Thursday, June 5, 2014

Commentary on “5 Ways to Influence Change”

George Couros, a very popular speaker on the educational technology circuit, recently posted 5 Ways to Influence Change to his popular blog.  I found it very thought-provoking, matching his suggestions against my own experience.  I recommend that you read the entire piece.  I have quoted fragments of George's original (in black) in order to give my own comments (in blue) some context.

1) Model the change that they want to see.  Although this might seem extremely “cliche”, it is the most imperative step for any leader in leading the “change effort”.  Many organizations talk about the idea that people need to be “risk-takers”, yet they are not willing to model it themselves.  Until that happens, people will not feel comfortable doing something different.  It is also the difference between talking from a “theoretical” to “practical” viewpoint.  

Naturally, I applaud these comments-- I have curated an entire iTunes U course called Becoming a Digital School Administrator which centers on the theme of leaders “walking the walk” with ed tech.  I also will be presenting at ISTE 2014 on this very topic.  Surprisingly, not a great deal of academic research has been done in this area, though what little has been done supports the importance of leaders modeling tech use.  My experience that when leaders fail to practice what they preach it detrimentally effect the pace of tech adoption.

2) Show that you understand the value that already exists. The word “change” is terrifying to some because it makes them feel that everything that they are doing is totally irrelevant.  Rarely is that the case.  I have seen speakers talk to an audience for an hour and people walk out feeling like they were just scolded for 90 minutes on how everything that they are doing is wrong. 

I think I have been quite guilty of failing to recognize the value of past practices.  Blinded by my enthusiasm for the new, I have likely created the sense in some of my colleagues that I deem their past practicesas worthless. Of course this is not how I actually feel.  George has given me very good advice here.
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3) Tell stories. Data should inform what we do and is an important part of the change process, but it does not move people.  If you look at major companies like Coke and Google, they use stories to elicit emotion from people.  Of course they have numbers that they use in their process, especially when it comes to stakeholders, but organizations know the importance of telling a story to make people “feel” something.   To inspire meaningful change, you must make a connection to the heart before you make a connection to the mind. Stories touch the heart. What is yours?

I’ve seen George speak and he is a very good story teller.  Maybe I’m not. But I have found that when I tell my story I am sometimes dismissed as an anomaly.  The most effective “story teller” I have seen at my school is Joe Gerardi, the chairman of our Religious Studies Department.  He has been evangelizing the adoption and use of our new LMS. He begins by authentically stating, “I’m not a techie, but [this new tech thing is great]”  and “If I can do it, anyone can do it”.  I believe that this kind of personal testimony helps convince other novices to take the leap. 

Bring it back to the kids. 
Most educators got into the profession because of a strong passion for helping kids, so when we reduce who a child is to simply a number, or teaching simply to a process, we lose out on why many of us became educators. To help kids. . . . A 10% difference does not create the same emotion as watching a student talk about something they learned or have done.

I’ve produced some eye-opening student testimonials.  In fact I had a set that were so powerful that Apple Education sought to use them in several contexts.  That said, the student testimonial for the innovative practice only goes so far.  The teachers have to be very confident that they can replicate the new, “best practice”.

Get people excited and then get out of the way.  I have been to schools, watched administrators encourage their teachers to embrace something different in their practice, and they make that change impossible to do.  Giving the answer that “we need to change the policy before you can move forward” not only encourages the detractors, but it kills the enthusiasm in your champions.

I would give Mercy High School an A+ on this score.  As a private school we have the ability to be agile in response to new ideas.  My predecessor encouraged all of my new ed tech ideas when I was in the classroom.  And the administrative team I belong to now shows personal interest in new ideas and tries to “get out of the way” on creative innovations.  We also put our money where our mouths are to the extent possible.

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