We all know that change in schools is a constant. We all want to see advancement in our schools and, in particular, see improved outcomes for students and continued professional growth of teachers.
One of the pitfalls with our quest to make change, and supporting our teachers in bringing about change, is whether there is too much change on the table for us too cope with? Change in schools is both externally and internally driven. Sometimes we do not have much choice with change, particularly, those changes imposed upon us by external education bodies.
Of course change is never comfortable for everyone. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross created the change change curve in 1969 to provide a broad description for how people deal with change. Countless authors on change mention the initial discomfort and how we need to push through that, supporting colleagues, in order to get to the new desired state, which is better than where we were.
The problem comes when we have too much change. This is especially tricky for complex organisations, like schools, where there can be many leaders calling the shots. All in one go, there could be changes to curriculum, new software for teachers to use and new events on the school calendar that need supporting or we want to do them better than last year. When a leader suggests a change, is this considered in light of all the changes that have been suggested by the other leaders in the school? The leader may see it as one small change, but in fact teachers have received suggestions of six small changes in the past week, but we may not have seen it. No wonder, we have some our best teachers struggling, tired and feeling burnt out. Yes, teachers get holidays, more than most other professions. The payback can be some trying to work ridiculous hours in term time just to keep up. Perhaps, we all need to work a six day week in term time? Some of us do already, but how healthy is this?
Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development can help us somewhat here. We are all learners when it comes to moving along the change curve. Too much change and not enough time or resources can push people from the ZPD into the Danger Zone. As leaders we are charged with looking out for this. Therefore, how we solicit feedback in our schools when it comes to change is important. Anecdotal conversations with teachers is a reasonable starting point but we need to do more. Surveying our staff is important to gauge what people are overwhelmed with. Is it the same people who are struggling the most? Further to this, job shadowing a teacher for a day and talking with them about their work is a great exercise for many of us leaders who have no taught a full teaching load for some time. This will give us good insight into some of the behaviours that we associate with change and whether it is teachers having their usual whinge or something more than that is causing an unnecessary amount of stress. We may also begin to find out if we need to provide more support for the change effort either in terms of time or physical resources.
Michael Fullan coins the term initiativitis, to define the condition that schools suffer from when there is too much change taking place and people fail to make the change successful and fatigue ensues with cynicism only a few steps away. Initiativitis – do you treat it or try to prevent it?