“At the end of the day, what qualifies people to be called ‘leaders’ is their capacity to influence others to change their behavior in order to 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; your role is to help make the unknown visible and show why it is better for kids.
Look at the debate over “new math” right now. Many people, including educators, are pushing back over the new curriculum based on the idea that math was taught in a much better way when we were kids. Simply explaining the process and the way we teach and learn math is not enough. It has to go deeper. Ultimately, you want people to feel that this is so much better than they were kids, and that their children are better off. Innately, people want what is better for kids. Tap into that, and people are more likely to move forward.
“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.” Daniel Pink
So how does this happen? Below are some things that I have seen effective leaders to have not people only accept change, but embrace it as an opportunity to do something better for kids.
- Model the change that they want to see. Although this might seem extremely “cliche”, it is the most imperative 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. Have you ever seen a PowerPoint on “21st Century Change” from an administrator who does not exhibit any of the learning that is being discussed in the presentation? Me too. People will feel more comfortable taking a journey to an unknown place if they know that the first steps have been taken 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 idea 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 to also be able to talk from a place of experience.
- 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 totally 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.
- Tell stories. Data should inform what we do and is an important part of the change process, but it does not move people. If you look at major companies like Coke and Google, they use stories to elicit emotion from people. Of course they have numbers that they use in their process, especially when it comes to stakeholders, but organizations know the importance of telling a story to make people “feel” something. 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 yours?
- Bring it back to the kids. What does a 80% to a 90% tell us about a kid? That they are now 10% better? Most educators got into the profession because of a strong passion for helping kids, so when we reduce who a child is to simply a number, or teaching simply to a process, we lose out on why many of us became educators. To help kids. If you ever get the change to see Jennie Magiera speak, watch how she shows kids in her presentations and it shows the impact of her work on them. A 10% difference does not create the same emotion as watching a student talk about something they learned or have done. I have shared a video of 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…it’s 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 tell a story; let the kids do it themselves.
- Get people excited and then get out of the way. 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. Giving the answer 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 just 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 “in spite of you”. If you want to inspire change, be prepared to “clear the path” and get out of the way so that change can happen.
“Increase your power by reducing it.” Daniel Pink
The change process is a tough one but simply being knowledgeable is not enough. Some people that actually “know less” but “influence more” create more change than some of the smartest people you 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.