Posts Tagged 'change'

The emotional dimensions of change

“The President-elect, it turned out, had a gift for the behavioral arts. He intuitively grasped “loss aversion” (our tendency to give more weight to the threat of losses than to potential gains), and perpetually maximized “nostalgia bias” (our tendency to remember the past as being better than it was). He made frequent subconscious appeals to “cultural tightness” (whereby groups that have experienced threats to their safety tend to desire strong rules and the punishment of deviance), and, perhaps most striking, his approach tapped into what psychologists call “cognitive fluency” (the more easily we can mentally process an idea, such as “Make America great again” or “Lock her up!,” the more we’re prone to retain it). Even his Twitter game was sticky: “Crooked Hillary!” “build the wall.” (…[R]epetition works.)” —Sarah Stillman

Human beings don’t like change, and we are not particularly rational about it.

That means that fear and anger and even hope can trump evidence and logic (pun intended).

Which means we are more easily manipulated by demagogues than we would like to believe.

It also means that if we seek to influence others it is important to understand that reason alone seldom produces lasting change.

If “reason” isn’t sufficient, what works?

1. Research and other forms of evidence provide a rationale for change and are essential to some people before they will consider the change.

2. Well-selected anecdotes (preferably based on personal experience) and testimonials from individuals respected by group members can be very persuasive. So, too, are images and video (think back on photographs and video clips that have changed public perception related to important problems).

3. Remember that the emotional response change evokes in others is not necessarily about us (although it may feel that way) nor about the ideas or practices we promote.

Being forearmed with an awareness of the emotional dimensions of change can increase our resilience during this present moment of heightened national anxiety and fear.

It can also enable us to remain deeply engaged over the many years and decades required to bring about meaningful and lasting change in any important field of endeavor.

Growth is optional

Dennis

A simple but profound truth: Change is mandatory.

Buddhists would say the cause is “impermanence,” and they would add that human suffering is caused by resisting it.

Scientists might say the reason is entropy, which my dictionary defines as “the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe.”

While change is inevitable, learning and growth are optional.

I am thinking about the kind of learning and growth that takes us to the edge of our comfort zone and a step or two beyond.

Some people seem to lean into such learning as if it is a part of their DNA.

Others may grow because a significant change in their personal or professional lives pushes them into it, even late in their careers or lives.

But for every person who steps up to the challenge of significant change there are others whose default settings seem to be denial and resistance.

Which begs the question: What are the internal or external conditions under which people stay the same or grow?

Commonly-cited reasons are “grit” or “resilience” or a “sense of efficacy” or a “growth orientation.”

But that doesn’t explain why some people have those qualities and others don’t.

What is your experience—what nudges you toward meaningful growth rather than entropy?

Being nudged out of our comfort zones

Dennis

My first principal told me that he thought his job was to “fine tune” the teachers on his staff. At the time I wasn’t particularly eager to be “tuned,” but I have since come to think about it differently.

Depending on where we are at a given point in time, all of us, I think, can benefit from being nudged out of our comfort zones in one direction or another:

Nudged toward sociability or toward solitude and quiet.

Nudged toward routine or toward the non-routine.

Nudged toward new learning or toward the consolidation of what we’ve already learned.

Nudged toward trying new things or toward increased appreciation for what we already have.

The implications are endless.

We may be nudged by the example of others. We may be nudged by an invitation or a demand.

Whatever the source, our lives will be enriched when we pay close attention to and even welcome the occasional nudges that inevitably come our way. And when our lives are enriched, we enrich the lives of others.

Do the best that you can…

Dennis Sparks

“Do the best you can with what you have where you are right now,” a large poster in a high school science teacher’s classroom said.

Whenever a teacher-dependent student required it, the teacher would point to the sign as a reminder to consult the student’s notes, text materials, and/or other students as initial steps in finding an answer to his or her question.

I have often cited this poster as a succinct but powerful philosophy of life, a reminder that we already possess the knowledge and resources to live a richer life.

But as I have thought more about this “philosophy” over the intervening decades, I have realized that there are times when it is important to change what we have (for instance, our belief system or professional understanding), the relationships with which we surround ourselves, and/or where we are (for instance, the job we have) to improve the quality of our lives.

Put another way, we need not be resigned to “what is” when seeking solutions to important problems or in achieving significant goals.

We can learn new ways of thinking and acting, we can form supportive relationships, and we can change the path upon which we are walking.

So, in this moment do the best that you can with what you have where you are right now.

But if this is not creating in the long term the work or life you want, you need not be resigned to the status quo. All of us have options….

Effective leaders speak from the heart

Dennis SparksThat which is spoken from the heart is heard by the heart. —Jewish saying

Emotions trump facts in motivating human behavior. That was an awareness I acquired only after many years of frustration trying to persuade others to change based on research and logical discussion.

This understanding means that in addition to providing evidence to support new practices, leaders will speak from their hearts to the hearts of those they lead to sustain a steady flow of energy for doing the demanding work of continuously improving teaching, learning, and relationships in schools.

John Kotter and Dan Cohen elaborate on this perspective in The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations. “People change what they do,” they observe, “less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.”

Because emotions underlie lasting change, leaders’ ability to evoke and channel the energy they create is essential in overcoming inertia and providing the commitment necessary to establish new habits of mind and behavior.

Leaders evoke feelings when they:

Speak with passion about the values that guide their lives and of the values shared by the school community. They do so whenever appropriate in faculty meetings, team meetings, and one-to-one conversations with colleagues, parents, and students.

Tell stories that touch the hearts of those they lead. For example, leaders touch hearts when they speak authentically from their hearts about the incidents and events that shaped them as human beings and led them into teaching and school leadership. They can also invite others to share the influences that shaped their lives and professional choices in faculty meetings or other appropriate venues (my next column will have more to say on leaders’ use of stories).

Provide learning experiences that affect the heart as well as the mind. The use of well-chosen poetry and video clips are two such methods. Another is to form panels of current or former students in which participants reveal salient aspects of their lives, their experiences in the school, and/or how well prepared they felt they were for the next phase of their lives.

While research and professional literature are important tools in stimulating meaningful and lasting change, they are usually insufficient.

That’s why it is essential that whenever possible leaders speak from their hearts to the hearts of others in ways that promote a sense of possibility and commitment to important goals and encourage others in the school community to do the same.

What’s in the “black box” of your school or school system?

Dennis Sparks

Years ago a professor invited me to his office seeking my endorsement of a proposal to solicit a large grant to improve middle school science instruction.

He showed me a large chart on his office wall. In the upper left hand corner was a box that indicated that teachers would be engaged with researchers over many months in designing the curriculum and instructional strategies.

The next box said that the curriculum and strategies would be field tested to determine their effectiveness. The third box pointed out that large numbers of teachers would be trained to use the curriculum and teaching strategies.

An arrow went from that box to a black box with no descriptive words attached to it. And, finally, an arrow went from the black box to a box that concluded that teachers would apply their new knowledge and skill and that student learning would improve.

I asked what the black box meant. The researcher shrugged his shoulders, saying that the box contained all the things that went on in schools that were outside of the researchers’ control but would affect whether teachers actually acquire deep understanding of the curriculum and apply the new practices.

Readers of this blog know the black box contains the elements of school culture (trust, clarity of purpose, etc.) and structure (time for meaningful collaboration, instructional coaching to support implementation, etc.) that determine whether or not innovations are adopted and  student learning improves.

What plans did they have to address that black box?, I asked the researcher. Another shrug, indicating his helplessness in the face of such forces..

What’s in the “black box” of your school or school system?

Why “It’s better than doing nothing” probably isn’t

Dennis Sparks

“It’s certainly better than doing nothing,” I recently heard someone say about what seemed to me to be a poorly-conceived professional development event.

“Maybe it is, maybe it’s not,” I responded. “Let’s think about it some more.”

Leaders often justify such “better than nothing” activities by claiming that they are the only available options.

In my experience, however, there are almost always better options. I have also observed that there are usually significant unintended consequences when activity is confused with accomplishment.

Here are two of them:

1. Solving complex problems of the kinds associated with the continuous improvement of teaching and learning almost always requires multiple, well-implemented interventions over many months and years. Doing “something” releases leaders from the cognitively-demanding responsibility of determining what those things are and the interpersonally-challenging task of skillfully implementing them.

2. Engaging in activity for activity’s sake can squander teachers’ goodwill because the activity is accurately perceived as a time filler rather than producing a meaningful result.

An all-too-common example: A school or school system spends a large share of its professional development budget to bring a “big name” consultant to the district for a few hours, an event that may well be teachers’ “inservice” for the year. Compare that  approach with the sustained cognitive and interpersonal effort required to create high-functioning professional learning communities that affect teaching and learning in all classrooms.

So, the next time you hear someone say “it’s better than nothing,” ask them to think again.

 


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