School Change, Gently REY-PG


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Two experienced independent school middle managers share lessons on making change that sticks while minimizing conflict and resistance. From NAIS Annual Conference, 2011.

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  • INTRODUCE OURSELVES REY PG Beaver AcaDean and NAIS writing—cite Sustainable Schools project and particularly Alive & Well piece
  • Change now is pervasive, systemic, part of a larger global narrative--it's not just about getting your teachers to use rubrics or eat lunch at a different time. These changes might or might not require us to re-examine our schools’ values, but even when they don’t, they will require a shift in how those values are carried out in the life of the community. SOME RANDOM THOUGHTS TO INCLUDE: The reality is that even if it is desperately needed, change is inconvenient and uncomfortable. “You don’t buy a new mattress if you’re sleeping like a baby. A new mattress might be the solution to the problem, but moving a mattress is a pain in the ass.” If it is really a “best practice,” backed by research, the challenge will be getting the faculty to be brutally honest about why they might or might not support it. Moving an ocean liner here--what’s a timeline for change that matters--1? 3? 5? 8? 10? Are you going to miss an entire school full of kids if you wait too long? If it is valid, lasting change, does that matter? School is for kids, as my/our boss Peter Hutton at Beaver reminds us--if we’re not changing because it’s inconvenient for us, we’re not doing what’s best for kids
  • Even if your school hasn’t thought about whether or not your schedule works or whether to go to a one-to-one laptop program, we are all looking down the road (and not too far down the road) at a pretty fundamental group of shifts that independent schools are all being asked or told to make: New understandings of how the brain works and how children learn mean a shift towards constructivist, emotionally engaging curriculum New understandings about the relationship between curriculum and assessment support the constructivist approach, in particular problem- and project-based learning The changing nature of work and information exchange in the 21st-century urges us toward more collaboration, more teaching around design-thinking and creativity, more emphasis on problem-solving Technology is changing the nature of information exchange and the nature of communication, and hence the nature of teaching and learning; this makes teaching with technology the next best thing to a mandate It is understood that schools must be authentically diverse and inclusive communities in all respects It is understood that schools must be environmentally and ethically responsible institutional citizens of the world, the nation, the community Not only are these expectations coming at us from organizations like NAIS, the landscape of the world into which we are graduating students tells us that we would be remiss if we did not make shifts in these directions. That world will be a diverse, ecologically responsible one in which collaborative, creative problem-solving is done in the context of the problems being solved.
  • SOME CHALLENGES TO CHANGE: Successful schools are complex ecosystems; science reminds us that stability is built into such systems. Even when rapid change is desirable (it’s gonna be harder than you think, but keep this in mind and take “systems” approach); when there are many variables, it is easier to patch than to change – then you run the risk of a “Franken-school,” and you create more variables, making fundamental change that much harder later (because it’s more complex) (Sudden prosperity and growth are a kind of disruptive change, which many of us experienced before 2008; sudden contraction is also a disruptive change—probably worth taking stock of the changes to your school’s CULTURE—not just the body count—that resulted from these two tsunamis ) Tradition is a significant part of your brand; people are reluctant to mess with that--when they see tradition as equaling “stasis,” you’ve got a problem (frame this by reminding folks that the school is a dynamic place and of how the school HAS already evolved); it helps to highlight how the school has already changed to allay fears about what change might mean in the future Long-term boards with little turnover and long-term board chairs, no matter how excellent and benevolent has been their rule, may breed a kind of aversion to innovation: everyone reluctant to rock the comfortable boat OR school leaders are either too comfy with or nervous about offending (need opportunities to Level Three governance a la Chait, Ryan, & Taylor—really recommend GOVERNANCE AS LEADERSHIP)
  • MODELS THAT TEND NOT TO LEAD TO LASTING SYSTEMIC CHANGE Grassroots movements from within the faculty are often reactionary and random, no matter how enthusiastic some people may be, and without a member of the senior administration on board, these kinds of changes are bound to be fleeting or oppositional – it’s unlikely that a grassroots movement will gain the momentum of the entire faculty, and have potential to be divisive. “ Pied Piper” model (a single charismatic faculty member with an idea that she/he rallies support behind) won’t work because teachers don’t have the time or energy to follow someone they’re not required to follow, unless the idea is something that is so needed or obvious to the faculty that it is easier to get on board than to maintain the status quo; again, has the potential to be divisive. Enthusiasms of the moment--here today, gone tomorrow (worse if they start looking familiar, as in “We did that back in ‘91 when.... But it didn’t work out.”) If it looks like a fad, smells like a fad, or comes from someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing Ideas that don’t seem to fit into the received/understood concept of the school and its mission (“Why are we doing this, again? This has to do with what?”) Delicate balance of “doing it the Your School Way” and implementing sound ideas that are backed by research The all-volunteer army--confining the motivational appeal to “it’s a good idea” and guilt--even if they like you, they probably won’t do it, and you are unlikely to get everyone on board without considerably incentive or external motivation MAKING THINGS FIT INTO THE CULTURAL CONTEXT OF THE SCHOOL IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE WONDERFULNESS OF THE IDEA
  • 1. Compelling topic, clear & finite, no expectation of instant result, clearly good for kids and good for the school, grows out of or is consistent with school values 2. This is quite possibly the make-or-break for any sea change in your school. Without the trust, cooperation, and “buy-in” (I HATE this term) of the administration, board, faculty, and staff, and in many cases parents and students, you will not achieve what you set out to do without losing more than you gain. THE CASE IS THE WHY, THE MANTRA IS THE WHAT 3. “Mantra” = “party line” or tag line or motto – the “thing people say” when referring to the change. Get your communications office to help with this. You’re basically “branding” the change. Be careful though: If you don’t have the other items in place, it can and will be used against you, ironically…or not. (Need examples here (SAS “Picture of the Graduate”) 4. If you have political capital, you can get the resources you need, even when times are tight especially when you can make a clear case for “added value” 5. Ideas for measuring—because your hard list of assessment plans for progress is gonna need to change. At the beginning, you don’t need measureable goals; you need to have ideas about how you’re going to measure success so that you can change on the fly.
  • This is about defining the change, not implementing it. Before you ever take it to the people who are largely going to be asked to carry out a change: be sure that you and the committee and the administrative team are clear about these things make sure that the members of the administrative team are prepared to support the change whether or not they agree with it yet or fully understand it yet. They can admit that they don’t understand it, but detractors will sniff out dissension in the ranks and use it to undermine the work. “ Resources” includes human resources! And it’s pretty important to align what you are doing with your school’s overall advancement strategies—that is: Is the change you are hoping to make going to attract more students and more support to the school? Does it resonate with the ways the school is perceived by its supporters? What is its “added value”?
  • Role of the board: what about those things that come from higher up the governance ladder? (From the strategic plan to a bright idea)  W Who are the key board members? Who are allies for change? Who has a hobby horse that your change issue can ride (or from which you need to differentiate your issue to maintain credibility) School culture shifts can be intentionally guided from the top down via the senior administration and leadership, but if they are they need to massaged carefully at every step A teacher or mid-level administrator can effect change by getting support for a specific idea at the senior administrative/governance level. Mid-level administrators can often effect change because their initiatives are perceived as coming from higher up (people think they are more powerful than they are). But know who is a mid-level administrator and who is a supervisor who can hold people accountable Essentially--Wrap your plan in the flag of your school’s identity and aims
  • If you want to change your school, know it as well as you possibly can, inside and out (so if you’re new or new to a position, take the time to understand what is before you pull the trigger on change—this doesn’t mean wait years; it means being a quick read) Manage your allies—Don’t talk about swimming pools and steaks (only send people to conferences in Buffalo , Dayton, or Butte) Cultivate strategic alliances all over your community—parents, faculty, friends—but leave the kids out of it Cultivate unexpected champions who are de facto leaders in the community Figure out a reason to appreciate everyone To the extent it is possible meet people where they are, or at least speak their language Key professional development work to achieving the specific things you want to achieve Be positive –why change will be better, not about what doesn’t work, if there are those who firmly believe that it does Always state as clearly as you can what’s happening at each stage and who is going to make a final decision (when participation is just about “clarifying questions” and when it’s about input to decision-making)—don’t put people through a process if you aren’t prepared to listen to them
  • This is about figuring out how to build the drivers of the change into the existing structures of the school; who tells whom what to do and who follows whom, regardless of what the org chart says. It’s also about knowing where the political capital lies. If you and your school are persnickety about the org chart or the report structure, then make sure people understand what it is If there is a chain of command that is in fact different—powerful individuals or “no deal with us” offices, then understand it and don’t assume you can get by it just because you’re pushing a good idea If you’re school operates on a pretty flat structure, think about where hurdles have presented themselves in other situations If you think there isn’t such a structure, spend some time looking for one—it’s probably there, and you need to know how it works Oh heads—try to stick to known patterns when you are introducing change. If you are anointing new folks as leaders or if you are trying a whole new approach, acknowledge that things are going to be a little different as you go forward
  • DRIVING CHANGE WITHOUT SPENDING POLITICAL CAPITAL Essentially this is about externalizing the drivers and making the implementation and accountability structures part of daily life So it’s not about you, it’s about the school’s needs, as seen from perspectives other than those of eager administrators and internal change-agents Use a strategic thinking/planning process to put change goals in place (renew/refresh/redo more often than you think you need to in order to keep people invested in the goals) Do smart market research that will suggest opportunities and give you permission to make necessary change as a vital marketing need In your self study, make a recommendation in the direction you want to go, and work to have that recommendation be a key part of the visiting committee report; be explicit with the visiting team Build into your evaluation system to demand new skills and behaviors as part of a goal-setting process (Hint: Develop and publish your school’s standards for effective teaching) It’s also nice to be successful—if you have some way points where you can see success and celebrate it, plant the idea that “it’s working! we’re doing it!”
  • Build change through professional development--make learning and growth around your objectives a requirement, and then supply the tools--and create accountability (The Holy Grail--change you can just train into being) Invest department and divisional leadership in making change--ask for roadmaps and evidence of effort and success, but provide support, feedback, resources, opportunities to make course adjustments Keep governing bodies aware of what you folks in the school are doing to create change in response to their directions and their good ideas Hire for the future, not for the present--people who have the key skills that will make them teacher-leaders in 3 years--and with their own growth mindset Build a culture around the change
  • SOME MISTAKES TO AVOID Don’t underestimate how much people who don’t agree with you love the school; don’t dismiss them. Use their love of the school to build allies (see: “Building political capital” slides!) Don’t punish failure if there has been a worthy attempt (“Make excellent mistakes” principle)—Build this into the school culture; otherwise, every stumbling block will be seen as “failure” Don’t pretend to be inclusive Either truly engage people in designing change or just instruct them about what is expected—let them know what their participation means Don’t pretend to have a “process” if you you don’t intend to utilize the results: If you ask for opinions and thoughts, if you push people to look up the research, if you institute a process, you have an obligation to pay attention to and value the results. If you get answers you don’t like, you may need to adjust means or goals, and that’s okay Don’t expect supervisors (and I mean department heads here--they’re not usually true middle managers) to do things that they haven’t been trained to do. If you want them to think about big picture items, make sure that DH meetings included big picture agenda items and occasional exercises in big-picture thinking—do some of Chait-style Level III work regularly—and do it for real reasons, not just the exercise If you want them to guide and support teachers in implementing change, get them some training in doing this work Don’t leave doing this work out of your system of accountability: Allowing any kind of escape clause in your professional development program or toward making important, strategic program change is going to weaken the overall initiative—fatally, if you go too far
  • WHAT ARE THE DEAL-BREAKERS Risk factor: can you afford to lose people (faculty, families, etc.)? Is it worth losing people over? Don’t ride a great plan off the cliff Sometimes you run out of money and time; sometimes weird stuff pops up. Don’t dump an idea in mid stream—shelve itt, maybe, but be explicit about what you are doing and why—don’t just stop talking about it There are great new ideas coming at you all the time. Sometimes you need to put on blinders or discipline yourself to stay focused. Don’t bury people under these ideas, and when you are rejecting good ones, be clear that you are (for now), and why If the folks who interface with the public as official spokespersons and salespersons don’t get it, or agree with it, work hardest to bring them on board
  • Find ways to involve people in activities and programs that fit their needs and interests—book groups, SEED programs, local conferences or lectures—and then remember these needs and interests when change is afoot The naysayers say nay for lots of reasons. Even if you firmly believe they are wrong, try to understand where they’re coming from and what interests they have and what interests they think they are protecting—sometimes folks who have been at a school for a long time hear echoes of previous disruptions that didn’t have happy endings Who talks to whom at your school? You can’t know everything, but try to learn who the intentional and unintentional power players are and who listens to them Every now and then do a little reality check on yourself. Has the rest of the band put their instruments down and quietly shuffled out of the room? Is the power of your enthusiasm so great that you’re seen as a control freak, with people managing YOU or giving lip service to your issue but going their own way? The people who embrace and lead change are wonderful assets, and you can quietly give them all the pats on the back you want to—but don’t forget the old adage, “Nobody loves a good example.” Don’t isolate or weaken your change agents by making too much of their wonderful work, at least until you’re done As a corollary, of course you can use change initiatives as training and proving grounds to create new leaders—but again, don’t give the appearance of playing favorites. Reward good work and good effort, but within As a second corollary, don’t just ignore or un-personize the non-compliers and footdraggers—be ready to give them the direct, specific feedback they need. And be ready to do what you need to to help them get their minds right. (this is hard, of course, because putting your finger on noncompliance is proving a negative. This is why building change work into goal-setting and evaluation systems is crucial)
  • So—anyone have questions, or better still, stories you’d like to share? Let’s try to focus on success stories, if we can—and tease out some principles
  • School Change, Gently REY-PG

    1. 1. MAKING CHANGE— GENTLY (But for real!) Rebecca Yacono St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, Austin Peter Gow Beaver Country Day School NAIS Annual Conference 2011
    2. 2. OUR PREMISES Change is the new narrative in schools Change needs to be managed and led The manner and style of that leadership is the make-or-break of successful change School is for kids. We must serve their needs before ours. Slide 2 NAISAC 2011 Yacono & Gow: Making Change--Gently!
    3. 3. CHANGE?• New understandings in neuroscience and cognition• New models in curriculum and assessment• Technology-inspired changes in information and communication• Schools must be diverse and inclusive communities• Schools must be responsible, active citizens Slide 3 NAISAC 2011 Yacono & Gow: Making Change--Gently!
    4. 4. CHANGE Complexity breeds stability Sudden prosperity was a disruptive change; so is The Recession Tradition may be part of your brand; don’t let it equal “stasis” Long-term boards and chairs may breed an unintentional aversion to change Slide 4 NAISAC 2011 Yacono & Gow: Making Change--Gently!
    5. 5. BENEVOLENT MODELS THAT DON’T ALWAYS WORK Off-mission grassroots movements “Pied Pipers” without significant structural support Administrative enthusiasms without strategic or mission connectionsThe all-volunteer army—guilt and good intentions Slide 5 NAISAC 2011 Yacono & Gow: Making Change--Gently!
    6. 6. WHAT YOU NEED TO MAKECHANGE1. A clear case for the initiative2. Political capital, in all directions3. A clear message about the plan and its purpose— a mantra4. Resources, or a plan to acquire them5. Ideas for measuring progress6. Patience, and knowledge of your limits Slide 6 NAISAC 2011 Yacono & Gow: Making Change--Gently!
    7. 7. A CLEAR CASE FOR CHANGE Compelling from an educational and developmental perspective Great, obvious mission and values fit Clear and finite in parts and parameters Achievable with current or attainable resources Consistent with advancement needs Slide 7 NAISAC 2011 Yacono & Gow: Making Change--Gently!
    8. 8. BUILDING POLITICAL CAPITAL UPWARD Know your senior administration and board Understand your school’s strategic directions and needs Synchronize the mantra to these Understand the school’s needs and challenges in advancement areas Build solutions into your case and mantra Slide 8 NAISAC 2011 Yacono & Gow: Making Change--Gently!
    9. 9. BUILDING POLITICAL CAPITAL DOWNWARD Be a listener, and appreciate everyone Cultivate unexpected champions, but don’t play favorites Meet people where they are; understand their anxieties Provide concrete tools to do the work Avoid implying that things are Be clear about process and authority; don’t fake broken inclusivity Slide 9 NAISAC 2011 Yacono & Gow: Making Change--Gently!
    10. 10. “THE CHAIN OF COMMAND” If your school has the appearance of one: o Understand the official one o Understand the de facto one If your school doesn’t have one, see above If you’re a head of school, know what the de facto one is and try to be consistent when you can Slide 10 NAISAC 2011 Yacono & Gow: Making Change--Gently!
    11. 11. CAPITAL Regular, frequent strategic thinking exercises generate BIG goals; keep them visible Smart market research can identify vital needs for innovation as tied to advancement challenges Use accreditation to ask for what you want Goal-setting and accountability around new strategically required skills and behaviors can be baked into job standards and evaluation systems Define some markers for success, and celebrate them Slide 11 NAISAC 2011 Yacono & Gow: Making Change--Gently!
    12. 12. THINGS THAT TEND TO HAVE POSITIVE RESULTS Target professional development to goals Invest department and divisional leadership: ask, listen, give feedback, support Keep boards informed—connect! Hire for the future, not just the present Build a positive culture around the change Slide 12 NAISAC 2011 Yacono & Gow: Making Change--Gently!
    13. 13. SOME BIG “DON’T’S” Don’t underestimate other people’s love for your school Don’t punish failure for a worthy attempt (“Make excellent mistakes”) Don’t pretend to be inclusive Don’t expect people to do things they don’t know how to do Don’t offer an escape clause Slide 13 NAISAC 2011 Yacono & Gow: Making Change--Gently!
    14. 14. DEAL BREAKERS Fear of losing families or faculty; know and be frank about your limits Inflexibility; circumstances change, and sometimes your plan must, too Scarcity of resources; but consider putting on hold or mothballing before you scrap The “tyranny of good ideas”—new plans that distract When advancement offices don’t buy in Slide 14 NAISAC 2011 Yacono & Gow: Making Change--Gently!
    15. 15. A FEW MORE THOUGHTS Find no-stakes situations to listen and make friends and allies Know and understand the motivations of the detractors Know who has whose ear (especially at the top) Don’t be the only one collaborating Support your change agents but don’t celebrate them ‘til it’s over Slide 15 NAISAC 2011 Yacono & Gow: Making Change--Gently!
    16. 16. Your thoughts? Rebecca Yacono Peter Gow pgow@bcdschool.orgSlide 16 NAISAC 2011 Yacono & Gow: Making Change--Gently!