Personalizing Our Approach to Supporting Change

Recently, there has been an increase in the sense of urgency in our school district around the notion of improvement in student achievement.   Some of these conversations have been motivating in nature as educators we are asking ourselves if we are truly seeing the impact of our work on student achievement (above that which is expected to be gained each year) – asking ourselves, as Hattie suggests, to evaluate if the impact is equitable and valid, and the magnitude of that impact (Hattie, High Impact Leadership, ASCD, 2015). These educators see themselves as agents of change and are attempting to determine increasingly effective practices for their learners. As a learning leader I am fitting myself into this group as I review data from  this past year in an effort to determine if the work that we engaged in is the “right work” and if we have, as Katz and Dack (2013) has taught us, been focusing on our fundamental and most urgent challenge of practice. Some of our fellow Leadership Learning Team educators have been asking critical questions about making lasting change occur in our district, thus providing us with some feedback about where they see our system currently at. They have asked questions such as:

How do I help pendulum people fully engage in practicing the Conditions for Learning?

Why are some people more resistant to change than others?

Why are some people struggling to realize that we need to change our practice as our students have changed?

How do I help educators to be motivated themselves?

I sincerely appreciate these questions as the leaders, both informal and formal, are demonstrating their learner mindsets and their desire to see change occur.  These questions, combined with my blog posts from the last couple of weeks have led me to think deeply about the relationship between professional learning, motivation, teacher efficacy and ultimately, how authentic and permanent change happens in our learning environments.

Consequently, I have started to enhance my own learning around these topics.  I revised the “Teaching Effectiveness Framework” from May of 2009 (available online), as this document spells out for us five core principles that provide a foundation for an effective teaching practices framework. I see this document as critical as it outlines what our professional target should be as educators – this is where we want each of our learning environments and our learners to be – this is the ultimate goal. As learners and people who are immersed in a changing system, we need to know what “success” looks like – as I articulated in my previous post about the need for “success criteria”. Knowing what success looks like and sounds perhaps helps to motivate us as we can now see where we are heading, can engage in our own personal self-assessment, and can set goals for our own individual growth/improvement.  As the School Effectiveness Lead, it is important to note that our “Ontario School Effectiveness Framework” can be used in a similar way; however I chose to use this document due to its simplicity and the fact that the Five Core Teaching Practices have been articulated in a useful rubric.

Five Core Teaching Practices

  1. Effective teaching practice begins with the thoughtful and intentional design of learning that engages students intellectually and academically.
  2. The work that students are asked to undertake is worthy of their time and attention, is personally relevant, and deeply connected to the world in which they live.
  3. Assessment practices are clearly focused on improving student learning and guiding teaching decisions and actions.
  4. Teachers foster a culture of interdependent relationships in classrooms that promote learning and create a strong culture around learning.
  5. Teachers improve their practice in the company of peers.

As a district, we have discussed each of these core teaching practices on a number of occasions and in a number of professional learning groups.  Our Conditions for Learning are embedded and reflected throughout these practices and need to be put into place if we are going to be successful at achieving these practices.  These practices remind me of what it means to have a “Learner Centered Environment and Pedagogy”.  However the questions from above still remain, why are we struggling to achieve these core teaching practices? What are our educators telling us?

At this time, we have evidence that some educators (let me be clear – we have many educators who are deeply entrenched in the change process) are seemingly resisting changes that research has shown are important for our students and for student achievement.  Some have stated that they are “waiting for the swing of the pendulum”.  As we try to understand this stance, Willingham, (2009, in Katz and Dack, 2013) reminds us that we are “far better programmed for survival than for learning” (pg. 16) and that we will avoid change by nature.  “In fact, people regularly commit “thinking errors” (Stanovich, 2009) to trick themselves into preserving the status quo of beliefs, understandings and practices.” (pg. 16)  “People have a natural propensity to surround themselves with others who are similar to them and tell then what they want to hear. In contrast, they put distance between themselves and those who would likely challenge their cognitively comfortable status quo.” (pg. 16)  Muhammad, in Transforming School Culture (2009) names this group as the Fundamentalists as their goal is to maintain the status quo (pg.30).  “Fundamentalists are staff members who are not only opposed to change, but organize to resist and thwart any change initiative. They can wield tremendous political power and are a major obstacle in implementing meaningful school reform.” (Muhammad, pg. 29)

Muhammad (2009) also describes three other types of educators and what their goals are:  the Believer aims for academic success for every student (and the Fundamentalists actively work against them); the Tweener wants organizational stability as they are usually new to the school and are trying to learn the norms and expectations of the school’s culture, and potentially may leave the school quickly as they are not tied to the community; while the Survivors have emotional and mental survival as their focus – they are educators who are “so overwhelmed by the demands of the profession that they suffer from depression and merely survive from day to day” (pg. 29). In our small schools with few staff members, how do we help all educators, from the Fundamentalists to the Tweeners, to understand that change is necessary …without losing our sense of efficacy? How do we help them to shift totally into the “learner mindset” that is necessary to break downs the barriers that seem to crop up?  Muhammed (2009) suggests that each group requires a different approach to be supported through change.  How are we, as leaders, helping to support each of these members of our team so that we can achieve our goal of a culture of learning for all?

I think that we need to begin by understanding  and acknowledging that learning is difficult and that the urgent learning that is involved in this change that we need to undertake as described in the Five Core Teaching Practices is uncomfortable, messy and will take time.   Katz and Dack (2013) tell us that, “when people start to get that dissonance or discomfort, their temptation is often to interpret the feeling as a sign that something is wrong. Instead, they need to learn to embrace the feeling and understand it as a signal that something is right.  In other words, that feeling means that learning is coming!” (pg. 21)  This is a critical piece of the culture of learning that we are trying to establish with our Conditions for Learning; in all learning environments, we are asking learners to be risk takers and to share their thinking as we need to put this thinking to the test. It is only through this type of discourse that we are going to make real and substantial change.  We have work to do, work that needs to be increasingly “personalized” to support those “learners” who require it.  Muhammed’s work helps us to begin planning for this.

Until next week…teacher efficacy is another critical piece!

6 responses

  1. Million dollar questions and ones that deserve an answer. We are surrounded by top notch research that clearly shares the direction. I don’t know that education has ever been a pendulum. If we take good pedagogy and enhance our tool kit we should always be moving forward in our thinking andearning. We are in a different time and as our conditions for learning state we need to be responsive to our learners. I do think that we need to figure out how to support each other and what that looks like for all of our learners. We spend much time in isolation from our peers and colleagues and ways appreciate time to dialogue and be supportive when things get stressful/overwhelming/. We are in the business of people and need to deal with the brainiology of our learners.

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  2. Nicole you have articulated our problem of practice with insight and precision. Well done! There is no doubt we are creatures of habit. Who among us has not returned from an inspiring day of professional development full of exciting new strategies to improve our practice only to resort to our tried and true method of delivering a lesson within a matter of days perhaps a week? For three years we invested a significant amount of time and resources in the implementation of the Growing Success document. We provided our staff with extensive professional development around learning goals, success criteria and feedback. We visited schools, we put into practice our learning and we collaborated to develop a better understanding around an assessment for learning culture. Yet today you would be hard pressed to find any evidence of that capacity building in our schools. To be clear I do not blame our teachers for this failure. As a senior administrator I take responsibility for this. I did not ensure the conditions were in place to transform school culture – to change behaviour not only on an individual basis but district wide. No matter how healthy or resilient a seed may be, if you plant it in soil devoid of any nutrients, and don’t provide it with moisture and sunlight it is not going to grow.
    As a leader the first step in transforming a school culture is to develop philosophical agreement. If you don’t have philosophical agreement it is going to manifest itself in passive aggressive behaviour among the resistors. Anthony Muhammad identifies three pillars of a healthy school culture ripe for learning;
    1. Commitment – an unwavering belief in the ability of all students to succeed. This belief is reflected in the policies, procedures, and practices educators adopt.
    2. Reflection – Analyse data and confront the brutal facts
    3. Prescription – collaboration and disciplined practice

    The transformative leader (at all levels) is determined to lead a person into better behaviour rather than being satisfied with identifying and criticizing current behaviour (Muhammad,2009). As a district this is our challenge.

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  3. […] Sometimes we refer to educators who are resistant to change as “fundamentalists”, based on the work of Muhammad, in Transforming School Culture (2009) (nicely explained here by Nicole Morden-Cormier). […]

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  4. Hi Nicki;

    I “liked” this post because it caused me to have more cognitive dissonance than I have experienced in a long time. Hopefully that really does mean that “the learning is coming”!

    Perhaps it is because our challenges of practice are so similar.

    You are trying to figure out how to reach the classroom educators who are resisting changes that “research has shown are important for students and for student achievement”. In other words, I think, the ideas that you have researched and you are presenting to them as necessary, are sometimes being resisted.

    My challenge is to reach the school and system leaders who cling to and protect the status quo when it comes to the use of technology. In spite of the rapidly changing world, and the ever-changing end goal of education, many leaders still believe that using technology to change where, when and how learning happens is optional, and they pay little attention to the development of their digital leadership skills.

    Do you think that leaders who may be deeply involved in change work that they fully believe in, could still be considered fundamentalists if they ignore the need to be digitally literate, even though their students live in both physical and digital spaces?

    I am wondering – if we take some time to reflect on the ‘status quo’ states that we protect as leaders, if it might provide some insight into why classroom educators cling to and protect their own status quo in their classrooms? What can we learn from our own resistance to new learning that would help us understand and better effect change with classroom educators?

    I have done a very meandering reflection on this here: https://fryed.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/searching-for-the-desire-to-learn/

    It is pretty raw at the moment but I needed to put it out there to work through some thinking with colleagues. Please feel free to join the conversation and see what we can learn from it.

    Thanks, as always, for shaking up my cognitive world! Let’s hope we can figure all of this out for the sake of our learners.

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  5. Here are some reflections to Donna’s Blog – be sure to have a read of it!! Makes you think.

    Thinking about the Student Work Study Teacher model and the lessons that we can learn from the success of this model. It is completely job embedded, it is reponsive to the learning needs of those in the classroom at the exact moment that they are apparent (thinking of the northern model where our SWSTs can be in the same classrooms several times per week), it is non-threatening as it is invitational (relationships are critically important), it is collaborative, ongoing, and uses research to guide practice over time (to mention just a few features). These characteristics are vital to success…I have been thinking deeply about the lessons that I can learn about this model and how I can replicate this model of learning (thus change!) at a system level…and reminding myself that I need to be patient (hmmm….urgency always takes over though!). Many of these characteristics have been mentioned by Donna’s reflections and they resonate with me for sure – and I think about how I was inspired by Donna to move forward…she took one of my practices (my Monday Morning Memo) and challenged me to make it interactive. She taught me, supported me through the process and provided me with feedback along the way (and rescued me a couple of times) and then reinforced my learning by inviting me to present, with HER, at a conference. I learned about Google Apps and our Virtual Learning Environment the same way – I saw the need to collaborate more online (agendas, exit cards, etc). Thus, I had a specific need as a learner, and had a trusted colleague who entered in and supported me with this piece. Today, I use my Google Apps a whole lot (this week we met with the Ministry of Education to provide evidence around our Board Learning Plan and was able to embed links to google forms highlighting our exit card data, to our formative assessments, to my blog, etc) and next week am joining a board based learning session with our eLC. I appreciate that this learning was invitational (just in time!), collaborative, grounded in trust and not judgement, provided ongoing feedback, and responsive! Reminds me of a SWST model! Just some thoughts… thanks for making me reflect Donna!

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  6. […] “Personalizing Our Approach To Supporting Change“ […]

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