When you hit upon resistance -- lean in and listen.
As we engage in the compelling work of school change we will hit up against resistance. Change is hard, change is threatening, change is unwelcome – for some of us more so than others. But change can be exciting and enriching and empowering as well. How can we help ourselves and our team move from the former to the later?
In my work with groups and educators over the years I see a consistent pattern – the most vehement resistors can become the most vehement supporters – when you lean in to listen to them. They care deeply about the institution and the project (if not they would not bother resisting they would just passively go along). And they hold something dear that is being threatened. Usually what is being threatened is something important for the group and leadership to understand. As an educational leader or external consultant, the well known adage ‘seek to understand before being understood’ applies here.
When you find someone resisting, ask him or her what his or her primary concern is for the project?What might help resolve that concern? What do they think would make the project successful? When teachers are involved in decision making about the change initiative, not only do they feel more ownership and become more accountable, but by and large their input improves the initiative.
So, then we have to think about what it really means to have ownership. It is true that much school change is driven from the outside or top down, but the most effective kind of change is the kind that is also embraced and owned by individual teachers, bottom up. We often use the term ‘buy in’ to describe the process of seeking agreement from the faculty for the change initiative. I believe we need to be creating ownership rather than buy-in.
I like to think about it the way I would a cherished object; a car, a home, a piece of art or jewelry. Try to think of something valuable to you. There are a lot of feelings wrapped up in something that is cherished. You care for it and invest your time in it -- Clean your car, paint your house, show others your art or jewelry. You make decisions about it – when to use it, how to protect it. You feel pride.
It can be even more important with a job you are passionate about or a project you are involved in. When you share ownership of an idea or project, you participate in its development, you tell others about it, you feel proud of its achievements. Ownership comes from being involved in making decisions about it, caring for it, shaping it.
So how can we help participants in a school-change project feel ownership of the changes? I like to think that we need to start by engaging them in the co-construction of the initiative. There may be areas that are determined by external factors like funding or community leadership. But there are many aspects that can be determined by the participants.
Cross-posted from YU School Partnership Blog http://www.yuschoolpartnership.org/school-leadership/leadership-dev...