Posts Tagged 'Alan Deutschman'

The challenge of changing ourselves and influencing others

A quality shared by most resilient people is the ability to see the world as it is rather than as they wish it to be.

As a result, they understand that:

• Changing ourselves is hard, even when our health and lives may depend on it.

• Changing others is harder.

• Changing organizational culture and practices is even harder because it combines the difficulties of changing ourselves and others with the challenge of overcoming institutional inertia and active resistance.

In addition, most of us significantly underestimate what’s required to alter long-standing habits of mind and behavior in ourselves and others and to create organizational cultures of continuous improvement.

And, at the same time, we significantly overestimate the extent to which humans are rational and motivated to change because of evidence and logic.

That’s why reading a book, listening to an inspiring speaker, or attending a “research-based” workshop are almost always insufficient to produce long-term, meaningful change.

The essential elements of change

The most compelling explanations of what’s required to produce significant change are offered  by Alan Deutschman in Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life and by Chip Heath and Dan Heath in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

Deutschman explains that people make significant and lasting changes by “relating,” “repeating,” and “reframing.”

Relate underscores the importance of sustained relationships with individuals and groups to inspire hope and provide support.

Repeat involves learning, practicing, and mastering new skills until they become habits.

And reframe means finding 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.

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 offer a sense of hopefulness that problems can be solved through a genuine sense of community that enables the acquisition of new habits.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard Chip Heath and Dan Heath explain that our behavior is shaped by three forces—our intellect, our emotions, and the situations in which we find ourselves.

To explain their ideas the Heaths offer the metaphor of an elephant with a rider:

The rider is our intellect. Although modest in size compared to the elephant, it plans and directs.

The elephant is emotion. It provides the energy that creates and sustains movement.

The path is the situation or environment in which the rider and elephant find themselves. that either supports improved performance or hinders it. (For example, strong teamwork requires a “path” that includes regularly-scheduled meeting time, relevant data to make decisions and assess progress, and training in group skills.)

We promote change, the Heaths say, when we:

• create clarity of purpose and direction (influence the rider),

• engage people’s emotions (motivate the elephant), and

• create environments (shape the path) that enable rather than hinder the desired performance.

What, in your experience, are the essential elements of change in individuals and organizations?

I will be taking a sabbatical during the next few months to refresh and renew. Best wishes for an enjoyable summer (or winter if you happen to be Down Under).

The biggest problem in professional development is…

Dennis SparksThe biggest problem in professional development is that administrators and teachers significantly underestimate the amount of effort and time required to create the new habits of mind and behavior that are necessary to provide high-quality teaching and learning for all students.

One of the best and most accessible explanations of the challenges of shaping human understanding and practice is provided by Alan Deutschman in Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life in which he 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 that inspire and sustain hope and provide support.

That means that:

• 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.

• Teachers relationships exhibit high levels of trust and appreciation rather than distrust, blaming, and negativity.

• Teachers speak with candor and courage rather than evading discussion of important issues.

• Teachers are hopeful and energetic rather than victims of a “slow-death spiral” of distrust, anger, and stress.

You can learn more about promoting continuous improvement through positive relationships here.

Repeat means learn, practice, and master new skills until they become habits. 

The cultivation of new habits requires intention, attention, and persistence across many weeks or months until mastery is achieved, a task often complicated by the tenacity of old habits.

The development of new habits begins with an initial learning that explores new ways of thinking and acting. It continues with the repetition of those thoughts and behaviors (often in the face of opposition from people who prefer the old habits) until new ways of thinking and acting have become routine.

An example of what may be required for leaders to alter their own behavior—which is almost always a precursor to influencing the behavior of others—is provided here.

Reframe means providing new ways of thinking 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.

Conceptual frames are the mental organizers we use to think about things. Our thinking, and hence our ability to change, is limited by these deeply rooted, beneath-the-surface system of beliefs and ideas. While often difficult to alter, frames can be changed. The process begins with awareness of the dominant frame and its influence on practice, and continues by identifying alternative frames that better serve student learning.

Strategies for promoting reframing can be found here.

Although Change or Die is not explicitly about education, it explains why well-intentioned innovations more often expire 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),

• provide sustained learning to enable the acquisition of new habits of mind and behavior (repeat), and

• enable the development of new conceptual frameworks aligned with the innovation (reframe).

Do you agree that administrators and teachers often underestimate the intensity and duration of learning that is required to meaningful influence thinking and behavior?

“Reframe” how we think about things

Photo/Dennis Sparks

One of the fundamental findings of cognitive science is that people think in terms of frames and metaphors. . . . The frames are in the synapses of our brains, physically present in the form of neural circuitry. When the facts don’t fit the frames, the frames are kept and facts ignored. . . . Frames once entrenched are hard to dispel. —George Lakoff

The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it. —James Baldwin

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 calls relate, repeat, and reframe. “Relate” and “repeat” were explained in previous essays.

Put simply, frames are the mental frameworks we use to think about things. Our thinking, and hence our ability to change, is limited by these deeply rooted, beneath-the-surface system of beliefs and ideas. While difficult to dispel, frames can be changed. The process begins with awareness of the dominant frame and its influence on practice and the ability to conceptualize alternative frames that better serve student learning.

An example: The widely-held and seldom questioned “teaching is performance” frame places teachers “on stage.” Teachers receive “performance evaluations” and their dynamism and charisma are particularly valued. At its extreme, this frame leads students (and perhaps teachers themselves) to view their teachers as entertainers. While the “teaching is performing” frame highlights several important qualities of effective teachers, it is also limiting.

Phil Schlechty offers an alternative perspective in a JSD interview. Schlechty’s frame views teachers as leaders of knowledge workers and inventors of knowledge work. In addition to those responsibilities, I recommend adding to Schlechty’s frame the notion of teachers as team members and learners.

If accepted, this alternative frame holds incredible potential to alter how educators think about and practice significant aspects of schooling. For instance, teachers would become more skillful in providing engaging and meaningful knowledge work for students, and they would develop such work with their colleagues. They would be assessed based on the quality of the knowledge work they provide to students, on their ability as leaders to motivate student engagement with that work, on evidence of their continuous learning (not seat time spent in workshops), and on their contributions to ongoing teams.

Leaders can promote the development of new conceptual frameworks through a variety of learning processes:

Elicit and build on prior knowledge. Existing understandings about a subject may be elicited through brainstorming, free writing, and the creation of mind maps, among other strategies. Awareness of existing mental frames can sometimes in itself be a sufficient force to begin the often demanding cognitive process of constructing new frames. At other times educators may be asked to compare the similarities, differences, and benefits of existing mental frames and new ones.

Promote deeper understanding. The creation of new mental frames often requires a deeper understanding of a subject, the kind of understanding only acquired through processes such as the careful reading of relevant books and articles, writing for learning, reflecting on learning acquired while solving important problems, and engaging in dialogue.

Provide experiences. Sometimes new frames are best understood through direct experience based on the principle that it’s often easier to “act your way into a new way of thinking” than it is to “think your way into a new way of acting.”

An example: A leader who wants to develop a new conceptual understanding of professional learning might begin by asking teachers to brainstorm terms that come to mind when they think of “professional development.” Courses, workshops, presentations, and training are likely to come to mind. Perhaps some negative feelings about certain experiences may also be expressed. The leader might elicit deeper understanding of and an alternative frame might be elicited through study of articles found on the National Staff Development Council’s web site.

Teachers might then be asked to compare features and possible benefits of the new approach with the old. To give teachers experiences with new ways of learning together, leaders could incorporate small group problem-based learning as part of every faculty meeting, asking teachers to periodically reflect on the learning that occurs and how it alters their practice.

Take a moment now to . . .

• identify an existing frame that may be unconsciously preserving the status quo in an area in which you seek improvement. A starting point may be one of the examples offered above regarding teaching and professional learning.

Acquire new habits of mind and practice to achieve important goals

Photo/Dennis Sparks

Even while we’re creating new “neural pathways,” the old ones are still there in our brains. Until the new ones become completely second nature, then stress or fear can make us fall back on the old ones.

—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 calls relate, repeat, and reframe. “Relate” was explained in a previous essay, and “reframe” will be described in my next post.

School leadership is an incredibly complex task that for the most part is governed by habits of mind and behavior. Leaders’ understandings, beliefs, and actions are often directed by “default settings”—habitual patterns of thought and behavior—that may operate beneath the level of conscious awareness and that can either support or impede the achievement of important goals.

The cultivation of new habits, when appropriate, requires intention, attention, and persistence across many weeks or months until mastery is achieve, a task often complicated by the tenacity of old habits. The development of new habits begins with an initial learning of new ways of thinking and acting. It continues with the repetition of those thoughts and behaviors (often in the face of opposition from people who prefer the old habits) until new ways of thinking and acting have become routine.

Leaders first change themselves

Leaders begin by changing their own habits, and they are more successful in acquiring new habits when they anticipate and persevere through an “implementation dip” during which performance may temporarily diminish as new skills are acquired. It’s also important for leaders to be patient with themselves when they occasionally revert to old habits when fatigued or experiencing strong emotions.

An example:

A leader commits himself to being a much better listener, particularly when the subject at hand provokes strong feelings or is of personal interest. His current habit is to interrupt to ask questions, correct the speaker, or offer advice, all of which interfere with his ability to understand what the person is saying and to learn from it. His specific goal is to recognize these impulses as they arise in his mind and to maintain a focus on the speaker by not blurting out his questions or points of view. To establish some “small wins” he begins by committing himself to a “micro-action” at which he is unlikely to fail—one minute of committed listening—and to gradually increasing the duration of time during which he will practice this habit. He also recognizes that it will be important for him to be tolerant of mistakes as the neural “hardwiring” of the new habit begins to take form.

Take a moment now to . . .

• identify a habit you would like to cultivate and determine the first-step you will take in the process of its development.

Relate, repeat, and reframe to promote change

Photo/Dennis Sparks

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.


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