Monday, March 11, 2013

Change and Identity

A recent discussion with colleagues led me to reflect on organizational change and which strategies are most effective at driving such change.  Whether we look at change at a district or building level, we are fundamentally looking at a pragmatic, realistic assessment of our current state, and the careful planning of action steps to achieve a desired state.  There are many issues that affect change, including scale (e.g., a large district will require additional time and resources than one small school,) resource allocation (i.e., are the organization's resources aligned to support the desired change,) and perhaps most importantly, how adults in the system navigate the change process.

The brilliant Richard Elmore has co-authored a book, "Instructional Rounds in Education", that in part addresses how we as educators approach our work.  He compares the feedback a typical educator receives with the type of feedback medical students receive.  To paraphrase, he states that where medical student conversations are more objective and clinical in nature, educator feedback is laden much more often with statements that contain value judgments.  By focusing on the instructional core and providing substantive, objective feedback to educators, transformational change is possible within schools.  While Dr. Elmore's work is quite profound and has tremendous implications for our work, I find myself drawn to the emotional component associated with educators and the change process.

Why do so many educators take feedback personally? Why do we equate feedback on our professional practice with feedback about ourselves?   Is it something unique to our work, or a natural response to the type of feedback we've been accustomed to receive?

I absolutely agree with Dr. Elmore that a form of clinical detachment can be much more productive than an emotional conflation of professional practice and self.  However, to arrive at that state, we must emerge from the current state, which has been engrained by decades of practice and routine.  In thinking about potential steps, I found the following talk by Dan Heath (in which, he cites the work of John Kotter,) to be interesting:

Kotter's redefinition of the change process resonates with me because it connects with how I understand substantive change to happen: an emotional response serves as the motivation to change.  I have tried to incorporate many of these ideas into my own professional practice in navigating both the heightened expectations of students and educators articulated by the Common Core State Standards and the integration of new technologies into our curriculum.  How have you approached change, both structural and individual, in your school or district?

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