As is often the case in any organization, change is challenging. There’s a liturgy of reasons for education being a challenging profession and I won’t spend time in this post preaching to the converted. Secondly, sustainable change, or even sustaining the change, is often problematic given the organization’s readiness, resilience, and agility in the face of difficult times in the sector.
If Chip Heath’s “Switch” can tell us anything, it tells us that “Failing is often the best way to learn, and because of that, early failure is a kind of necessary investment.” Many excellent teachers and leaders create a culture, call if climate if you will, where it is safe to make mistakes as we learn from them; they are a source of learning.
We’ve also got ourselves into a quandary in education (I feel) for two reasons that I can currently identify; firstly, we must always add demonstrable statistical value, which isn’t always possible due to so many direct and indirect actions culminating in and attributing to added value. Secondly, we rarely take anything away to make way for a new change. By adding to an overflowing pot simply means that any new addition will only ever be a dilution of the original intent unless we make sufficient space through a reduction in other actions/activities. To do something great you may indeed need to stop doing something that is already going well, which can be a tough one to argue a case for with colleagues, governors, and so on.
Recently I presented at LGfL’s brilliant #LetsAssemble conference in London, sharing a few ideas around the issue of change management and the rationale behind some of the necessary changes in my current workplace. Thank you to anyone who decided to come to my session at the event, there were a plethora of speakers that I wanted to see during my time slot, so I appreciated each person that opted to see me; plus my thanks to John Jackson for asking me to present. A further shout out to Matt and Al for carpooling to and from the event.
What are the key issues?
While this list is not exhaustive, I believe it is likely a transferrable ratio across most education institutions; time, partnerships, priorities, community, and digital literacy.
Managing one’s time is often one of the key attributes to success in a role; yet we all do it in differing ways. Many of us use Eisenhower’s Matrix, more commonly referred to as the “urgent important matrix” as seen in the image below.
Despite this, due to the high demands of the sector we are in, we can (often) get caught up in the urgent but not important jobs without delegating, or worse we end up spending time on that which is neither urgent nor important. Culture and clarity of consistent communication can be at fault here, as, without the aforementioned, we end up in a position where equally everything (and thus nothing) is a priority.
“Time pressures are often the cause of many of our biggest change management challenges.” Harvard Business Review.
As with any change, if we are serious about moving beyond its intent and laser-focused with its implementation and impact there must be sufficient time devotion. The additional and equally important question to ask is “at what cost?”. Two rationales spring to mind here; firstly, if you don’t provide sufficient time for the new change and all that comes with it, then what impact will the false starts, the inefficiencies, the poor outcomes (the list goes on!) cost your organization? Secondly, whether we like it or not, education in the UK is on a tightrope walk in terms of budgeting so what are the short- and long-term financial implications for not devoting the correctly ratioed support and commitment to the change.
If Chat GPT has shown us anything in recent months, it is that technology can do lots of the heavy lifting for us. Make the tech work for you! Make use of Power Automate, Forms, and Flows, plus Chat GPT and other edtech/AI tools, so that you have more time to focus on the core task(s) at hand that will make a larger and compounding difference over time thanks to your directed foci.
As Kotter says, “Build a steering committee.”
We can make leaps and bounds of progress when we foster positive partnerships horizontally and vertically across an organization, whilst also not forgetting the power that external collaborations can bring. This year we have set up networks across our schools for key developmental areas such as Teaching and Learning with Technology, primary curriculum, Principals, SEN, GDPR, sustainability, and many more. We have great expertise within and across our organization so why not draw on that expertise to develop our community, seek greater teamwork, drive collective intelligence, and help to guide, adjust, and steer us on the desired course.
Keep your communications (and actions) transparent. One of the aspects I have loved recently is the constant updates on strategy and development; communications are frequent, easy to follow, and have clarity that leaves no room for misinterpretation. Everyone knows where the ship is, the course we are on, what adjustments have been made, why they were made, and what is next up on the horizon.
Learn from the shoulders of giants!
I have been very fortunate to have been able to stand on the shoulders of giants so far in my career. There are many I could name but I won’t here, this post is getting long enough as it is, and they know I appreciate them because I frequently tell them “Thank you.” Yet still, what always strikes me about education is despite the fact that everyone is beyond busy, people will give so freely of their time. This shouldn’t surprise me given that the reason we all got into this profession was to effect positive change in the lives of the next generation(s), by helping one another we indirectly add to the positive force for good across the education space.
As I mentioned before when reflecting on the issue of time and the prevalence of urgency in education, Covey said it best when he said, “most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough on what is important.” A sensible question to ask then must be “does what I am doing align with our mission and clearly defined vision, and will it help move me/my peers/learners/teams/the school(s) closer to the intended destination?” If the answer to this is no, well…. you have your answer as to what you should do next.
Set aside time to schedule the priorities, as plans don’t and won’t naturally evolve into an effective outcome, they need tending much like a careful and considerate gardener when caring for their allotment. While on the topic of priorities. Less is often more! If there are too many priorities, then suffice to say that it is exponentially likely that nothing will be a priority at the same time as the community is pulled in too many opposing directions at once. Let us also not forget, does everyone understand the “why” behind it all?
It is essential that your community is involved in the process, that you acknowledge their concerns, and that you act accordingly by seeking out all opportunities to deliberately engage and involve your community. Use every opportunity to highlight your organizational values, and how these align with your vision and mission.
Carefully curate the conditions for success, repeatedly review and communicate the direction that you’re traveling in so that, in the case that you need to tack, or wear, it both comes as no surprise and the change in course can be codified.
Digital literacy, as defined by Beetham and Sharpe (here), “Digital literacy looks beyond functional IT skills to describe a richer set of digital behaviours, practices, and identities. What it means to be digitally literate changes over time and across contexts, so digital literacies are essentially a set of academic and professional situated practices supported by diverse and changing technologies. This definition quoted above can be used as a starting point to explore what key digital literacies are in a particular context eg university, college, service, department, subject area, or professional environment.”
We don’t just want people to have good judgment around the use of technology, we need people to be discerning users of technology. So how do we achieve this?
There are multiple routes to what success might look like, however, all routes contain the following common strands:
⦁ Training – knowledge is power, so train people to give them the knowledge they need to be successful and evaluative users of technology.
⦁ Social Opportunities – ensure that technology is one of your vehicles for developing change, but it’s not the only mode of transportation, it is well documented that social interactions aid and support development in children alongside education, the environment, and the wellbeing of the community.
⦁ Digital Responsibilities – Sheykhjan (2017) said it better than I, “Digital responsibility refers to using technology in an appropriate, constructive way for oneself and others. It involves navigating a wide variety of ethical situations that relate to privacy, net neutrality, transparency, and “the digital divide,” among other challenges and situations.”
⦁ Life-long skills – The World Economic Forum, in its 2020 New Vision for Education report (see here), identified lifelong learning as being made up of more than simply academic learning. To thrive, students need to be adept in the social and emotional domains to succeed in the evolution of a digital economy. The skills (or proficiencies) in the report, see image below, highlight many abundant areas of existing opportunity within schools but not necessarily in equal and equitable measures across education at scale. The challenge here is to ensure your organization is working with its community to champion further and future developments in foundational literacies, competencies, and character qualities.
A key element that I am yet to touch on is strategic objective setting, a fundamental aspect of change management. At TDET we don’t follow your typical line management model, our process is called Continuous Development, aka CD. The CD process is an innovative, people-centered approach to performance designed to put every individual at the very heart of strategic planning, objective setting, and growth. All objectives are co-created SMART objectives, that identify your developmental needs (skills, attitudes, and time-alignments), and ensure you have every opportunity for success, the line manager’s role is to support, guide, encourage, and challenge you.
The focus is on the future. You cannot change the past, but you can influence your future.
Thinking ahead to the future, while also reflecting on the past, if the ratio of key elements or indeed your foci is skewed too far in a given direction, or not attended to, then the outcome is inevitable and will not effective positive change.
As a parting farewell, I cannot forget that context is king so this may indeed not be fully transferrable to your setting, but I believe there to be a positive correlation to many of the elements and themes discussed.