1. Direct the Rider
The “rider” is a person’s rational side. This is the side that responds to logic and research. You need to invest the rider in the change so that people understand the reason and need for the change you are pursuing. In education, we often need to have these conversations with teachers. What was wrong with the old way of teaching this subject? In my day we did this and I turned out just fine. We used to do it this way and it worked so much better. We need to combat these comments with information, research, and helping people understand why things need to change. Elements that can aid in directing the rider include:
What classrooms / teachers in your building are successful? What are they doing that is making them successful? How can you replicate this? Can you turn these teachers into teacher leaders? Can they run teams, provide professional development, act as mentors? Can you start a peer observation program, where other teachers are given the opportunity to see these teachers in action? Is there a school with similar demographics that is doing what you want to do? When teachers see that there can be success given their same resources and student population, old excuses do not hold as much weight and teachers can more easily replicate what they see.
Script the critical moves - Be specific as possible about what what you want.
The AUSL program in Chicago is an example of comprehensive scripting. They provide and train teachers on exactly how they want every routine and procedure done - from how students enter a school to how they ask for a pencil. You may not need to go to this extreme, but laying out exactly what you expect makes the change easier for people. For example, we are looking at trying to change the culture of our school. I suggested was ask every teacher to stand at their door each morning and welcome each student as they walk in the door (this is something some of our teachers do, but not all). This is a small, concrete, and easy to complete action that can make a big difference in the mood of students as they begin their school day. Ask yourself - what specific actions do you want teachers or students taking to help you achieve your change? Remember that often what looks like resistance is just a lack of clarity.
Point to the destination - Make the goal that you are working to concrete.
It is easier for people to be motivated to change when they know exactly what end goal they are working towards. In a school, we need to know what success looks like. Do we want our discipline referrals to decrease to a certain number? Do we want all of our students to hit a certain academic achievement milestone? Do we want to make sure we have a 95%+ attendance rate every day? Describe your end goal as clearly and concretely as possible.
The “elephant” is a person’s emotional side. Emotions are an important part of motivating people to change. The example in the book that highlighted this well was about dieting. Yes, you know that doughnut is not good for you and that you shouldn’t eat it, but if your emotional side really, really wants that doughnut, your rational side will not be able to stay in control for long. Motivating educators should not be hard. Bring in some students to tell their stories of teachers that changed their lives. Remind teachers of the pivotal role they play in students’ lives. Two points that are applicable:
Shrink the change
Break down the change needed into smaller, easier to accomplish chunks. Start with easy to achieve steps so that teachers can feel successful, and then they are more eager to tackle the bigger changes. Trying to change the culture - start by every teacher saying good morning as students walk into the building. Trying to improve academic achievement - make sure every teacher has an opener for students to work on each day. When change is small and manageable, people can feel successful, and the emotional side begins to buy in to bigger change.
Develop a sense of identify
Build a team identify as change makers. People want to align their behavior to the identity that they want to assume. If people feel that everyone else is doing something, they are more likely to want to do it too. I told my team of math teachers to think of ourselves as The Little Engine that Could - the group of teachers that are going to triumph over all odds. You’d be surprised the decrease in complaining and excuses once they view their situation from a different perspective. Use the people who are already on your side to encourage the others to join.
Once you’ve convinced people of why they need to change, and you’ve motivated them to change, you need to lay out the path of how to change. When the path is set for them, it is easier to take those initial steps.
Tweak the environment
Change the environment to encourage the behaviors you are seeking. Want to instill a growth mindset? Don’t allow for D’s and F’s in grading. Anything less than passing becomes ‘Not Yet’. If the environment does not allow for failure, the behavior can begin to align to that environment. Looking to change the culture - how can you change the school building to reflect a more positive culture? Paint the walls, improve the decor, add color to the building. When the building feels like a happy, healthy place to be, the teachers and students align their behavior to those expectations.
When behaviors become habits, they become automatic and people no longer have to think about it. A great read on this topic alone is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. What do you want teachers or students to do, and how can you make it a habit? What triggers can remind people of behaviors? How can utilize checklists, a system that has been proven to be effective in improving behaviors and systems? In the math department, we’ve utilized checklists to create more systematic routines for the beginning and the endings of our class periods. This has provided the students with more structure and therefore the teachers with more orderly classrooms and more time to engage in mathematics.
We must remember that change is hard. It is not an overnight process, and just because you want something to change does not mean that everyone immediately agrees with you and is willing and/or able to make such a change. A leader seeking change needs to be understanding of the complex process that change involves. Big picture, hands-off leadership will not work in a change situation. As the Heath brothers write, “Change is hard because people wear themselves out...What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.” The best advice is clear direction, ample motivation, and a supportive environment will more likely produce the change you are seeking.
For anyone looking to make change in their school or organization, I highly recommend this book.