Tag Archives: change

Building the plane while flying it

“We’re building the plane while flying it!”

How many of us have heard this phrase in presentations about the need for schools to move more quickly toward an uncertain and unknowable future? [yes, I’ve used it myself once or twice] How many of us have had someone show us this video from EDS?

Nearly always there is a skeptic in the audience with the reasonably sarcastic response, “Would you let your own children fly in an airplane that was still being built?” The intent, of course, is to deflate the presenter’s message and to try and put some reins on whatever change is being advocated.

But here’s the thing: What choice do we have?

Most of us don’t have the option of starting over from scratch. The old saw of ‘If we had the chance to start over, would we build the schools we have today?” is great in theory but extremely difficult in practice.

Most of us don’t get to work in the Big Picture or New Tech or Envision schools. We don’t have the option of starting new like a charter school does. We don’t get to work within district- or state-created innovation zones.* Instead, we’re stuck with legacy structures, policies, facilities, personnel, and mindsets, all of which make it much, much harder to change how we do “school.”

So what CAN we do? Well, Clayton Christensen’s work shows us that the best way for an established organization to handle disruptive innovation may be to plant and protect seedlings based on different models and then grow its own replacements. And that gives us lots of internal options if we choose to exercise them as school leaders, even when we work in small systems. A great place to start would be to better nurture the change-makers that we already have in our classrooms: the teachers and students who want to push various envelopes when it comes to learning and teaching. If we’ve got educators and kids who are ready to dive deep into hands-on, technology-infused learning experiences that emphasize cognitive complexity and student agency, we should be doing everything in our power to support them. I’m amazed at how poorly many schools do at adequately supporting existing innovators. As Gloria Ladson-Billings said long ago, “Make sure the change people win.

What else can we do as leaders? If we’ve got high-flying classrooms or schools, we can do a much better job of ‘infecting’ others with that positive work. We can carve out explicit structures and time and personnel that have the purposeful intention of fostering innovation AND connecting others to it. We can make it safe – and, indeed, expected – to take risks, to fail early and often, to engage in rapid iteration, to live in perpetual beta. We can give people permission to fail and fail again as long as they’re failing smarter each time. We can set up classroom observation rubrics and professional growth protocols and hiring criteria that focus on innovative work, not just traditional work. We can match action to rhetoric and identify concrete performances that let us know if innovative work is actually occurring. We can identify and remedy internal policies and decision-making that impede innovation. We can hold regular celebrations that highlight the innovative work that is happening. And so on…

As leaders, it is both our privilege and responsibility to create, nurture, and protect innovation within our school systems. And of course we need to engage in those efforts as thoughtfully and respectfully as we can. But we don’t get there with snarky resistance, nor do we get there by allowing such sentiments to dominate our internal conversations.

Lead bigger. Dream bigger.

* Be sure to check out Bob Pearlman’s list of innovation zones and the resources from Education Evolving.

Troublemaker [SLIDE]

Troublemaker

No one ever changed the world without first being labeled a ‘troublemaker.’

Download this file: png pptx

See also my other slides, my Pinterest collection, and the Great Quotes About Learning and Change Flickr pool.

Image credits: Gandhi 1944Martin Luther King Jr NYWTS 4

Microadjustments to the current system are insufficient

effective implementation cannot be done by making microadjustments to the current system. We cannot, for instance, install project-based learning as a new layer on top of the standard instructional approaches we have. We cannot squeeze real teacher development into three annual inservice days and a monthly faculty meeting. Each of the strategies requires us to rethink and redesign the whole system from the ground up and build it collaboratively.

And all of this has to take place while we continue to teach kids and continue to feel the relentless pressure from outside our walls for unfaltering and ever-increasing improvement. The risk associated with those foundational changes increases every year, and most schools have not been able (or willing) to risk the possibility of the unknown. When given the choice between something that has been at least moderately successful (the status quo) and something with no guarantees for improvement, we choose the safe route.

Gerald Aungst via http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/6648

Two quotes from Diane Ravitch

Although I don’t know how one would objectively measure this, I think lately Diane Ravitch has been even more vocal on her blog than usual. Here are a couple of quotes that caught my eye today:

[Reformers] say they want “great teachers.” But they demonize and demoralize the teachers we have now.

What plans do they offer to replenish the teaching profession after they have driven away so many who are dedicated to teaching?

Magic.

via http://dianeravitch.net/2012/07/17/another-teacher-beaten-down

AND

[T]he reformers are vulnerable. They are vulnerable to public exposure because the fact is that their harmful ideas have no public support once the public understands what they are up to. There is no public support for handing taxpayer dollars over to corporate interests and calling it “reform.”

The public loves its community schools and doesn’t want to see them impoverished by corporate raiders.

via http://dianeravitch.net/2012/07/17/good-news-from-new-jersey

I am by no means anti-corporation. But I am against killing public schools just to line corporate pockets. There is a role for corporations to play in public schooling. But there needs to be appropriate oversight, checks and balances, and protection of the public interest. Right now that’s not happening near enough…

Are you going fast enough? [SLIDE]

If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough - Mario Andretti

If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.
– Mario Andretti (hat tip to Jim Askew)

Download this file: png pptx

See also my other slides and the Great Quotes About Learning and Change Flickr pool.

Image credit: zoom

Our inability to change our ‘business models’ may be the death of us

Saul Kaplan emphasizes in his new book, The Business Model Innovation Factory, that every day more organizations are finding that their ‘business models’ have run dry. This is challenging and stressful for leaders and employees since, as the book trailer below notes, most have been immersed in only one type of business model for their entire careers.

As is true for CEOs, so also for school superintendents and principals. Our inability to change our ‘business models’ may be the death of many schools (and universities) because new educational models are being created that are designed from inception for our new information, technology, learning, and economic landscapes.

How long has it been since you were really bothered?

Ray Bradbury perhaps said it best: “We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”

Rethinking learning and teaching is being bothered by something important and real.

Ryan Bretag via http://www.ryanbretag.com/blog/?p=2981

Livin’ like it’s 1650

1650 was closer in spirit to the time we live in now than it was to 1450. The change was so enormous …but what was also clear is that there was never a moment where everybody said, “Oh I get it. This is what the printing press is going to do. Well let just do that thing.” It was 150 years of chaos and blood shed when people almost literally didn’t know what to think, right. It was perfectly clear that the printing press had broken a bunch of ancient institutions but no one knew what would replace it and you could never replace it even if you did know because those new institutions needed time to mature

Clay Shirky via http://bigthink.com/ideas/14984

Resistance to change

Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who is perhaps our nation’s leading expert on organizational change, outlines ten reasons that drive resistance to educational change initiatives:

  1. Surprise, Surprise! Decisions or requests that are sprung on administrators and teachers without notice.
  2. Excess Uncertainty. Not knowing enough about the change will result in the “Walking off a Cliff Blindfolded” syndrome.
  3. Loss of Control. Feeling that changes are being done to, rather than done by, those affected.
  4. Loss of Routine. Concerns that change will require administrators and teachers to question familiar (and comfortable) routines and habits.
  5. We’ve Seen This Before. Expectation that the initiative is temporary and it will stay incomplete, meaning the best strategy is to lay low and not contribute to success.
  6. Loss of Face. Change implies that the former way of doing things was wrong. Some administrators and teachers may feel embarrassed in front of their peers or staff.
  7. Concerns About Future Competence. Educators can question their ability to be effective after a change: Can I do it? How will I do it? Will I make it in the new situation?
  8. Ripple Effects. Change in one area can disrupt other projects or activities, even ones outside of work.
  9. More Work. Organizational change often increases workloads.
  10. Sometimes the Threat Is Real. Change often creates real winners and losers, and people worry about where they will end up when the project is complete.

[this list is from www.reinventingeducation.org]

What strikes me about this list is that these are quite rational concerns for most school change initiatives. As leaders and change agents, we have to acknowledge the validity of these concerns and address them appropriately if we are to achieve the desired changes.

Kanter also notes that people are motivated by three key factors:

  • Dissatisfaction. This can be either positive (e.g., “We could be so much better”) or negative (e.g., “Things are really terrible”), but people are rarely motivated to make things different when they are perfectly satisfied with things as they are. However, recognize that it is often more difficult to persuade people to act because of a brighter future than because of a current crisis. This fact may  be the result of the concreteness and visibility of a crisis. Use this knowledge to your advantage, by making the picture of the possible better future as visible and explicit as possible.
  • High probability of success. When people perceive that change is unlikely to be successful, they are rarely motivated to act on their dissatisfaction. This is why small successes in the early stages of a project can be very important in shifting people’s views. Remember, the probability of success is really a question of perception, which is why [change leaders] spend time persuading people to see things differently. Moreover, an innovative idea can transform someone’s view immediately, by making plausible what had previously been almost unthinkable.
  • High value of the change. If the end result is not worth the expected effort, no amount of dissatisfaction or belief in the probability of success will motivate people to action. Furthermore, the result has to be worth the effort to each individual person. If the change will result in a loss of authority for someone or in a pay cut, that person will certainly not be motivated to make the change happen. As a leader, you have to be able to see the change from the point of view of those affected by it. People who see a brighter future – for themselves and for the organization – that is worth working for will be most likely to join the team.

These key motivating factors are interrelated, and their effect is multiplicative, not additive. Leaders of change must keep all three motivating factors at the forefront of their minds as they work to shift people’s views.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this paragraph from Kanter:

Even if there is some motivation to change, there is also always some inertia in the present. This can be both psychological (comfort, familiarity, routines and rhythms, etc) and operational (more work, uncertainty about end results, etc). So it’s useful to think in terms of a “hurdle rate” that has to be exceeded before someone will be inclined to act on his or her own (intrinsic) motivation. Often it is effective to couple these intrinsic motivations with extrinsic factors – carrots and sticks. These extrinsic factors can be used to help overcome resistance. Just remember that reliance on these alone, when intrinsic motivation is not present, is notoriously dangerous: as soon as the carrot has been eaten, or the stick removed, that’s the end of the motivation.

Sidenote: IBM has invested millions of dollars in the creation of the Change Toolkit, a free online resource for K-12 educators. The Toolkit is based on Kanter’s work and is intended to help education professionals be more effective at leading and implementing change. The Toolkit contains a variety of resources to help leaders implement a thoughtful, systemic approach to school change efforts and successfully address common challenges and barriers. I use the Toolkit quite a bit in my own teaching and encourage you to check it out (did I mention it’s free?).