Michael Fullan, who has written expansively about educational change and how to manage it ,notes at the start of Leading in a Culture of Change "Change is a double edged sword... for better of worse,change arouses emotions"
We all have personal experience of a number of these emotions either as a reluctant recipient of change, an active and excited participant in change, as someone trying to introduce change into a school or maybe even as someone trying to resit a change we disagreed with.
Many of these very common emotions towards change are less than positive.
Key of these are:
- Change is uncomfortable: We are being asked to do something new and that always contains a risk of failure as well as the excitement of potential success.
- Change increase our feeling of isolation: There is always a tendency for people to feel that they are alone in going through a change process
- We view change as losing something:Dylan Wiliam makes the point that in order to effectively make a change you need to identify what we will be spending less time on to make room for the change.
- We naturally want to revert to our old ways:Interestingly research (e.g. the work of Lilian G. Katz and James Raths) indicates that the majority of teachers in stressful situations revert to how they themelves were taught at school.
I am currently reading the excellent Appreciative Inquiry Handbook:For Leaders of Change. The ideas behind Appreciative Inquiry are clearly summarised in the video by John Hayes below. Simply put it is to focus on what is going well, work out why that is going so well and to spread that into improving other areas that may need changing. This breaks down into a 4 step cycle known as the 4D Cycle:
- Discover what is going well and why
- Dream what might be
- Design how we can make our dream happen
- Delivery of the dream (this phase is also sometimes called Destiny)
This seems to me a far more positive way of viewing change but I wonder whether the use of the word change itself is not still a stumbling block?
Imagine someone asks you how you are going to change. The likelihood is that you would view this to some extent as an indictment or a devaluing on what you were doing before.
Imagine now if someone asked how you would like to develop, grow, progress or learn. Might your response be more likely to be open and positive?
This links with the 3 key feedback questions proposed by John Hattie in Visible Learning (p37):
"Enhancing learning also needs school leaders and teachers who can create school, staffroom and classroom environments where teachers can talk about their teaching, where errors and difficulties are seen as critical learning opportunities.... where teachers can feel safe to learn, re-learn and explore their own teaching knowledge and understanding. Teachers need to be openly able to discuss the 3 key feedback questions:"Where are they going?' 'How are they going?" and Where to next?" (The 'they' refers to both the teacher and to the student)."
Education is such a complex field that no one will ever master it. Its complexities are what makes teaching such an exciting and rewarding profession. Let's acknowledge this complexity by asking of ourselves that we continually grow and learn. Everyone involved in the profession should be able to honestly reflect upon what they are doing so that they can enable ever better learning for their students.
As we ask ourselves 'How can we make what worked well work even better in the future?' profound educational change will occur, not as a frightening end imposed from outside, but as a natural result of educators intrinsic desire to grow and learn.
To end where I began, with a quote from Heraclitus of Ephesus, "Everything flows, nothing stands still." If we begin to think of change as unbroken flow from where we have been through where we are and onto the future we envision, we may find it less threatening than the broken and disjointed image of progress that word change too often conjures up.