School leaders and their staffs face change constantly, from small, incremental changes such as the rise of technology in the classroom to monumental changes like the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Within classrooms, teachers may want to introduce new activities, such as exit slips or turn-and-talks, that students are not familiar with. All of these changes require people to think and act differently. A phenomenal book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath, can help administrators and teachers introduce change in their schools and classrooms. Imagine peoples’ routines and attitudes as a large elephant with a small rider on top, lumbering down a jungle path. The Heath brothers describe managing change as a three part process: direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path. Successful change has to address all three of these elements.
At The BERC Group, we visit many schools for many reasons. More often than not, they are struggling and under-performing. This fall, I had the privilege of visiting a once-failing school in a high poverty neighborhood. Despite its almost 100% free/reduced lunch status, extreme diversity, and high level of academic needs, the school had made great strides in improving student performance. Reflecting back upon many other schools I have visited, I wondered how the vibe at this particular school could be so different. Where were their excuses? Weren’t they frustrated by the deficits of the clientele they serve? Why didn’t they blame their circumstances like so many other schools?
One of the biggest differences I could identify comes down to a simple shift in philosophy: the leaders of this school ran it like a business, and everyone behaved like a professional. This is not to say that administrators and teachers at other schools are not professionals, but many schools do not adhere to such high standards. Let me see if I can explain the nuances of this difference.
Washington State ASCD recently published the article below, written by Duane, on their Critical Question Blog.
Why does it seem like everything in education is changing? And, is there a way to think about the work that could make the work more manageable?
I am sure most us remember hearing stories from our grandparents or great-grandparents about the one-room school house, where students sat in wooden desks, the teacher was almost always female, and a shiny red apple stayed on the teacher’s desk. Students of varying ages sat and watched as the teacher reviewed how to write cursive letters, or they worked on perfecting their penmanship skills. Students usually were taught to be respectful and quiet, and to mind their manners. I certainly did not grow up in this era, but I do remember getting in trouble if I asked my neighbor to help me solve a problem because that was considered cheating, at least in my experience. Gone are the days of reading, writing and arithmetic. You may ask yourself, “What?! Students aren’t learning the most fundamental subjects needed to be a functioning citizen?” Well, that is not quite the case.
We have come a long way since those days. With a vast educational reform movement underway, we are no longer expecting the typical bell-shaped curve, where the average student will rank at the top of the curve, with lower-performing students on the left-hand side (indicating possible learning disabilities) and higher-performing students on the right-hand side (indicating possible high potential). There are three big concepts behind this: rigor, relevance, and relationships.
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