Public Relations Today

Three Ways to Be a Catalyst for Change at School

Jayne Miller wrote this on Mar 16, 2016

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“But this is the way we’ve always done it.”

It’s possible a boss, mentor, colleague, or employee has never said this to you directly - but I’m betting it’s been implied at least once at your school. (If not more than that.)

The idea that doing things as they have always been done feels safer. It seems as if success is more likely. The wheel isn’t reinvented. Everything is more comfortable than it would be otherwise.

But what if you have an idea that’s….different. What if you have a plan to shake up faculty meetings, do something totally new with in-service days, rethink homework expectations, or apply technology that will improve classroom connection? Your idea could make things better - but you challenge the quiet comfort of “the way we’ve always done things.” Maybe you’ve already been shot down.

I’ve had ideas that have threatened the norm of institutions I’ve worked for. I’ve been told no. I’ve been the one to say no. And what I’ve taken away from these experiences is that when it comes to change-making, not all strategies are created equal.

Make Your Ask Impact-Driven

Let’s deconstruct this conversation:

Person A: What if instead of painting squares, we started to paint circles?

Person B: Hmmm. We’ve always painted squares - I don’t know that circles are a good fit for us. Why should we do that?

Person A: It would be great to try something different. And I really like circles. Other people also really like circles so I think it would be good for us.

This drives me insane. Because person A just wasted a huge opportunity.

Changing for the sake of change - doing something because you can or because you like the idea of something new - is not a good reason to do it. Disrupt the norm thoughtfully. When no impact is communicated, a decision maker can only assume you don’t have one.

Changing for the sake of change - doing something because you can or because you like the idea of something new - is not a good reason to do it.

Here’s a much better version of that conversation:

Person A: What if instead of painting squares, we started to paint circles?

Person B: Hmmm. We’ve always painted squares - I don’t know that circles are a good fit for us. Why should we do that?

Person A: According to a recent study out of Geometry Now, painting circles is known to be 25% more efficient. I looked into it, and three areas near us have already switched to circles. I talked to a colleague at a previous institution who is painting circles, and it sounds like productivity - and morale - has been boosted. I think we really need that.

Beautiful. Instead of asking that an organization do something different because they can, there is a potential impact communicated. It’s researched and thoughtful. A decision maker has more react to.

This won’t guarantee that you’ll break your resident “this is how we do things” person at school, but you’ll stand a better chance.  

The Proof is in the Pudding

Your vision might see your entire school communicating in a new way. Or using a new tool. To have this vision realized, you might need to spend time developing it on a smaller scale.

Decision makers want to feel confident that large, sweeping changes that will impact an entire community will be beneficial to all. They want to ensure that a new idea that works for classroom A will also have value for classroom B.

Decision makers want to feel confident that large, sweeping changes that will impact an entire community will be beneficial to all.

It’s helpful to have strategies on how you can illustrate your perceived school-wide impact. Maybe this sees a variety of educators, which represent a cross-section of the school, test an idea or tool. Perhaps this is applying a new policy to one grade level or subject area. Or allowing the entire school to test drive your idea for a short trial period.

In the context of our shape-painting friends, I see this as person A saying, “If you’re still not sure, we could always paint circles for a week in wing 4 and then assess. If we see improvement in productivity and morale, we can consider doing circles everywhere. If we don’t, we’ll re-evaluate or go back to squares.”

This illustrates a desire to do the best for your school. You’re flexible. You want to find what works and you’re willing to prove your new idea could work.

Don’t Give Up When You’re Shot Down

Even the most reasonable strategies will get shot down. It’s hard to spark change in a place that has firm processes/operations/tools/preferences in place.

Having an idea nixed isn’t the end of the road. Put it in your back pocket for the time being, but keep an eye out for future opportunities to re-circulate it.

When I’ve been in the decision-making chair, I’ve shot down ideas that have felt wrong. When that idea is never brought up again, I’m even more confident that I did the right thing. It must not have been important enough to recirculate or rework to fit our needs.

Let that be a lesson. In a week, or a month, or a year you might encounter an obstacle at school that exemplifies why painting circles would be so freaking awesome. Consider it an opportunity to revisit your pitch with some real-world examples. “I understand that last quarter our productivity was way down. This is an example of a time when painting circles over squares could have been really beneficial. Maybe we’d consider giving this a try now.’

A Quick Note About The People You’ll Never Convince

I’ve found that pitching new things has a higher success rate using these strategies than not. But there are some people who don’t want to budge, no matter how researched and reasonable you are. There are a lot of change-averse people out there (and it often feels like the majority of them are working in some form of oversight or management).

That’s not you. That’s them. In those situations, I’ve kept ideas in my back pocket and controlled what I could control until I saw openings my superiors couldn’t ignore. Those colleagues weren’t permanent. My situation wasn’t permanent. Neither is yours. You’ll get there.

 

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Topics: Teachers, Administrators, EdTechUpdate