Change as a Learned Behavior – 2

by Felecia Nace
Principal, March/April 2012

Full implementation of best practices begins with a basic building block: viewing change as a process. Without this crucial step, many proven theories fail to be fully realized. Change is an essential part of education. Therefore, teaching requires a “change skill set.”

Most educational leaders have studied organizational structure and systems thinking, while many teachers have not. Instead of waiting for universities to redesign programs that will prepare teachers to systematically consider educational changes, schools need to equip teachers for the change process. Before beginning to implement a change process with your staff, ask yourself:

  1. Am I culpable in inhibiting change? Keep in mind that it is not always the action taken that can impede change, but impediments can sometimes be attributed to those things we haven’t attempted.
  2. Do I possess a solid understanding of systemic change? Revisiting theorists such as Michael Fullan makes leaders more confident and focused when beginning to engage staff in the change process.
  3. Is the professional development library equipped with sufficient materials on change? We should encourage the study of change as a science and provide staff with easy access to related materials.
  4. Can I empathize with resistant staff members? Remembering difficult changes in our own lives helps us understand the human condition and the resistance to change. It is easier to forge ahead knowing that resistance to change is not a personal attack, but instead is a human condition that can skillfully be confronted and allayed.

Schools should, at the very least, possess a common definition of systemic change, discuss the benefits of change, and have a cohesive plan in place for collective movement. In addition, principals should engage staff every step of the way. Make sure teachers:

  • Have a voice. Allow staff the opportunity to make suggestions and ask questions. When staff contribute ideas, implementation is easier to set in motion.
  • Know what’s in it for them. Outline the benefits for each change you plan to implement and use supportive data. Staff will know that the change is well thought out, which will increase the chances for complete buy-in.
  • Move away from comfort zones. Address the fear of moving into new territory by allowing staff to freely discuss inhibitions, and then redirect the conversation to focus on positive aspects of change.

The reality is that the majority of your staff will not wake up each morning welcoming change. Therefore, a well-executed change needs to be tactfully approached and include the study of change itself.

Felecia Nace
Education Program Specialist
New Jersey Department of Education
Trenton, New Jersey

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