The talk of change in education is actually the one constant. There is no doubt that education could and should get better, yet the reality is that when we state this about the system we work in, we can either be a part of the problem or solution. Starting with what we do ourselves is the first step in improving schools.
Yet if we are to help move others, it is tough when work feels like “work”. If your goal is to simply get a paycheque, and not changing will still get you to that goal and you are in no threat of losing your job, why change? Many initiatives are thrown at us in education, yet there is no deeper reasoning “why” this is happening and people believe that simply waiting things out will mean that if you don’t change, you will eventually become relevant again.
In my last few years, I have really tried to help people bring an emotional connection to the work that they are doing so that it is moving from a job to “their passion”. I do my best to help people feel invigorated in their work as leaders have created that same feeling for myself. I am nowhere near successful as I would like to be, but everyday I continue to grow and learn. I work quite a bit but it rarely feels like a job; I love what I do. The work that I do is something that I want to do, not something I feel like I have to do, or even worse, feel like that it is something that is being done to me.
Focusing on helping people move forward as an administrator, I have done a lot to study “change” and what helps to move people. Here are some of the things that I have tried to focus on in my work.
1. Strengths Based Leadership - It is really to find a person’s deficiencies, but it is imperative that you find their strengths and build upon them. For example, let’s say I wanted to encourage blogging with staff. It would be very easy to say something similar to:
“We need to start using technology in similar ways to what the rest of the world is doing. It is important for our students that we start blogging.”
Or…I could say something like this:
“I was watching you with your students today and was so impressed in the work that you did in the lesson and how engaged the students were. I wish other people in our school , along with the rest of the world, could see the work that you are doing because it would really help improve their own practice. Would you be open to sitting down with me and writing a blog post to share what you did today? I think so many people would benefit from what you have to offer.”
Interestingly enough, the end result is the same, but the focus on getting there is much different. Showing people they are valued will go a lot further than simply pointing out their weaknesses.
2. Helping to define the “why” - I would honestly say that the Simon Sinek’s talk on how great leaders inspire action has been one of the most influential videos that I have ever watched and I refer to it often. When any initiatives are implemented in schools, the first question I had as a teacher is “why do we have to do this?”. If you are unable to articulate why you are doing what you are doing, is it worth doing?
If you want people to be inspired to move forward, creating a connection on why this will be better for students is imperative.
“…our behavior is affected by our assumptions or our perceived truths. We make decisions based on what we think we know.” Simon Sinek
3. Autonomy and Purpose - Another hugely influential Ted Talk on my career was Dan Pink’s talk on motivation. He talks a great deal in his books on the notion of autonomy in our work place:
“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.”
Often though his focus on “purpose” is often ignored. Purpose is hugely important in moving people forward. In my own work, I want to know that I am doing something bigger than myself and I am contributing to a greater good. As leader, it is imperative that we help people understand their roles in making our vision come alive, not by them fitting into a space, but that their skills are what will take our organization to the next level. I have talked before regarding the notion of “school teacher” versus “classroom teacher”, and I believe when we act as if these are all of our kids, schools will be a much better place, and educators will focus a lot more on improving what they do.
“One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Change for the sake of change is not a good idea, nor will it be sustainable. We have to be able to help people build upon what they already do great, understand the “why” of change, and help them become a part of something bigger. We also have to be comfortable with them moving from their point A to their point B, not expecting everyone to be at the same point at the same time. Continuous learning and growth is what we should expect and embody.