Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Are We Driving Towards Change, or Hiding Behind Barriers to Keep From It?

Sherlock Holmes might say "Watson, the change is afoot!"

I've only been in the field of education since 1991, but it seems to me change is a permanent fixture on our radar.  The first few years of my career, as with most of teachers, the change was due to me trying to stay afloat and learn how to teach.  After that, I remember many different 'initiatives' from my schools and districts.  

The veterans in those early days used to make skeptical comments about 'waiting out the change', but I am not so sure that is possible now.  I'm seeing some very sticky change occuring at the higher levels, and I am seeing some very worthy change initiatives being introduced that I think will change our practice forever.  Systemic change takes great planning though!

Managing Change Means Making Sure You Have
Vision, Skills, Incentive, Resources AND an Action Plan!

In general, it seems to me that the external pressures for change are increasing, for a variety of reasons which I won't go into here.  This is not the time for a Fraser Institute/Standardized Test/Standards-Based System discussion.  Reasons why change is proposed aside, I don't think waiting out change is an option for us now.  I'd like to see us take our destiny more into our own hands, and I think the way to do that is to be proactive, get everyone on board, and start to make the changes we know will help us improve the learning that occurs in our schools.

The thing is, change in times of cuts and diminishing resources can be demoralizing!  Who wants to change, when change causes uncertainty, when it has the potential for hurt, and when we are not sure of what the results of change will be?

Tonight, as I was replying to some posts made by my students in the online Master's class I facilitate,  I was struck by that thought about the demoralizing effect the prospect of change has.  I've not really stopped and reflected on it in these terms in the past.  When thinking about the uncertainty of change, it is easy to see why an uncoordinated and uninspiring attempt at seeking educational change might be difficult to implement successfully.

In my response to my students, I was sharing the value of perspective when looking at change.  We need to honor and strengthen our relationships, but we must also look at the forces that will influence any change efforts.  We need to consider the driving and restraining forces, as described by Kurt Lewin's Force Field Analysis strategy.  I first learned this technique approximately 10 years ago, and I think it is a powerful tool. 

Simply put, Lewin's strategy is used to analyze problems in an organizational setting as a precursor to identifying a solution.  With his strategy, you analyze the forces that act as barriers to implementing your change (restraining forces) and the forces that support the change initiative (driving forces). By understanding all the forces in effect, you can direct your future actions to create an unbalanced system.  When the sum of the driving forces are stronger than the sum of the restraining forces, change will be successful.

It is not too complicated of a strategy, but for me it does two things.  One, it provides what I consider to be needed structure to the change process.  Change must be planned if it is to be supported. The second thing I like about it is that it forces us to look at driving forces, not just the restraining forces.  All too often I feel we focus on the negatives, and the reasons why we can not embrace a change we think may be good for kids.  Focusing on the negative, and battling to overcome those barriers, can be especially tiring.  By looking at all the forces in play, sometimes our new perspective will allow us to focus our efforts on the positives. 
At times, expending our efforts to FURTHER enhance the positives can help us to tip the balance in the favor of change and our new practice will eventually further whittle away at those restraining forces as well.  I find this approach a much more energizing way to approach change, and in general I try to force myself out of my box to look at the forces on both sides of a problem now.

Change is inevitable.  So are cuts and recessions and criticisms, and ...  What we need to have, to support our work towards our vision, is HOPE and OPTIMISM.  We need to play to our strengths, focus on those forces we can influence, and strategically make the changes we know our system, and our students, need.  Now, the last line caveat is this:  Of course, there is so much more involved to systemic reform than I have addressed here, so if you read only this last line please remember that hope and optimism will sustain us in so many ways!


1 comment:

Morgan Bayda said...

Well written Alexander!

I especially like that you included the chart about the missing pieces and what troubles they create. During my internship this year I noticed that there seemed to be quite a bit of resistance to change, more so at the board policy and incentives level. I don't necessarily think the teachers were afraid of change or wanted to be negative about it, but I think that partly, changes were not always fully described to them before being put in place. In addition to that, one teacher often complained to me that the way changes were made offended her because it made her feel like a deficit teacher for all of the years she had been doing her best. Also, many of the teachers resented the fact that big changes were made so often. They often referred to "the baby being thrown out with the bath water" in reference to all of the big changes sliding practice out from under their feet.

I think I am certainly less resistant to change and indeed in favor of improving education for children in any way we can. Is that because I am new to the profession and haven't had the chance to grow frustrated with the amount of changes being made on my behalf?

Interesting thoughts...