Why do we have to keep changing things?
I recently was at a family event where a family member who is a teacher stated, “I wish they would just quit changing things in our district, it seems like we just get something started and we move on to the next thing.” Of course, “I promptly replied well if you are not continually looking to improve and change, then what are you doing?” Some of the changes that we discussed included implementing standards based grading, changing a school calendar to allow for better collaboration opportunities, professional development, providing periods of time for student support during the school year rather than waiting for a summer school session, expectations surrounding the use of certain instructional strategies, and a new teacher evaluation system. I felt I made several valid points and offered solid reasons why these changes should be occurring. I asked a few questions such as, “Are you currently meeting all students’ needs?; Doesn’t it make sense to offer students opportunities to catch up during the year rather than waiting until the summer?; You have stated that kids are not the same as they used to be, right?” This dialogue when on for a while, and nothing I asked or stated eased this individual’s frustration. I was viewed as that educational leader that just likes to change things for the sake of changing things. After the conversation was over, I was reflecting later, about why this individual was so frustrated with all the changes they were experiencing. Each of the changes we discussed were great things that helped kids and improved instruction.
There were several clues that this person shared during the conversation that indicated why these changes were so frustrating, and pointed towards insights that educational leaders must consider when leading change.
William Bridges (2003) believes there are four P’s that individuals have to have as they experience a “new beginning,” or change; Purpose, Picture, Plan and Part. Purpose is fairly straight forward, individuals need to understand “why” the change is occurring. Too often educational leaders start down the path of a change with a crystal clear understanding of why the change should happen, but we fail to communicate that reasoning in a manner that is understood by those that are implementing the change. I often talk about the concept of “connecting the dots” for teachers, as leaders we are looking out on the horizon and see how a change now positions the system for better success down the road or how one change connects to other aspects of the system. Teachers often are not afforded the opportunity to see the connections. Intentionally making these connections is a critical part of the second “P,” Picture. Individuals need to see what the end result will look like and understand how it feels if the change has been successful. Portraying a clear picture in the beginning also makes evaluating the success of the change a much easier task down the road.
The next “P,” Plan relates to having a communicated plan for how to get from the current reality to the desired reality that accompanies the implementation of the change. Frequently, in education our plans are all around the “roll out” of the change, and we neglect to plan for the monitoring and evaluation of progress with the change. If we are monitoring and evaluating the progress of our change, we are planning and developing the necessary supports to increase the implementation of the change with the educators that are living through the change. This will ultimately determine the success or failure of the change. Individuals will have varying degrees of success with the change as they begin to implement, so we must plan for support when barriers not present at the outset of the change arise. As individuals implement a change, we have to provide opportunities to ask questions, provide follow up information and support. These supports ultimately lead to an implementation that resembles the desired results that were portrayed in the second “P,” Picture. As individuals work through these barriers their motivation and willingness to fully implement the change will increase as they begin to make the connections between the defined “picture” that was initially described and the current reality.
The final “P,” Part, is where leaders must personalize the message related to the change. Individuals need to know what their role is in implementing the change or what their part of the plan includes. Many times we let teachers “self discover” their role or part of the plan, instead of personalizing and communicating what the change will mean to them in their role. This personalization can only occur if we are clearly defining the Purpose of the change, painting a clear Picture that the educator understands, and developing a Plan that incorporates the necessary supports for educators regardless of where they are at with the implementation of the change. They will still have to work through some “self discovery,” but a well defined Purpose, Picture, Plan will help them more quickly realize their part in the change.
All of us at some point in our leadership experiences have felt that we covered the four “P’s,” and the people implementing the change are just being stubborn, or obstinate when it comes time to implement. The reality is the four “P’s,” are ever evolving based on the individual that is experiencing the change. The only way for us to ensure the four “P’s” align to the needs of the individuals living through the change is for us to do a better job of communicating, specifically the listening aspects of communication. If we are listening to our educators to determine if the four “P’s” are actually a reality, we can tailor the message and supports related to the deficient area, Purpose, Picture, Plan or Part.
I know, of any those topics discussed previously are going to raise educators anxieties, because they will require a change in how they have previously conducted their work as professionals, often times with high rates of success! I am certain that any person reading this blog has experienced at least one of those changes and understands the stress, frustration, anxiety, and concern that can accompany the change. The reality we face in education is the only constant is change.