The mere mention of the word change can illicit an array of passionate responses and this certainly isn’t unique to the field of education. Whether the change is related to a major district initiative like curriculum and instruction, or something far more mundane like the lunch line procedure, you are likely to hear many of the following phrases uttered in hallways and teacher’s rooms.
"If it ain't broke don't fix it."
"I'm just going to keep doing it my way."
"I'm just going to keep doing it my way."
"This isn't going to work."
"If we wait long enough it will change back."
"We used to do it that way and it didn't work."
With all that said you may be wondering, “Who on earth would ever want to be a change agent?” The answer to that question is actually pretty easy, a passionate and dedicated educational leader that cares about students, teachers, and their entire professional learning community. The real question, and a much more difficult one is, “How can I be the change agent that my community needs?”
1. Intellect vs Emotion
Most people can agree that change shouldn’t be initiated simply for the sake of change. When policies are being developed and initiatives are being rolled out, change agents need to stand tall and gather consensus and support in order to put their plans into action. The question then becomes, what is the best course of action to take in order to achieve this? When attempting to inspire stakeholders, change agents must balance between appealing to their intellect and appealing to their emotion. On the one hand you have data, which doesn’t lie and helps leaders make important decisions. On the other hand, in our field we know that numbers don’t always tell the whole story and there is room for compassion and humanity.
2. Hurry Up vs Take Your Time
If you are a leader you know how important it is to adhere to deadlines and protocols. A change agent also has to set milestones and benchmarks along the way when implementing a plan. How do you respond when faced with time constraints beyond your control? Maybe you need more time to collect data. Perhaps you had to cancel a meeting or two because of weather or a school assembly. There are many unforeseen circumstances that can delay the implementation of any plan. A change agent must weigh all factors when deciding to either rush a project to completion or to slow it down and take more time.
3. Push Back vs Let It Go
The reality is that change can, and often times will be met with dissent. Unfortunately, there will even be occasions when those dissenters will attempt to disrupt or even sabotage your efforts. As a change agent you will have a decision to make. Do you call those individuals out and confront them, or do you simply ignore the noise and move forward? There are many factors to be considered when deciding a course of action in this situation. For instance, do the detractors have a history of this sort of behavior? Are your leadership credentials being challenged? Do you have proponents that will stand by you? What is at stake when it comes to the change that is being proposed? This is a difficult decision to make and can possibly result in repercussions that will be felt for a long time.
4. Hands On vs Pass It On
If you consider yourself an agent of change you most likely possess leadership attributes as well. In order to be an effective leader, colleagues need to know that you are willing to get your hands dirty. You of course want to be an active participant in the movement, but how much involvement is too much? The risk you take is that by being too heavy handed in your involvement, you may alienate your colleagues and stakeholders. It is imperative that you allow space for others to become meaningfully involved and invested. Maintaining a balance between the two approaches is challenging to say the least, which is why each situation must be analyzed critically to determine where on the scale of participation you land.
5. Reconstruction vs Redesign
Despite all of your hard work and best intentions, there will be times when you are faced with the harsh reality that the changes you helped to implement aren’t yielding the results you expected. In some cases it is even possible that your efforts have led to regression. Leaders shouldn’t walk away from this problem, they need to decide what to do when this occurs. Some initiatives can be so disastrous that they will call for a complete reconstruction. In these cases any remnants of the original plan will conjure negative feelings. However, sometimes you will be able to salvage parts and redesign the plan maintaining its original intent. In either case, careful consideration needs to be taken in order to build consensus with regards to how to proceed.
It’s been said time and time again that change is hard. I contend that being an effective change agent is even harder, but not impossible. It takes courage and resiliency, but it also takes a willingness to look at each case individually before exercising your professional judgement.