In recent years, one of the messages we’ve received from the network is that members are struggling with a number of issues in regard to implementing the Strategic Instruction Model™ or Content Literacy Continuum™. Just getting started in a new school or district presents an initial challenge, and keeping them going is an even bigger challenge.
In response to these concerns, KU-CRL convened a panel during the 2005 International SIM™ Conference to discuss “big ideas” that can help ease some of the difficulties involved in implementing SIM™, CLC™, and schoolwide change.
Panelists consisted of KU-CRL’s Barbara Ehren and Jim Knight as well as Reed Deshler, a senior consultant with Aligna Solutions and Don’s son. Don moderated the discussion.
Each panelist had the opportunity to share three big ideas about change. All three know a great deal about the process of change, but each has a slightly different perspective.
Drawing on the work of William Bridges, Barb’s first big idea involves understanding the human side of change.
“Events change, but people transition,” Barb says. “Really, the process is more about helping people move and grow than it is altering events.”
A building-level principal might, for example, declare that the school will begin implementing the Content Literacy Continuum™ and order the guidebooks, manuals, and other materials necessary to make the change. However, Barb says, this approach does not account for some of the very important psychological variables connected with the people who are expected to participate in the change.
“One of the key constructs in transition is the notion of loss–that when you accept something new, you are really giving up something that you’re used to,” Barb says. “To really pay attention to this process, you have to understand the grief process in the sense of losing comfortable ways.”
Consequently, as we think about helping schools or districts adopt the CLC™ or SIM™ components, it’s important to pay attention to the people involved in the process and to the variables connected with helping them make the transition from their old, comfortable ways to the new way.
Barb’s second big idea is that change facilitators–people who are heading up or participating in efforts to help systems move and grow and people transition–should be “Labrador retrievers,” not “pit-bulls.”
“There’s nothing wrong with pit-bulls. They’re a wonderful breed,” Barb says, “But we certainly don’t want them within the change/ transition process. We need Labrador retrievers. They have to be kind, gentle, but ever so persevering.”
People working for change/transition have to understand that change is difficult for everyone, including themselves, Barb says. “We have to be kind to ourselves as well as kind to others, allowing ourselves to have a learning curve in terms of our change/transition work.”
Barb’s last big idea has to do with picking best bets. Always look for the golden opportunities and work to cultivate the people, places, or things that are going to prove most helpful in the change/transition process.
“Sometimes when you go into a school, you want to have change and you want to involve the whole faculty,” she says. “Well, the whole faculty might not be your best bets up front because there may be some folks who need some convincing. In order for some people to get on board the change train, they have tosee results. They are not the risk takers. They have to see the other social studies teacher getting better success in content mastery from using the content enhancement routines.”
Barb advises thinking about this big idea as akin to a marketing tactic: How can we use the successes of our “best bets” to convince others that the change is worthwhile?
Although much of Reed’s work has been done in the context of the business world, he believes that all organizations in the midst of change have certain characteristics in common.
Reed’s first big idea is that change occurs at many different levels–the district, the school, and the classroom, in the case of education.
“Many of us, I believe, think that we can affect all of them, and sometimes it’s very, very difficult to do,” he says. “That leads to this notion that you have to have some tools in your toolkit that help you do more than just influence your sphere.”
Reed’s second big idea is that the emerging area of change mastery is an imperative for educators and administrators alike.
The importance of developing a skill set related to change mastery is evident when considering the many factors that combine to make an individual who he or she is, factors that also contribute to how the individual performs his or her professional role. Personal attributes, subject-matter expertise, and teaching mastery combine to define an individual teacher. Similar characteristics apply to administrators–personal attributes, administrative effectiveness, and organizational leadership. When these individuals are inserted into an organization, things change.
“The organization itself creates new dynamics that are no longer in the control of the person,” Reed says, reinforcing the importance of developing change mastery skills.
“It’s facilitation skills. It’s planning skills. It’s the ability to ask questions. It’s the ability to take various piece of information and make decisions,” says Reed. “It’s also tools: the ability to take frameworks and techniques and move groups of people through them.”
Reed’s third big idea involves determining whether the time is right for change.
“The real question is how do you know if you’re ready for this?” he says.
After identifying what is going to change, organizations must ask themselves “How big is this for us?”
“There are some organizations, some schools, that have the capacity to bring about a significant amount of change. They’ve done it before. They’ve succeeded. They’ve got people with change mastery skills,” Reed says. “Other organizations don’t.”
Among the components that organizations need to consider are whether there is a compelling need for the change, whether people understand what the organization is doing and why, and whether there is leadership commitment. Other questions to consider include are the tools and resources needed to make the change available both to the people involved and to the organization, how will stakeholders respond to the change, and are there competing resource demands or events that might prevent the organization from moving forward successfully.
“Good intentions aside, great interventions aside, if we’re not ready, it might not be the right time,” Reed says.
Jim’s first big idea is that “learning conversations” are at the heart of leading change.
“When we are effectively leading change, we should and the people we work with should be better for the experience,” Jim says. “It usually involves some kind of conversation.”
Learning, he says, should be energizing, empowering, enjoyable, and fun. It should bring us alive. Too often, though, just the opposite occurs when the subject is change. Jim points to the idea of identity issues as the root of difficult conversations about change, drawing on the book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen.
“They say an identity conversation is all about who we are and how we see ourselves,” Jim says. “When you find yourself in some kind of conflict with another person, more often than not, it’s because of some kind of identity conversation. If they feel somehow the conversation is telling them that they’re not a good person or they’re not competent or they’re not skilled, you’re going to encounter resistance.”
To counteract such perceptions, Jim recommends using “partnership feedback,” in which a teacher and an instructional coach conduct a dialogue about data. Instead of presenting the conversation as a means of “fixing” the teacher, he says, the attitude should be “here’s what I saw.”
“If you set yourself up as the only expert in the room, you’re likely going to get drawn into identity conversations,” Jim says. “We have to turn the conversation away from that. What we’re trying to do is protect their identity so we can focus on what matters, which is improving instruction for kids.”
Jim’s second big idea is that enabling change involves discontinuity.
“Since we started the Pathways to Success project in Topeka, we’ve had nine different principals in our first three schools, we’ve had three superintendents, and they introduced this thing called No Child Left Behind,” he says. “If we had made a six-year plan and expected it to be implemented, we would have found ourselves with a bit of a problem because things change dramatically.”
Jim says planning for change means incorporating a mechanism for adapting when the course alters.
His third big idea is that enabling change involves deep thinking. To really be a change agent, he says, you have to get clarity on what you want to accomplish and look for simple words to express complicated concepts.
When explaining modeling or constructive feedback, for example, “it’s critically important to go deep in your thinking so you can find the words to explain it. If you’re not sure why that relationship box is there or what it’s for, you need to figure it out,” he says.
Jim recommends going so far as to put a paragraph or two in writing to prepare for presenting the information orally.
“It’s very, very useful to use writing as an act to help you become a better communicator,” he says. Helpful exercises include writing out the stories and anecdotes that will support the points you want to make.
A second aspect of deep thinking involves formulating implementation plans.
“If you’re going to lead change in school, you need to break it down,” he says. “You need to say what’s going to happen when, what that professional learning community is going to look like. There may be people who are going to be dysfunctional–how are you going to deal with that? To plan for execution is really key.”
Stratenotes Vol.14 Issue5
Published: February 2006
- Stone, D., Patton, B., & Heen, S. (1999) Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most. New York: Viking Penguin.
- www.kucrl.org/partnership: Download Partnership Learning Fieldbook.