No matter your position in education, you can influence change. If we are waiting for “someone else” to create meaningful change, it might not happen.
In this podcast, loosely based on the “5 Ways to Influence Change” blog post from May 2014, mixed with a story I discuss in “Innovate Inside the Box,” I will explain why every person in education can make a significant impact on our schools today.
You can check out the full podcast on Apple iTunes, Soundcloud, or Spotify. You can also read the slightly “updated” post below.
“At the end of the day, what qualifies people to be called ‘leaders’ is their capacity to influence others to change their behavior in orderto achieve important results.” Joseph Grenny
In a time where the only constant in education is “change,” people involved with education need to become “change agents” more now than ever. You can understand pedagogy inside out, but if you are unable to define “why” someone should do something different in their practice, all of that knowledge can be ultimately wasted. People will take a “known good” over an “unknown better” in most cases; the challenge is to help make the “unknown” visible and show why it is better for kids.
Simply sharing new ideas is not enough. It has to go deeper. Ultimately, you want people to feel and value that any change is better than they were kids, and that are current students will be better served by creating a better experience. Innately, educators want what is best for kids.
Tap into that, and people are more likely to move forward. As Dan Pink states,
“To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources—not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end.”
So how does this happen? Below are some things that I have seen effective leaders (from any position) to help people not only accept change but embrace it as an opportunity to do something better for kids.
1. Model the change that they want to see.
Although this might seem extremely “cliche,” it is the most crucial 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.
People will feel more comfortable taking a journey to an unknown place if they know that the first steps have been made by someone else. Although I believe in the idea of distributed leadership, the idea of “leaders” is that they are also ahead; they have done things that have not been done before. Chris Kennedy has shared the belief that leaders need to be “elbow deep in learning” with others, not only to show they are willing to embrace the change that they speak about but also to be able to talk from a place of experience.
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 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. It is great to share new ideas, but you have to tap into what exists already that is powerful.
When you show people that you value them and their ideas (and not in a fake way which is pretty easy to read through), they are more likely to move mountains for you, and for themselves.
Strengths-based leadership is something that should be standard with administrators to teachers, as it should be standard with teachers to kids.
3. Tell stories.
Data should inform what we do and is an essential part of the change process, but it does not necessarily move people forward in a positive direction.
Of course, using evidence to inform practice is important, but stories are what move people forward.
Great organizations know the importance of telling a story to make people “feel” something.
This is something I truly believe:
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 the story of your classroom, school, or district? Not only the one you can tell but the one you want to create together?
4. Bring it back to the kids.
I have shared this video of my friend Tony Sinanis doing a “newsletter” with his students, and I have watched educators all over the world engrossed by what they are seeing.
Think about it…this is a school newsletter. Imagine if I handed out a piece of paper to educators and asked them to read a newsletter from another school. Do you think they would care as much as seeing the kids, their faces, and their emotions?
Don’t let a grade be the only thing that tells a story about the kids in our schools. Let’s empower our students to learn to share their own stories, as well as the stories of the school.
5. Get people excited and then get out of the way.
“Increase your power by reducing it.” Daniel Pink
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.
Answering 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.
When “yeah but” is the most commonly used phrase in your leadership repertoire, you might as well learn to say “no”; it’s essentially the same thing. The most successful people in the world rarely follow a script, but write a different one altogether. Are teachers doing something better “because of you” or “despite you”? If you want to inspire change, be prepared to “clear the path” and get out of the way so that change can happen.
The change process is a tough one, but merely being knowledgeable is not enough. Some people that actually “know less” but “influence more” create more change than some of the smartest people we might know.
Education is not about “stuff” but about “people.” Tap into that, and you are more likely to see the change that you are hoping to see.
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