Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Looking For Change? It Starts At The Top....

(I had the honor of guest blogging for Jason T. Bedell, the brains behind TeachMeet Nashville that you might remember I gave the closing keynote at earlier this year. I appreciate the opportunity and you should head over and check out his blog and follow him on Twitter if you aren't already.)


We hear a lot about change in education. Seems like everyday there is a new discussion popping up about something that needs to be changed. Whether it is the use (or non-use) of Interactive Whiteboards in the classroom, to the conversation swirling around what exactly 21st Century skills are to talk of even a complete overhaul of our current system in favor for something different, there always has been, and what I feel, always will be a desire for something different. We are never content with what we have. And you know that's quite alright with me. We in education should never settle for anything. There is always room for improvement and we should all have the desire to do better by our students.

But what if you are in an environment where change is unacceptable? I am sure we can think of one teacher who has crossed our paths who is comfortable with the status quo. We might be able to change the minds of those around us. Or maybe not. But what if you are in a school or district where the leadership is fearful of even the talk of change? That is a different story altogether.

Change starts at the top. Change comes from the top. It all starts and ends with school leadership.
School leaders (administrators) are responsible for a lot. There is no doubt they have a tough job. But, let not the challenges of the day-to-day cloud our judgement for the future. School leaders have to understand the culture in their school, their staff, their students and their community. They have to understand the needs of all those groups and understand the direction they are going, where they are and where they need to be. And at the very top, they should have a desire to do better for their school because it is what is best for the school community and not themselves. Ultimately, when school leaders look inward at their buildings they should see a need to do things differently; constantly seeking out new ideas and new ways of accomplishing their goals. They have to change.

But the ideal situation is a building that has leadership that thinks that way.  Are their buildings like that out there? Sure there are. I believe I am part of one. Our school leadership is always trying to do better. Even when we might be at the top of something, it is never enough, we have to do better. Not for ourselves, but for our students and our community.

The reality is there are not enough schools that have the ideal leadership out there. You might even be in or know of one of these schools, or even worse, a whole district that is missing the ideal leadership. What can you do? What do you do?

First, don't get discouraged. It is easy to give up the fight for the change your students need when no one wants to follow. You look around and realize you are all alone but sometimes trails need to be blazed and sometimes you have to blaze that trail alone. Just remember your purpose and remember who you are doing it for. 

When you are faced with the challenge of a school leadership that thinks differently than you challenge it. Challenge everything you can. Does your school have a leadership team or school improvement team or a school board? Are you going to the meetings. Are you speaking up. Be a thorn in their side. Question the why and how of everything that the school is doing. But remember, there is a line between questioning everything and being belligerent. You can push your agenda without being pushy. 

Use social media to your advantage. Did you read a great blog post? Why not send the link to the school leadership with the offer of setting up an RSS reader with other great blogs. Find an interesting resource on Twitter? Send it out to the staff and mention that you got it on Twitter. Maybe you do a workshop highlighting some of the things you have found that have helped your change process. Invite administrators to read an #edchat archive or, better yet, get them to sit and talk while you participate. Many have misconceptions about Twitter and blogs and social media in general. Help change their minds. Perhaps you don't show the how, but you show the why.

Change starts at the top. It takes a strong school leadership to be the driving force behind change. But isn't the saying you can lead a horse to water, but you...well you know the rest. The point is you can't make anyone do anything. You can present them with opportunities, suggestions, ideas. But they have to want to do it. Help them understand why the change is needed and be a model of the change you desire. 
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