- Why do some people embrace change quickly, while others are slower to make changes to their practices or perspectives?
- What comfort (and convenience) is there in sticking with the known, the familiar, the expected?
- Can leaders of change persuade people who are slow, and even resistant to change, through enthusiasm alone?
- Is it enough to lead by example?
I want to suggest that, as educational leaders, if we want to help people come to terms with change and embrace it, then we need to recognise and validate their desire to stick with ‘the known’. Roger Pryor’s latest post makes some excellent points about ‘leading from behind’ and developing the leadership capacity of others. I think this is one of the significant hurdles – just as we find in our classrooms it is sometimes necessary to hang back while the students discover things for themselves, people can be empowered by discovering their capacity to change. Recognising that people are resisting change because they feel disempowered helps us to employ methods that give power back. This is a win-win solution.
But what other barriers are there to change that could similarly be ‘diagnosed’ and therefore turned around?
When a teacher tells me that they don’t want to use any online teaching tools because they are ‘too tired’ or ‘too busy’, one reaction I feel is frustration. Does this teacher think that I don’t get tired? That I am not busy?? I manage to find time to change my practice because I see it as a high priority.
The problem with this line of thinking is twofold. Firstly, I’m expecting someone else to have the same energy levels as me, without really questioning whether they do. Secondly, I’m asking someone to accept a shift to online teaching as a priority, when perhaps their professional priorities lie elsewhere. Perhaps they are really struggling with face-to-face classroom management. Perhaps they are consumed by essay marking.
So, one way forward is to find ways to align our priorities.
By this I don’t mean that other teachers should change their priorities to match mine! But, I might set aside my initial frustration to consider ways in which I can create professional learning that satisfies both of our priorities. One teacher I worked with gained confidence in marking essays after I showed her how to use track changes and commenting in Word…this also served the purpose of increasing her confidence with technology. Our priorities were aligned!
However is it also possible that sometimes, just sometimes, we are expecting too much? We also need to recognise that people only have so much energy to give.
Another way forward then, is to find ways of giving people the energy to change.
Teacher burnout is an increasingly widespread phenomenon. And yet, when I expect others to adopt new practices on the grounds that ‘I was able to do it’, I am refusing to validate them as a human being outside of the world of work. This might fly in the corporate world, but in the education system I would like to think this is outside of our philosophical remit.
One way that I generate energy to learn more about technology and the online world is to engage in digital practices that nourish me, personally. For me it’s sharing my (budding) artwork, making digital collages, reading with my Kindle, and connecting with friends in a purely social capacity via Facebook. I get professional nourishment from a lot of places too, but I’m not talking about that.
For some people getting a thirst for technology comes when they make their first Skype call, or make photo albums on iPhoto. For many people, the social connection provided by Facebook has been the big thing to ‘draw them in’ and increase their digital literacy (one of the reasons why, although Facebook has turned evil, I have a real problem with the tech elite bagging it out unreservedly).
Fun generates energy. Fun lures people into engagement.
So, if the diagnosis is a lack of energy, it might be worthwhile exploring how to restore people’s capacity to engage through play.
These are just a couple of example that I have been forming up. Aligning (not replacing) priorities, and restoring energy through fun and play.
As we continue to make new inroads with people who have typically resisted change, I really believe it is time to develop more sophisticated models than ‘lead by example’. That was phase one. Now we are getting a critical mass of people out there willing to lead by example…where can we move to next to stimulate change and support the changers?