Change is tough, but so are you!
More often than not, I LOVE a change, but I know that not everyone agrees that variety is the spice of life. I know this because navigating the choppy waters of change is the number 1 thing that I coach teachers through.
It’s often said that when it comes to education, the only constant is change and CRIKEY that can be frustrating! Just when you get your head about doing Six Year NET’s, someone in a swivelly chair decides that you don’t need to do them anymore and from tomorrow onwards you need to start some other new fan-dangled thingy-ma-jig to confirm what you already know about your students.
Oh golly, caught myself before going do a real rabbit hole of ranting about over-assessment there didn’t I!
As we know, middle leadership is all about supporting people so let’s set a really high standard for ourselves when it comes to supporting our team members through change.
It’s toughest when you don’t see the need for change or understand why decisions have been made. Take the shit-show that is happening with the Teachers Council and their changes to the registration process to see a perfect example of what NOT to do. As a middle leader you’re in the best position in the whole school to support your colleagues through a meaningful change process that has tremendous benefits for all of the kids and adults that you work with.
That’s not going to happen without a bit of planning along the way though. Don’t fret, decades of hard work and research done by HR experts in the business world has gifted us the glorious ADKAR model of change. Let’s explore what that looks like in an educational setting so you never have to surprise people with a whole heap of new stuff for them to do every again.
A: Awareness. Why we need to change
D: Desire. What’s in it for you
K: Knowledge. How we will make this change
A: Ability. How we’ll practice and get really good within this new normal
R: Reinforcement. Making change that sticks
AWARENESS - It all starts with WHY
Simon Sinek has written numerous books and built an entire industry on just this one element of that change process, because our need to understand WHY things are happening simply cannot be overestimated.
Your colleagues need to be aware that change is coming. The less that is known about an upcoming change, the more resistance it is likely to create.
Let’s look at a few scenarios that are likely to pop up in a school or ECE centre.
You could go with:
Great news everyone, this year we’ve decided to make appraisals easier on teachers so instead of collecting a whole heap of evidence, someone from the Senior Leadership Team will pop in to observe you once a fortnight instead.
We are focusing on how to make the appraisal process easier on teachers because feedback suggests that they are too time consuming, paper-work heavy and not helping to improve practice. Our research shows that having regular coaching conversations with a colleague is the best way to support teachers to achieve their individual goals. We are committed to providing this to every team member through regular observations and follow up coaching conversations where the teacher drives their own reflection and goal setting.
New Curriculum Achievement Objectives
You could go with:
The Ministry of Education has announced that at the end of next year we'll all need to be teaching kids this new thing.
Our mates at the high school up the road have told us that our graduates have really struggled with XYZ up there this year. They have sent us some examples of what is expected at year 9 so we can take a look and explore how we might better prepare our learners for their transition into secondary school.
No teacher should ever feel like they’ve been blind-sided with any new system or initiative. Taking your time to help people to be aware why change is happening, is time that you will not regret spending.
DESIRE - But what if I don’t want to?
Your team members may understand why the change needs to be made - but that doesn’t mean that they will want to make the change.
Sometimes despite all our best efforts to create awareness there will still be some resistance to change as people try and wrap their heads around the age old question: “What’s in it for me?” It’s human nature for people to do what is most convenient for them and if they don’t have a really strong desire to change along with the new direction of the team, you may find them slipping back into old habits as soon as no one is watching.
Some people will take longer to truly see the benefits of that change that is happening, and that’s ok! If we were all super quick to jump all over the latest new innovation in education, we’d never get any long term consistency happening. Let your enthusiastic early adopters take the team's ideas and run with them and encourage them to share their wins and discoveries along the way. It’s their success stories that will encourage any laggards to embrace this new normal. This is true collaboration in action. It’s understanding that working together is about supporting each other to achieve a shared goal, and that doesn’t have to mean everyone is doing the same thing at the same time.
KNOWLEDGE - Now that we want it, how do we get it?
If the change requires a new way of thinking about and/or doing things, you need to make sure that your team members have a good understanding of what that actually looks like. Making time to research and reflect is crucial for creating change that sticks. Get creative with training programs, host a book club to discuss ideas, provide opportunities for 1:1 coaching sessions, check out some webinars, read widely by distributing resources … the ways that you can enable your team to build knowledge are endless.
The bottom line is that knowledge doesn’t just fall from the ceiling. Find out what the team needs to know, and create opportunities for that to happen.
ABILITY - Where the rubber hits the road.
Let’s say you want to learn to play the harmonica. You’ve probably already got a fair idea of what a harmonica is all about. It requires a certain amount of sucking and blowing, combined with a bit of side-to-side action to create a recognisable version of ‘Oh Susannah’. Knowing that is one thing, being able to put that knowledge into practise is another thing entirely.
To translate knowledge into ability you need to get stuck in and give things a go. Your colleagues need opportunities for trial and error where it’s totally O.K to make mistakes in order to reflect and grow. We encourage our students to try new things and reflect and move forward from their failures, but when we were kids, our teachers weren’t quite so encouraging of that type of risk taking so it’s no surprise that we’re not that flash at this as adults.
As a leader this really is your time to shine. Use your specific leadership skills to support and encourage your team members as they build their abilities by checking in with them and asking questions to deepen their understanding of what’s going on and what their next steps will be.
REINFORCEMENT - We did it! Now, let’s do it some more.
You and the team have made changes and you’re heading towards that shared vision that you discussed - now it’s time to focus on making it stick! They say that it takes at least 60 days to create a new habit, but only a week or so to revert back to old ways so make sure you think about how you will reinforce this new normal that has been created.
One of the best ways to encourage your team to stay the course, is by creating opportunities for regular celebrations. Ongoing and consistent reinforcement that your team members are genuinely doing tremendous things is so important. We all want acknowledgement for a job well done and incorporating celebrations into the culture of your team is crucial for keeping the morale positive.
The key-word here is genuine - I’m not suggesting that you run around telling everyone that they’re amazing when in reality you're dealing with a right shit-show. When you lack genuineness all you do is reinforce a whole bunch of wrongness (I’m sure there’s a more eloquent way of saying that but you get the gist).
If nothing else - let this be your big take-away:
‘Change Manager’ and ‘Change Consultant’ are actual jobs done by real people who make squillions of dollars. Change is hard and getting it right takes ongoing and consistent effort and it’s totally o.k to ask for help.
Now go forth and smash this middle leadership gig out of the park!