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Changing Your View on Change: How Teachers Can Lead Change in the Classroom

Wednesday, May 18, 2016 -- Nicky Simon-Burton

Part one of this blog series explored the ADKAR® individual change model from an administrator’s perspective and how to determine the barrier points to change adoption. This entry expands on that individual reflection to empower teachers in the classroom to embrace the change management already happening and to help students do the same.

As the daughter of a special-education-teacher-turned-principal, I can understand the passion that drives individuals into the field and into educational leadership. For those educators who are reading this blog post in an effort to try to make sense of change or influence change across their organization, I hope you feel empowered to make a difference. While it is easy to assume that managing change is the responsibility of administrators, not classroom teachers, that is not the only case.

The ADKAR® framework is a tool that does not just enable a hierarchy but instead empowers connectivity. In fact, for many of you educators, the ADKAR® model may resonate with how you are encouraging engagement in your classroom already. Let’s look at how educators help students navigate change using the language of ADKAR® as our framework.

Awareness:

There are several ways a teacher builds awareness in a classroom. Maintaining a consistent schedule and cadence with clear expectations, communicating what is coming later that day or in the next week while in class, and informing students of their progression through a lesson and when new lessons will begin all help build students’ awareness of what is happening in the classroom. Think about your classroom environment and the changes you want your students to make; how much time do you devote to getting students to buy in and understand why classes are a certain way, why they are learning the topic, and why you have a particular vision for them?

Desire:

Much like their adult counterparts, students have a choice in whether or not they will develop the desire to make the changes being outlined. Schools create rules, activities, games, and competitions all centered on empowering students to want to learn. Many of these actions resonate with the building of a student’s desire. However, remember that desire is about more than making them aware of the need to change. Instead, it is about helping students see why the change is good for them, what they can get out of the change, and what they might lose if they are not part of it.

This step can get complicated with the underdeveloped prefrontal cortex (or cognitive and behavioral reasoning) in children. Teachers regularly feel stuck with students’ unwillingness to move and the perception of students not “wanting to.” While it may not be an easy job, teachers are already trying to build desire in many motivating ways. As you think about your classroom reward systems, how many of them fit into the building desire category of change management? Are your desire-building programs focused on what is in it for the students? Or, are they focused on one of the other stages in ADKAR®?

Knowledge:

Teachers will relate most strongly with the understanding that they are already moving students through change by increasing their knowledge of new information. This is what teachers do best. They take students who do not know something, use various techniques to train them, and perhaps even formatively assess that learning. Ideally, you have a group of students who are fully aware of the change they are part of, are fully vested, and are desirous to embrace the change. In reality, your students’ investment in the change will vary. So when you are teaching on a new subject, how do you recognize when students are ready to receive the knowledge you are sharing? Can you identify those who aren’t ready for one reason or another? How does that impact your knowledge transfer?

Ability:

Assessing student ability has become nearly synonymous with teaching. You are regularly asked to use a variety of assessment tools to measure what a student knows or does not know and then use that information to drive instruction. Similarly, assessing gaps in ability is one of the change management ADKAR® stages. For teachers, it is not difficult to understand that you can train two people with the same lesson and activities and provide them with the same resources and support, yet both of them will have different abilities to complete the desired effect of the learning. In all likelihood, you know this phase better than most adults in the business world. Now, put on your change manager hat and think about your classroom. In what ways have you removed obstacles for students to effectively embrace the change? What strategies have you used to support and leverage students’ abilities for greater impact?

Reinforcement:

Schools, businesses, organizations, and individuals are all the same when it comes to the need for reinforcement to sustain success. Teachers reinforce changes in their students through school assembly awards, public recognition, semester-long challenges, mentor programs, games, incentives, and so much more. Try creating a list of all of the initiatives you have in your classroom that are used to help reinforce changes in which your students are participating. Are you surprised at how long (or short) your list is?

As a classroom instructor, the process of helping students navigate change is something you are already doing. Now, you also have a formal vocabulary around the awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement stages.

With this ADKAR® framework, you can better understand how you are going through change, assessing barrier points, and effectively leading your students through change. Check back for part three of this series next week when we’ll take a closer look at how administrators can help teachers navigate complex change.

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