Directing the Rider
To address this, leaders should script the critical moves: give staff members a playbook to get them started. For example, teachers who want to introduce exit slips can use sentence starters or specific questions for students to reflect on.
Next, find the bright spots: where are things working really well? Peer observations are a great way to have staff members understand what is working well. For example, when introducing the CCSS, look at classrooms within the school that are using the CCSS well and use peer observations to help other teachers understand how to teach the standards.
Finally, give them a destination postcard: create a shining vision of how the change will look in the future. All students that apply to college will be accepted to a university of their choice, or every senior will receive their diploma during the graduation ceremony. The goal of a destination postcard is to create a “vivid picture from the near-term future that shows what could be possible.”
Motivating the Elephant
Again, there are three components to this. The first step is to find the feeling. Make your staff members aware of the need for the change. In the case of the Common Core, rather than regarding it as a district or federal mandate, strong leaders will help staff members understand how the current standards are not addressing the needs of students.
Second, shrink the change. A big change all at once is intimidating. Heath and Heath explain, “People find it more motivating to be partly finished with a long journey than to be at the starting gate of a shorter one.” In the case of the Common Core, point to the fact that many teachers are already implementing some of the standards. Another common strategy is to roll out a change. For example, I visited one Washington school that implemented standards-based grading over a three-year period, moving from the lower grades to the upper grades in the roll-out process.
Finally, grow your people. Help them build a growth mindset where mistakes are not failures but part of the learning process. This is especially important in classrooms. We often recommend teachers use follow up questions to probe student responses, especially when they get the answer wrong. This helps promote a growth mindset over a fixed mindset in students. By encouraging students to try, even when they may fail, teachers help students understand that learning is a process and it is okay to stumble. We did not go from crawling to running as children; we first stood, fell, and stood up again.
Shaping the Path
First, you can tweak the environment. According to Heath and Heath, “Tweaking the environment is about making the right behaviors a little bit easier and the wrong behaviors a little bit harder.” In the case of schools implementing the CCSS, using a curriculum aligned with the new standards is critical. This makes it easier for them to teach to these standards, rather than having to align old content to new standards.
In addition, you can build habits in staff members. Habits are most easily built by creating an action trigger: once one event happens, the next automatically follows. For example, posting learning objectives is helpful for both teachers and students. An effective action trigger for teachers may be to immediately write the learning objectives on the board when they walk into their classrooms for the first time each day.
Finally, find ways to rally the herd. People have a harder time resisting change if their friends and colleagues are all encouraging them to change. In a classroom, as more students begin to use a turn-and-talk, it will be harder for their classmates to goof off during that time. One way to help build the herd is to “publicize” it. “Look at Timmy and Sarah doing such a great job discussing their ideas.”
All of this makes change seem very simple when, in fact, it is often a difficult and drawn out process. However, the above strategies can help leaders enact difficult, often game-altering changes that are sustainable and valued by stakeholders. All of this is simply a brief overview, however. If this resonated with you, I recommend that you check out Switch. Chip and Dan Heath provide all of this information in an easy to read book with plenty of case studies and examples to draw inspiration from. Good luck with your changes!