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Changing Your View on Change: Managing Others Through Change

Wednesday, June 1, 2016 -- Nicky Simon-Burton

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been exploring the process of change in education. Part one of this series explored the ADKAR® individual change model and how to determine the barrier points to change adoption. Part two reviewed how teachers can engage students in change concepts in the classroom. Now, we’ll take a look at the intersection between the independent teacher managing change and the supervisors or administrators issuing complex change across the school or district.

Before writing this blog series, I reached out to educator friends and colleagues to hear about what change looks like in the education industry. I heard a lot of responses that hinted at a disconnect in the process between administrators and classroom teachers:

  • “Why can’t they get us involved in conversations before decisions are made?”
  • “I’m frustrated by being asked my opinion about a change when I know a decision has already been made.”
  • “I am fine with the idea of the change, but you can’t expect me to know how to do it overnight.”
  • “How am I supposed to do what is asked with a classroom overflowing with challenging students?”
  • “I used to get excited about new changes coming in. After a few years of seeing things go nowhere, I gave up hoping for lasting change.”

At first glance, these responses made the potential for bridging the different challenges faced by administrators and teachers to influence positive change seem pretty gloomy. However, with a little more reflection on what is at the core of these complaints, I felt empowered to show how much effective change management on the part of administrators can help ease some of these concerns.

As I discussed in part one of this series, there is no perfect way to respond to change. Everyone will move forward and backward through the five stages of the ADKAR model, finding their way to acceptance or resistance and perhaps back again. As an educator managing change, your role is to create opportunities and understanding of the change. Prosci, Inc.®, the developer of ADKAR, specifically identifies five responsibilities of a manager: communicate, advocate, coach, and liaise with the project team, and manage resistance. Let’s explore how these tasks apply to the concerns administrators may be hearing from teachers as they navigate the ADKAR framework.

“Why can’t they get us involved in conversations before decisions are made?”

According to research from Prosci, Inc., the number one reason for resisting change is a lack of awareness of why a change is being made. It is fairly common for managers to communicate that a new process or piece of technology is being used and expect individuals to follow that message. In some cases, a simple communication plan may be all you need for simple changes. For more complex initiatives, it’s important to consider how those affected by change will perceive it in the context of their own needs and routines. For example, you may have an individual teacher who is really happy with how her classroom currently operates and another who is continually frustrated in her classroom due to wanting more technology. When these two teachers hear that funding was approved for a new 1:1 initiative, you will likely receive very different responses due to their initial views. How an individual perceives problems, the credibility of the sender, outstanding rumors, and the validity of the reasons for change are all additional elements to consider when determining what and how to communicate change.

Understanding how to better involve your teachers in the process of creating what change will look like can be instrumental in rollout success. Not only does this engagement help eliminate execution problems in the long run, but it also helps point out flaws in the change design structure. If it is an option to have a representative group involved in the development of change from the beginning, that is a best practice to do so.

Building awareness is not just about communicating what the change is but is also about adjusting the many ways that you message to meet the various perceptions coming from your team. It’s key to put yourself in the shoes of your staff. Here are a few points of view you may have to address in the awareness stage:

  • "I am very happy with my role right now and finally feel like I hit my stride in my classroom. The students are engaged, and I can tell that they are learning."
  • "I am ready to get more involved in the administrative side of education; I wonder what it would be like to be on the planning side of our school."
  • "I am tired of constantly changing and feel like I can’t get a grip on everything."
  • "How does this help anyone?"
  • "I hear they want to get rid of all of us and move to all computer-led classes."
  • "How can they know what changes would benefit students? They aren’t even in the classroom to know what is needed."

The awareness stage of the ADKAR model is all about clearly communicating the value of the change, building support for that value, and leveraging understanding for individual needs. As a manager, use your communication, coaching, and advocacy skills to help understand what your team will need and frame any resistance you can anticipate. Offering multiple chances for engagement can be crucial in managing a team through awareness. It is important to build as much credibility as possible in order to create opportunities to turn desire into action.

“I’m frustrated by being asked my opinion about a change when I know a decision has already been made.”

This response is a great example of how awareness of a change can be stopped by an individual’s actual desire to change. Building desire is one of the most challenging aspects for a manager due to the fact that any change is ultimately a choice. When you begin to look at a comment like the one we’re discussing here from a change management perspective, try to put the statement into the context of the individual’s point of view. Is this person disappointed that he or she was not asked to be part of the planning group? Has this person experienced significant changes in the school or district that have been contrary to feedback given by teachers? Are decisions often communicated as one-sided directives as opposed to offered along with opportunities for engagement and dialogue?

Leveraging the valuable coaching skill of listening can be critical in helping build desire. Whether you are hearing about what motivates a teacher, a personal situation, or a person’s context of what the change is, coaching can give you the chance to better understand and create desire by overcoming challenges quickly and in an individualized manner. Not everyone has the ability to meet one on one with teachers for every change, but you may be able to leverage teacher groups to build this credibility and offer a sounding board for making more sustainable change. Not only does this listening and coaching build desire, but it also creates opportunity for a manager to advocate on behalf of employees by bringing feedback to the change project team.  

Here are a few other things you may hear or experience that indicate a need to build desire:

  • "Things were working just fine before."
  • "I don’t like how we are doing it now, but I don’t want to learn a new way either."
  • "I am so close to retirement that I shouldn’t have to learn."
  • "I shouldn’t have to keep changing; students are students."
  • "This isn’t going to work in my classroom."
  • "My students won’t be able to get this."
  • "I don’t have the energy to learn all of this new technology."
  • "How many times are they going to try this change before they give up like usual?"

Because it is a personal choice to build desire, managers must help, guide, coach, and respond appropriately with individuals through this stage. Setting clear expectations and anticipating any resistance can be beneficial in getting a true view of how prepared the school or district is for change.

“I am fine with the idea of the change, but you can’t expect me to know how to do it overnight.” 

Have you ever tried learning how to make balloon animals? The instructions seem so easy: blow, twist, and fold. Well, as in learning anything new, it is not all that easy. It turns out that there are actually three different types of twists, each one creating different results to make all of the balloon animals you have seen. Think about managing change in the same way. When you get to the knowledge building stage, you are teaching new skills, new software, new devices, new strategies, etc. Not only are your teachers having to learn how to use these new processes, they are having to transition from a comfortable way of working to one that may seem foreign and more complicated at first. To keep up the metaphor, there may be several different twists they need to learn in order to make their balloon animal. This can put a lot of pressure on individual confidence.

As a manager, you need to create realistic expectations for the individuals in your group. Use the coaching relationship you established while building awareness and desire to understand how to continue to reach and motivate your teachers. While you are getting help with training, either from an outside vendor like Edmentum’s Professional Services Team or another source, consider your role as being the advocate and communicator for your staff. What job aids would be helpful? Are there ongoing training needs that would better serve your teachers? Have you diversified how the training is delivered to meet each teacher’s style? What else can you do to remove any obstacles barring your teachers from getting the technical training they need to implement the change?

As individuals move through the knowledge stage, here are a few other challenging statements you may hear:

  • "How many hours will this take to learn?"
  • "My computer isn’t working."
  • "I am confused."
  • "How is this better than what we had?"
  • "Why can’t I use this old way? It was so much easier."  

This stage is about gaining the information to be able to implement the change. It may take different types of training and lengths of time for your teachers to fully understand how to operate in the new normal. Then, the hard work of figuring out how to apply that knowledge begins.

“How am I supposed to do what is asked with a classroom overflowing with challenging students?”

Teachers are busy with many conflicting demands, including large class sizes and varied student needs. Depending on the complexity of the change initiative you are undergoing, it may not be realistic for a teacher to have the ability to use new skills learned in the classroom within a certain timeframe. Knowing how to do something and being able to do it are not the same thing. Once teachers have developed the newknowledge to implement a change, figuring out how to actually apply and adapt it can take time, practice, and patience. This is where manager involvement, realistic expectations, collaborative teams, access to subject-matter experts, and hands-on application training can be so important. Learning to do something new or different takes time; liaise with your teachers to let them know you expect that. Engage and provide support to your project team. Communicate what they should do if they are struggling, and leverage your core teacher group to discuss ways that everyone involved in the change can work collaboratively to retain the knowledge. If you have a deadline for your teachers to be self-sufficient, be upfront about that and share the ongoing resources that exist to help along the way.

Here are other things you may hear from your teachers as they work to stretch their abilities:

  • "This is taking me so long to do."
  • "I am so frustrated. This used to take me 10 minutes, and now it’s 40 minutes."
  • "Why are you so much better at this now?"
  • "This isn’t working."
  • "I don’t have time for this."
  • "Where do I find this report?"
  • "I can’t answer your question right now. I need to find the information first."  

Taking time to allow your teachers to develop their skills will be essential to the long-term success of your change initiative. Too often, we want to speed through to the finish line. This is where failed change initiatives, leadership distrust, and lack of desire to adopt future change are often embedded. Be present with your teachers as they gain and apply new knowledge, and continue to expand their ability to meet the demands of the change. 

“I used to get excited about new changes coming in. After a few years of seeing things go nowhere, I gave up hoping for lasting change.”

When change initiatives are really successful, you rarely hear about them. On the flip side, when initiatives fail, the aftermath can be felt for months or years later. If you have a tenured group of teachers who have consistently seen new endeavors come and go, you will have an uphill battle for awareness and desire. For many managers, sustaining excitement for the change is difficult. Part of this difficulty arises from their own progress through the ADKAR stages and their own need for reinforcement of the change. Another part is from the day-to-day business of professional life. Managers and individuals involved in the initial planning stages of a change, particularly complex change, can be aware of the impending change for six months or more before others in the organization. This awareness gap can put pressure on the reinforcement plan and create a sense of apathy when beginning to build awareness among the rest of the organization.

Planning for reinforcement, no matter how significant the change, is a critical step for maintaining morale and sustaining new behaviors. Consider building in opportunities for celebration, recognition, or rewards for both small and large successes. Plan for periodic celebrations that don’t conflict with other pressing demands. Provide many opportunities for teachers to give feedback on the change, including how it is progressing and what additional elements they have seen that weren’t expected. If the change you’re implementing directly impacts students, find opportunities to reinforce the change by listening to students and sharing their words in celebration of the hard work of the teachers.

However, reinforcement is not just about parties and celebration. Leveraging accountability systems and performance data in the school or district can help you determine whether the change is working or not and offer assistance and adjustments accordingly. If you are struggling to meet the change outcomes desired, try to isolate what the issue is. Do you have full adoption across your teachers? Have you accounted for any shifts that may be needed in the execution of the change? Have you mitigated any resistance that may be holding back the change?

Here are a few things you may hear from your teachers after a change is underway and you are reinforcing elements:

  • "I finally get it."
  • "I am proud to be leading my students through technology."
  • "I now have more time to teach directly with students."
  • "Running reports is no longer miserable. I can get it done and submitted quickly."

Your role of managing change is to be a champion of reinforcement. Keep your group excited about the new normal. Try different strategies to recognize and celebrate the hard work that goes along with change, and above all, stay positive!

A Change Manager’s Role as an Enabler of Success

Every one of your teachers is an individual with his or her own motivations, history, personal story, and desire to engage. They’re all moving through the stages­ of the ADKAR process at their own pace. As an administrator, it is part of your responsibility to keep a pulse on the dynamics within your school or district and shape what change will look like. Try to understand what is at the heart of your teachers’ resistance. If you give yourself the time to understand the change; work directly with individuals as they build awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement; and support yourself in ongoing reinforcement of change, you will be on your way to creating a staff of change agents and a culture that embraces change.

Interested in finding out more about how your school or district can partner with Edmentum to meet your professional development needs? Learn about our professional services, including school improvement consulting, product training, and ongoing technical support!