People can change the deep-rooted patterns of how they think, feel, and act.
— Alan Deutschman
In Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life Alan Deutschman explains that people are influenced to change through three linked elements he describes as relate, repeat, and reframe. Relate underscores the importance of sustained relationships with individuals and groups that inspire and sustain hope and provide support. Such relationships can be formed with teachers, mentors, support groups, or communities, among others. Repeat means learn, practice, and master new skills until they become habits. And reframe means providing others ways to think about a situation. Because established frames resist facts and reasoned arguments, deep-rooted beliefs and conceptual frameworks must be identified and altered to support desired changes.
Although Change or Die is not explicitly about education, it explains why well-intentioned innovations expire rather than thrive. A problem, Deutschman says, is that leaders too often rely on relatively ineffective change strategies—facts (human beings are not as rational as we think we are), fear (at best it’s a short-term motivator), and force (there are many ways it can be resisted) to promote change. Instead, successful change efforts in schools offer a sense of hopefulness that student learning can be improved through a genuine sense of community and teamwork that supports the implementation of new practices (relate). They also provide sustained learning to enable the acquisition of new habits of mind and behavior (repeat) and the development of new frameworks aligned with the innovation (reframe). (“Repeat” and “reframe” will be addressed more fully in upcoming columns.)
Promote change through positive relationships
Principals are effective not because of positional power, but because of the synergy that flows from positive relationships between the principal and teacher—and among the teachers themselves. —Joanne Rooney
If schools are to continuously improve the learning of all students, it’s essential that teachers be surrounded by relationships that offer hope, provide encouragement and support in the acquisition of new practices, and stimulate new ways of thinking about teaching and learning. But not all relationships are equal in their ability to produce those results, so it is vitally important that school and system leaders view “reculturing” relationships as a primary responsibility.
In recultured schools teachers can explain the school’s overarching goals and how their efforts will contribute to achieving them. Teachers work in teams rather than in isolation and are accountable to one another for continuous improvement rather than to district offices or state education agencies. Their relationships exhibit high levels of trust and appreciation rather than distrust, blaming, and negativity. Rather than evading important issues, teachers speak with candor and courage. As a consequence, teachers are hopeful and energetic rather than victims of the “slow-death spiral” of distrust, anger, and stress.
These changes in culture begin within and among school leaders. Because authenticity is a hallmark of the new culture, leaders cultivate their integrity, candor, and courage. Because they understand the role of emotion in motivating change, these leaders speak from their hearts about their values and purposes to the hearts of those they lead. Because they understand from their own experience how challenging it can be to establish new habits of mind and behavior and the critical role of social support, they ensure a supportive environment for such learning.
Take a moment now to . . .
• describe the attributes of a significant change effort that changed your behavior and that of other educators for the benefit of students.