Alchemy was the process studied during the Middle-Ages that combined chemistry, magic, and philosophy in an attempt to convert cheaper metals into gold or silver.
What does this have to do with school improvement?
Many schools have unsuccessfully attempted similar transformations on an educational level. Follow this Blog and find out how to improve schools, as I share 40 years worth of school leadership experience.
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Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Change - Whether You Want It Or Not
This is one piece of a continuing series of posts on school improvement reflecting my professional experience. I had prepared this manuscript for publication but time eluded me. The blog posts advance in time and concept in book-form beginning with the Blog post on March 21.
“Nobody likes change,
except babies with dirty diapers.”
Ready or Not, Here it Comes
At this point in our discussion, and at
this stage in your school improvement process, you have imagined a vision,
anchored on a mission, constructed an appropriate database, identified goals
that stretch, and adopted a view of a supportive culture. But now it’s apparent
that change must occur if we expect to meet with success.
Change will occur whether you want it or
not. Attempts to prevent change are as futile as the effort long ago of Canute,
the Danish king who sought to demonstrate his power by commanding ocean waves
to stop. We can heed the advice of two very different wise men. The ancient
sage, Heracultis, who stated that “No man steps in the same river twice”
(Gardner, p. xi) or cowboy philosopher Will Rogers who claimed that “Even if
you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” (Moncur:
Rogers) Once you accept the inevitability of change you can begin preparing for
it by observing several precepts that form a foundation for change.
Change should be evolutionary rather than
revolutionary. Many of the obstacles we face in adapting to change are self
imposed barriers arising from fear of the unknown and the anxiety related to
adjusting our ingrained behaviors to accommodate the change. As an example, try
putting your coat on by switching which arm you routinely put in the sleeve
first. Other daily tasks performed without thinking, folding arms or clasping
hands(which arm/fingers is/are on top?), or tying shoes, will present
unfamiliarity and discomfort by simply prompting us to alter well worn
practices and habits. Now, take the awkward feeling you experienced when
changing the way you do simple, habit oriented tasks, and magnify it to
understand how challenging it will be for those people you expect to make
significant changes in the way they perform complex tasks at work.
The Challenge of Change
Here’s an example to illustrate how we
induce anxiety in meeting change. Look at the dots below. Using as few moves as
possible, invert the pyramid so that it is upside down.
Row 1 O
Row 2 O
Row 3 O O O
Row 4 O O
How many moves did you have to make? How
about three? All you need to do is move the corner dots, the apex and two
corners of the base. Move 1 = take the dot from row 1 and place it beneath row
4 about at the midpoint of the row. This now becomes the apex of the inverted
pyramid. Take the dots at each end of row 4 and place one of them on either
side of row 2. There you have it. See, what appeared to be a difficult change
was fairly easy after all.
Changes should emerge convincingly from
needs and interests, occur over time at a pace that approximates the ability of
people to adjust to the change, and adapt to internal and external variables
that serve to shape the scope and degree of change.
Change should be fluid and persistent like
water that seeks its own level. Contrast the tremendous surge of force found in
the wall of water in a flash flood that scatters large rocks, with the
tenacious and persevering trickle of water that gradually seeps into the cracks
of rocks, expands when frozen, and breaks those same large rocks. One power is
visibly relentless and disperses boulders like litter over the terrain, leaving
a tumultuous wake forever changed. The other power, subtler in its technique,
evokes change without violently displacing the rocks.
Despite well intentioned,
systematically developed templates of change, with complex flow charts,
thoughtfully designed spans of control, appropriate time lines, and analytical
processes, … the nature of change tends to be organic, dynamic, and somewhat
unpredictable. It is a process not an event. Tom Peters declares in Thriving
on Chaos that “Most quality programs fail for two reasons; they have system
without passion, or passion without system. You must have both.” (p. 74) This
tenet holds worthy advice for change agents too.