Making a choice to change and do something different, possibly viewed as disruptive or even radical, in education is a bold step. Perhaps you are shifting to a new block schedule, introducing team teaching or blended learning, or switching to year round school. You’ll question whether you are doing what is best for you, your community, and most importantly, your kiddos. How will you know if the decision you made was right? Chances are that it will take time, which is a luxury schools and districts often don’t have to show the impact of the change. It takes courage, nerves of steel, and a lot of love to stand up for what you believe is needed in your school.
But choosing to take a less traveled path is just the beginning of the journey and arguably the easiest element. It is often said that change is fast but transition is slow. There is an uncomfortable gap between the decision being made and the action steps that come next where the grappling, questioning, and struggling takes place. Emotions enter the picture and transition sets in. It is at this time when it is important to take care of the people who are going on this adventure with you.
As a leader in this new environment, there are three necessary disciplines to help manage your transition time and support the new culture that you wish to develop.
- Create a sense of ownership. The culture you create from the beginning of the transition will be the foundation for all of your work moving forward. Spend time encouraging your stakeholders to express their feelings, contribute their ideas to the conversation, and cultivate a sense of buy-in to the change that has been made. The sooner you can get people on board and working toward a positive staff culture, the more quickly you can help them move through the transition. Getting to the pedagogical change is important, but it will not be as successful an implementation if your foundation is shaky.
- Pay attention and listen. What is being said out loud is important but likely not as significant as what is being omitted. What are people feeling a sense of loss about in the transition time? What are they excited about? Is there backchannel conversation happening that could rattle that positive culture you are working so hard to establish? When people’s emotions and beliefs are challenged there is a greater chance for negative energy to enter into the conversation. Honor their opinions but become a master of positivity because people will follow your lead when they are lost or uncertain about the future.
- Stay focused on your why. There was a reason you decide to make a change. Is it clear to all of your stakeholders not just what the change will be, but also why it was made? It might be that you wanted to ensure that your learners were prepared for college and career readiness. Maybe is it to introduce PBL to a community that is struggling to reach its learners. Perhaps it is to create a sense of equity in your district. Whatever the reason, be clear and transparent to all involved in the change decision and transition process. Muddying the waters by subsequently introducing an evaluation process that doesn’t align to your shift or holding professional development sessions that are unrelated will only lead to confusion, which can damage your culture. Staying focused will give people the north star they are looking for when times get tough or seem to difficult to manage.
No one said that being an innovator would be easy. Be ready. be prepared. And stay focused on your goals. Your staff and your learners are ready for the change. It’s up to you to help them manage the transition.