.  It is the only constant.

For example, I have heard many conversations from educators wanting to try something new is met with so much bureaucracy and hurdle-jumping, that it is not worth the effort at the end of the day to try something different.  It is almost as if many schools are blocking their own teachers from being great.  The role of people in leadership and support positions is not to control talent, but to unleash it.

So what about those that may still be resistant to change?  How do we work with them.  As I look back to my best leaders, these are some things that I have noticed in their work in helping people move forward as individuals.

1.  Start every conversation focused on “what is best for kids”.

This is Stephen Covey’s focus on “starting with the end in mind”, but it is imperative that the “end” is explicit to people in any conversation.  The majority of educators are there for children, and if a conversation starts with talking about helping children, it helps to keep our focus on the important work that we do.  If as a leader, we are not able to share why something is best for kids, why would or should anyone embrace it anyway?  Conversations in education always need to start from this point.

2.  Listen.

So many people are constantly trying to sell something to someone else, and our conversations can go off track very soon.  If you really want someone else to move forward, it should not start with what you think it is important, but trying to be empathetic of another person’s situation and ideas.  Once you really understand where they are coming from, you have a totally different starting point from when you started in the first place.  It is also imperative that you are able to implement their point of view in your conversations, not simply separate ideas into “what you think” versus “what I think”.  There are common grounds but we need to listen to one another to find them.

3. Focus on where they are, not where you want to be.

Years ago, I started to really think about helping move people from “their point A to their point B”.  If you are able to break something into measurable chunks instead of having a grand vision of where everyone needs to be, it shows that there is a focus more on process, than product, which has become more of an emphasis in our classrooms.  These smaller wins along the way lead to someone building confidence and competence along the way, which helps leads to success.  As much as there is talk about the importance of “embracing failure”, people want to be successful.  We just have to realize that success looks different for different people, and that if we start where someone is instead of focusing on where we think they should be, people are more likely to be successful.

4. Walk away with a plan moving forward.

There are lots of great conversations that end with no action planned.  This is often a huge loss and can be a waste of time in the long run.  At the end of conversations we should look at what we are going to do because of the time we spent together, and also talk about following up in the future.  Writing something down also makes it more likely to happen, because we become more accountable to what we have shared.  Walking away without a mutual plan can often lead to nothing changing long term as there are so many other things that can get in the way.  It is also crucial for “check-ins” throughout the process.  I have seen a lot of schools have “Professional Growth Plans” that are written at the beginning of the year and then discussed at the end of it.  If you only focused on looking at something twice a year, how successful do you think it will be?

5. Support.

Leaders do not only help others find a path to move forward, but they are in the trenches with them throughout the process.  Checking in and seeing how things are going is one aspect, but actually finding powerful resources for someone else, asking them follow-up questions, suggesting professional learning opportunities for them (and even going with them), or a myriad of other opportunities, are crucial in development.  Saying “do this” is not as powerful as saying “let’s do this together”. People are way more likely to be successful in the change process if they know someone has their back throughout it.

Change can be scary and honestly, stress inducing.  The more people know that we are in this work together and that it is all about supporting our students, the more likely individuals, and ultimately organizations, will be successful.


  1. Dolan said:

    This is condescending. You’re assuming two things: first, that “change” is the same thing as “progress” and second, that teachers who resist change always do so out of insolence or ignorance. Perhaps teachers resist certain types of change because they have the experience and expertise to see downstream problems where administrators don’t? School officials routinely “talk the talk” about helping our students to become critical thinkers, but it seems that when administrators see critical thinking (especially in the form of healthy, informed skepticism) in action, the assumption is always that the faculty members in question are stubborn, naysaying curmudgeons.

    Perhaps it may be more effective and constructive to focus on consensus-building from the beginning rather than implementing a policy and then trying to use the above five-point strategy to manipulate teachers into compliance.

    February 19, 2015
    • Laura said:

      @Dolan, Not sure what lens you were using while reading; but I can’t support, with the text above, the assumptions you made about his assumptions. The skeptics or cynics helps make an idea/shift/change better. I don’t interpret a five point strategy to manipulate teachers, but instead considerations for our own motivation, vision, and paradigm when in conversations about change with someone resistant to that particular change.

      February 21, 2015
  2. Kathy said:

    @Dolan It is interesting to read an idea or perspective I had not considered. Thank you. It is correct that “change is not the same as progress” and that many teachers certainly have the experience and expertise to offer a perspective that illuminates some possible unintended consequences of a proposed change or progress effort. It is important I am mindful of that. It is also true that we learn by doing, listening to one another, planning and supporting other’s ideas. Perhaps consider that it is not the healthy informed skepticism and a critical thinking perspective that seems to have “always” been met with the negative assumptions experienced. Communication is the exchange and flow of ideas, perspectives and information. Thank you George for offering these 5 ideas to consider and to enhance my communication.

    February 22, 2015
  3. Keith said:

    I really like point #3. Just as teachers chunk material for students so that it is easily digestible, principals can “chunk the change” for their staffs. Focusing on strengths and grabbing small wins is greatly important. Success increases confidence. This is an excellent way to move forward and manage change.

    Thanks for the post.

    March 28, 2015

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