The Eight Lessons of Change

Amidst Doug Johnson's post about cleaning out his office is an amazing gem about change. Doug excerpts a 1992 report with a foreward written by Michael G. Fullan called “Change: A Guide for the Perplexed,” from his work, Doubts and Certainties, NEA National Center for Innovation (I googled the book and it was actually written by Portland State University professors Thomas G. Chenoweth and Robert B. Everhart).

In Doug's Post, he lists what I call eight lessons of change. They are profound and deserve to be brought out to the forefront.

The Eight Lessons of Change

  1. You can't mandate what matters.
  2. Change is a journey, not a blueprint.
  3. Problems are our friends.
  4. Vision and strategic planning come later in the process, not at the beginning.
  5. Individualism and collectivism must have equal power.
  6. Neither centralism nor decentralism works.
  7. Connect with the environment.
  8. Every person needs to be his or her own change agent

We live in a discrete world that wants to manage and micromanage the events that happen. We want prescriptions, details, and specific best practices. It makes us uncomfortable that so much is left to the individual.

You can hire an individual and force their body to work, but only they can employ their soul. This is why managers and principles who hire men and women of character, empower them, hold them accountable, and treat them with respect get such better results than those who browbeat, micromanage and demoralize! (The same with teachers in the classroom.)

Change is a process, not a discrete event! These eight lessons are simply so profound that I am excited!

I want to share with you my opinions on each of these and my own opinions.

Change Principle #1 You can't mandate what matters.

Many mandates come down, but the core of the matter is a good education for students. When mandates counter what we know as educators deep in our soul, the mandates lose support, sputter out and die. What matters, matters. Students must receive a good education and nurturing so they can be productive citizens of tomorrow. Period.

Change Principle # 2: Change is a journey, not a blueprint.

You cannot become complacent when you are a change maker. We get out of the past tense (implemented, taught) to the present tense (implementing, teaching). We are always part of the process of change.

When you're green, you're growing. When you're ripe, you rot!

Our world does not hold stasis very long. I remember in Calculus, we would calculate the point at which a ball thrown up would reach a stopping point and begin dropping again. (I do not miss that class.) Likewise, you're either in the process of improvement or the process of decline.

Change Principle #3: Problems are our friend

With a background in sales management, I learned that problems for a customer almost always equaled opportunity. If I could solve that problem, I would either keep their business or get new business.

Problems are great. When we find a problem, it means that we know its there. That is half the battle, trust me. (That is why I value forthright people who tell it like it is. I do not have much use for people who sweep authentic problems under the rug, neither do I have use for whiners!)

When we have a problem, we move ahead to solve it. Many people choose to ignore problems.

A mass of people in education right now are choosing to block problems rather than dealing with them. For example, instead of asking WHY are cell phones a problem in school or why are kids always on myspace, we are just using the old authoritarian ways with children who don't trust authority. How about educating them and holding them accountable for their behavior? (Remember, I do like blocking and monitoring but nothing is 100%. How many of them have blocking at home?)

Legislators are also taking this misguided approach of attempting to set up virtual brick walls. They forget that any such bricks may look like bricks, but in reality they are made of holey sponges. You simply cannot block everything. And along with the 5% of the problems on social software, they are blocking kids from the 95% excellent material. The baby is certainly being thrown out with the bathwater.

Change Principle #4: Vision and strategic planning come later in the process, not at the beginning.

This is counterintuitive, but I agree with it also. Often, when I begin writing the technology plan, I have ideas of the general direction. However, the vision and strategy often emerge as I am in the process of implementing new technology. The next step in the process usually comes out and hits me in the head like a soccerball.

As I have been purchasing our new computer lab at Westwood, I have been planning the next 3-5 years. It is just easier that way. Once it is “planned” it will evolve as I learn new things (this is why it so helpful to do it on a wiki!)

Change Principle #5 Individualism and collectivism must have equal power.

This one is tough. We must remember that individuals implement new technology. As I stated earlier, you can employ a person's body but they are the ones who employ their own soul in a job. Therefore, when you make individuals part of the process via survey, collaborative work, wiki, or just conversation, they become more committed to the outcome.

I always ask teachers about change in their rooms. I'm not going to buy software that they refuse to use! It is their room! Mandates just don't work. Involve the teacher. Yes, you can set standards and promote direction for the collective group but there is also an important place for the individual.

This is an important balance that good administrators and technology administrators can keep, but again, it is a process, and one never really “arrives.”

Change Principle #6: Neither centralism nor decentralism works.

This is a tough one. With an entrepreneurial bent myself, I love decentralized economies and have often felt that the removal of much of the work of curriculum planning from many local schools has buried schools and teachers in a conundrum of paperwork.

Paperwork and bureaucracy, when it is the people in the trenches having to fill it all out, do not do much good. When I talk to public school teachers (everyone of them I know), it is the paperwork and bureaucracy that is the complaint. That, and the fact that they are limited on personalizing their rooms. Sometimes they are not allowed access to their rooms over the summer. Things are often moved and placed for them. But, they are paid well and put up with those frustrations, although they secretly tell me they would be better teachers with less paperwork and little more ability to control their own environment.

I believe in empowering people to do a good job. I also believe in accountability. Empowerment means decentralizing and pushing authority out to those “in the trenches.” Accountability means that they are accountable for the outcome as are the administrators that run the school to a central authority. I do believe there is a place for both, but when humans get desperate to change something, they micromanage until a few visionaries emerge and “get it done.” That changes everything. (That is what is happening on the New Internet.)

The tough thing about overcentralization is that there is little flexibility. Every child is different. Every class is different. If you take the ability away from teachers to move like a running back during an important play, the teacher will be tackled and go down for the count. The class will run over her like the poor player trying to breathe at the bottom of a bunch of squirming linebackers!

There is no easy prescription for organizational structure but there is certainly a balance. I am quite happy with my situation in that I am responsible and accountable for what goes on in my room.

On a side note, I had a great professor in college who talked about responsibility, accountability, and authority. When you make someone responsible and hold them accountable but give them no authority to make any changes, you create a very bad situation. I am afraid that is what is happening in many schools.

Change Principle #7 Connect with the environment.

The pet peeve of most people is the newcomer who comes in and says “Well at so and so, we did it this way.” I always want to say, “Well why didn't you stay there if they did everything right?”

Yes, you can learn from others, however, every environment is different. Good change managers are good at assessing and responding to their unique environment.

Change Principle #8 Every person needs to be his or her own change agent

This is back to my overriding paradigm: You can employ a person's body, but they employ their own soul!

Change is up to me in my classroom. Everyone has excuses. All of us have reason to whine!

If it is to be, it is up to me!

I have transformed my classroom with six year old Pentium III processors and 128 MB of RAM and Office XP and an Internet connection. We used new Internet tools. I've been blogging. I've been reading blogs, papers, and books and implementing suggestions of those that know. I've been brainstorming and leaping off the shoulders of giants as I take my own twist on their suggestions.

There is no excuse for you not having a good classroom where kids learn.

And if you 100% KNOW that you cannot have a good classroom where you are teaching, then why are you wasting your short life? Life is about making a difference, not spinning our wheels.
We don't want to waste water or aluminum or paper! So why on earth would we waste our time?

Will you employ your soul in your job?

It is my decision. I will employ my own soul in the job I do!

Have you truly employed your own soul?
Or does it just sit to the side and wait for retirement or the weekend or summer vacation? Is your soul in your yard or pets or house or are you truly engaging it in the place where you work? Find yourself. Then hire yourself to do your job, make a difference, and change!

You can change. No one can make you. What will you do?

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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1 comment

Edward Roy Krishnan, PhD July 5, 2006 - 5:07 pm

Dear Ms. Vicky Davis,

The article you posted is a timely one. In fact, the substance of your thought is never outdated. Change is the only thing that doesn’t change! It continues to exist and play its role in our lives. It operates beyond the limitations of time and space. It affects everyone. Your article also suggests that teachers should be balanced in responding to the need of students. They should not become idealistic in their pursuit for excellence in service and duty. However, a good teacher is in tune with changes that take place all around him/her and responds to these changes appropriately. If teachers do not develop and uphold the principle of CONTINUAL learning, they will fail to motivate students. Students learn best by example. So, when a teacher is open and willing to learn, he/she is, in essence, inviting students to join him/her and become part of a community of learners!

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