Building buy-in for transformation

Robyn Jackson helps teachers and administrators implement more rigorous instruction, motivate and support struggling students, and provide more effective instructional leadership and feedback to teachers. A former high-school English teacher and middle-school administrator, she is now a best-selling author, internationally recognized keynote speaker, professional developer and the founder of Mindsteps Inc., a professional development firm located in Washington, D.C.

Q. Why is it important sometimes for leaders to rewrite their school's story?

Many schools are stuck in a rut reliving the same story over and over again. That narrative controls how people behave, what people believe, and ultimately what your school becomes. If you want to turn a school around, you have to start by taking control of the existing narrative by offering a counter narrative. Doing so makes your vision for your school come alive. It makes your vision real and tangible. It helps people see themselves and their school differently. It helps people embrace what is possible and mobilizes them to make that vision a reality.

Q. How do you get people to see the need for change and embrace it?

All too often, we try to motivate others to change based on what motivates US, not what motivates them. If you really want to help people see the need for change and embrace change, you have to position the change in terms of what is important to them. You can do this by paying attention to what I call their "primary will driver." Each person has a primary will driver and once you understand what a person's primary will driver is, you can position any change in a way that not only helps them see the need for the change but helps them actually WANT to change.

Q. What elements can help inspire and empower everyone involved in school transformation?

The problem is that we tackle school transformation before we've gotten everyone on board. So, we have a lot of false starts, frustration and redundancy. If you really want to inspire and empower everyone involved, they need to be involved from the very beginning. They need to be a part of the thinking and dreaming that initiates most school transformation processes. They need time to digest the transformation plan and get comfortable with the new vision for where the school is moving. And, they need time to make mistakes early in the process without being judged, blamed or criticized. Instead, they need consistent feedback and support, structures that ensure their success, and clear milestones to help them assess their progress along the way.

My Transformation Process offers a very simple system to provide all of this for teachers and stakeholders and involves five stages. The Explore stage is where you secure buy in and get everyone on board. It's also the stage where people are free to experiment, take risks, and get acclimated to the changes ahead. The Engage stage is where everyone begins to attempt the changes needed with lots of non-evaluative feedback and support.

During the Expect stage, the changes begin to take root as everyone is now expected to implement them and structures are put in place to ensure that these changes are implemented with fidelity. The Evaluate stage is where everyone receives evaluative feedback on the quality of implementation and additional support as needed. Additionally, everyone is looking at the data to see how the changes are affecting the students.

Finally, at the Extend stage you use the data you have evaluated during the Evaluate stage to identify additional needs that will help make the changes even more effective. 

Q. What mistake do some leaders unintentionally make that blocks them from building trust and inspiring others?

The biggest mistake leaders unintentionally make is that they treat a will problem with a skill solution or vice versa. What I mean by that is sometimes teachers are genuinely struggling and their leader will treat them as if they don't care about students or improving. That's treating a skill problem with a solution that is really addressing their will. Other times a teacher will be discouraged or disheartened and a leader will offer them additional training. That's treating a will problem with a skill solution. Over time, teachers stop trusting their leaders to provide them the leadership they really need. So, leaders need to make sure that they are offering the right solution for the right problem. Doing so builds trust and safety for teachers.

Katharine Haber is an education editor for SmartBrief, writing and editing content about a variety of topics in education.

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