Change is always hard. It is human nature to do what’s comfortable. As teachers, we put a lot of energy into our work and once we find something that works, we aren’t likely to scrap it and do something else. This is probably one of the biggest mistakes we make in education. Instead of building on what is working, we tend to start from scratch. I think that frequently happens because from an administrative perspective, we should all be doing the same thing so that students have consistency. Those are certainly good intentions but we don’t have time for that anymore. We need to change more efficiently to meet the needs of the times. There is obviously not one way to address this need but one way to innovate more efficiently is to start with strengths. Assessing what is working well in your classroom or school and identifying a small change that will move the needle on learning is more efficient than starting from scratch. In addition, it is more likely to be met with success.
Systems and Structures
One place to look for strengths is in the systems. At the classroom level, what routines and procedures are working? Is there a way to develop curriculum and instruction that is already working? At the school level, systems and structures like advisory, restorative justice, leadership teams, student leadership or special education may have strengths to build on. Last year, we created a structure for advisory that is fairly solid. We meet once a week for forty minutes with a mixed group of students for all four years of high school. I can’t say it went perfectly this year. The inner workings need some TLC but the structure is solid, so that’s where our focus is this year; making the inner workings of advisory stronger. We have decided to put a lot of energy into this particular system because it affects many other realms and has the potential to be high impact for this reason.
So many times, when we want to make instructional shifts, we train everyone and then expect everyone to make the shift. This never happens as planned. It makes more sense to look for human capital. Look for people already making the shift or those who are already innovating and start with them. Create models in their classrooms. Identify routines that allow these innovative teachers to make their work visible. Then, provide ways for others who might be interested to join in.
If we applied all that we know about learning to the idea of change, we could make some real progress. We know that there must be a level of readiness as well as challenge in order for learning to happen. So many times, we look to make improvements by identifying the weaknesses. This requires big leaps. Recently, I have been trying to shed a few pounds. I could have totally revamped my whole diet but instead I looked for places that I could make small moves; instead of trying to change my morning routine completely, I just stopped putting that slice of American cheese on my egg sandwich. I replaced my afternoon granola bar with carrots and celery. I steamed instead of fried my vegetables. These are changes I can maintain even when things get hard or busy. This is extremely important. Whatever changes you are working toward, you have to make sure that when things get difficult, the unexpected happens or you get busy, that the changes will be easy enough to sustain. What structures and systems can your school build on? Who are the people in your building who could begin to build on their existing strengths?