Educators as Change Agents
"When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills." –Chinese proverb
I’ve recently had reason to want to grab some bricks and build that wall around me. My twins graduated high school this summer, and I just packed them off to two different colleges 600 miles apart. Change is hard. Another dynamic duo in my life, my assistant principal and principal, both retired in July so our school’s leadership is now in flux. Change is hard. I am a literacy coach in a district rolling out a new language arts pacing guide that changes how we approach reading and writing at every grade level. Change is HARD!
The funny thing is, one of the reasons I’ve stayed in education for 20 years and gravitated towards working with adults on school improvement is that I yearn to be an agent of change. Nobody likes it when change is thrust upon them, but I do love making change happen. It’s the reason I’m drawn to the primary grades where children’s literacy skills change at such an astonishing rate. It’s why I love mentoring new teachers and helping them realize the growth and change in their own practice. Most significantly, it’s the reason I thrive in a Professional Learning Community at Work™ where change is the proof that we are doing it right.
If a professional learning community is defined as “educators engaged in an ongoing process of collective inquiry and action research in order to achieve better results for the students they serve” (DuFour, 2016), then we collectively use evidence of learning to inform and improve our professional practice in a constant search for ways to get higher levels of learning for our students. Continuous change. And yes, it is hard, but it is so good. As my retired principal, Brian Butler, often says to teachers, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” This is a journey and a process. Each step on the journey is a change, and the process is messy at times. If change is so hard for us humans, yet necessary and expected in a PLC, how do we sustain continuous change in a positive environment? It helps to understand a little about how to manage complex change.
The infographic at the top of this post shows five elements that must be in place in order for change to occur with success. Interestingly, it also shows the unintended consequences when just one of the puzzle pieces is missing. Can you think of a time in your personal or professional life when you did not have either the vision, skills, incentives, resources, or action plan necessary to implement a proposed change? How did you feel?
My district has a vision about how language arts will be taught using the new pacing guide but unless that is clearly communicated to teachers there will be confusion as to why we must change. My job is to help teachers develop the skills to implement the new lessons in order to ease their anxiety and show them how it will lead to higher levels of learning for their students so they have incentive to try it, or there will be resistance. We’ve got to be sure to provide the resources, both human and capital, they’ll need to implement the new pacing guide with fidelity or it will cause frustration. Finally, during our collaborative planning time we will collectively create a manageable action plan so that we don’t have the false starts that happen all too often when we have great intentions with change initiatives, but lack clarity about how to proceed.
Rick DuFour says “The journey will undoubtedly require hard work. But if there is one undeniable reality for every educator every year, it is that we are going to work hard. The real question is this: Will we work hard and succeed or work hard and fail?” (DuFour, 2015). In my experience working with collaborative teams, those who understand how to work hard together to build windmills instead of walls when dealing with change are far more likely to succeed and become highly functioning teams. That, in turn, helps their students to succeed, which means the ability to deal with change is crucial in order for teams to uphold the mission of their PLC.
Are the teams in your PLC ready to lean into the winds of change and embrace the chance to grow and change their practice to meet the needs of your students this school year? When there are struggles, ask yourself how you can be a positive contributing member of the team by ensuring you’ve considered each of the five elements necessary for change to be a success. Change can be overwhelming and difficult, but in a PLC it can also be rewarding, exciting and fulfilling.
“Recognize that the road to becoming a learning community is dotted with many tempting parking places. Push on! Obstacles and others can stop you temporarily; you are the only ones who can do it permanently.” –Rick DuFour
DuFour, R. (2015). In Praise of American Educators: And how they can become even
better. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., Many, T., Mattos, M. (2016). Learning by Doing: A
handbook for professional learning communities at work. Bloomington, IN:
Solution Tree Press.