How do you define insanity? We probably have all heard this definition: Doing the same thing but expecting something different. Using this as a rubric, many of us probably qualify! Think back to someone you have had to provide the same feedback time after time, and their behavior doesn’t change. Our first reaction is, “What is wrong with them?” However, there is another question we should ask ourselves: “How can I relay this feedback differently?”
Let’s look at two points before we move on:
- First, relationships-if you have been following this blog, you know how important relationship building is. Relationships are a two way street, so the burden of its success is on both people. Should we examine how we deliver feedback to make it more effective for the individual, in a sense customize it? Yes. This does not negate the responsibility the individual has to be receptive and actively implement that feedback.
- Second, feedback and change can’t happen in a vacuum. One of my favorite quotes from Lezotte states:
“…the system in place is ideally suited to producing the results the school is currently getting…any change in the desired results, from the current system in place is going to require a change in mission, core beliefs, and core values that underpin the system, especially if the goal is to permanently sustain the desired change.”
The system and culture of the building needs to be worked on at the same time as the specific change we are trying to achieve. If there is a culture of fear or apathy, then the best feedback delivered in the most effective manner will most likely fall on deaf ears. Leaders must establish a culture of safety and learning. Safety meaning people (leaders and their staff both) don’t have to fear mistakes, but use them as learning opportunities. Learning meaning people have a growth mindset. They look for opportunities to learn and are eager to learn.
So what goes through the mind of someone you are asking to change?
In talking to leaders and teachers alike, often the first thought is defensive. They feel their beliefs, expertise and experience are being challenged and attacked. In other words, all of their hard work is being questioned. They don’t feel valued. It becomes a “you against them” situation.
They also have the opinion that “this too will pass.” Staffs often survive different leaders; different initiatives and just feel if they wait it out, it will go away. They come to believe that change doesn’t work. Change leaders need to move people beyond these feeling and the resulting resistance. They need to guide people through the process of accepting the need for change and then need to help them manage that change.
Three Effective Practices for Change Leaders
We know the challenges. What can leaders do? Here are three practices:
- Engage: Relationships-there is that word again. If you want to engage people you need to build relationships with them-be sincere and trustworthy in all your interactions. After that is in place, people want a clear plan that they can buy into. Create a plan that provides a final goal, objective or milestones along the way and a rubric by which progress can be measured. Remember to keep in mind maintaining a safe culture that allows for hiccups and a culture of learning that allows new information, and the flexibility to incorporate that new information.
- Practice: What holds true for teaching students holds true for teaching in general—and even more for learning new concepts that call for a change in behavior. Learners learn by doing, by practicing. The change we want needs to be embedded in the daily work we are trying to change. It can’t be something separate and theoretical. It must be practical and deliver benefits to the people involved in the change effort.
Leaders support staff in this process by being a coach. If we practice something the wrong way, we learn it and remember it the wrong way. Leaders should monitor frequently, document what they see, and provide feedback. Feedback that refers back to the plan in the bullet above provides consistency and clarity.
- Reflect: Reflection is often neglected, which is unfortunate since it is so essential to the change process (any process really). In the first bullet point, we talked about a rubric. In the second bullet point we talked about monitoring and collecting information. Reflection is the review/analysis of the information collected, how it aligns or doesn’t align with the rubric, and what appropriate next steps should be. It allows leaders to identify patterns of success or failure and to communicate those patterns in a meaningful and supportive way to staff. It also allows for mini-celebrations along the way that recognize the hard work and achievement of people.
If we keep doing the same thing, we get the same results. Expecting anything else is insanity. Change is both about the people and the system, not either/or. Relationship building is essential to the change process. So, is providing a clear plan with concrete objectives. The plan and how it is implemented needs to be monitored regularly with staff receiving supportive feedback that guides them along the plan to the final goal.