If you have any familiarity with 12-step programs, they talk a good bit about “willingness”. In other words, we don’t have to do everything perfectly, but we do need to be willing to take some steps forward. I have been thinking a good bit about this concept in terms of educational change.
As a professor/mentor for several doctoral students at Walden University, I talk to my students about being willing to accept feedback. Some do it more “willingly” than others, and I get that. Some things are just hard to change. One thing is for certain, though. If you are in a doctoral program and you are writing sentences like “The teachers is going to fill out a survey”, then Houston, we have a problem. But other examples are less cut and dried. For example, are you willing to look at alternate points of view?
Nichole Nordeman sings a song called "Brave" that I love that talks about being willing to let go of the status quo. It's one of my favorites for so many reasons!!
When I do trainings for teachers and administrators, we always, always, always try to move people around at least a couple of times during the day. I realized a couple of years ago that people were only resistant to moving if they didn’t understand the purpose for it. Moving participants around to work with different people is not a “cute” activity we do to simply get up and move around or do “ice-breakers”. Moving to talk with different people gives us the chance to hear different perspectives from different people (maybe even people of different teaching levels). Hear the theme of “different”? I don’t know who said it first but I say it all the time, now: If we always do what we always did, then we’ll always get what we always got.
It just so happens that most people, when I explain the purpose in talking with other people than your own clique or school group, they express gratitude for that at the end of the day. I hear things like “Hearing from colleagues with whom I seldom work gave me a chance to understand the material in a different way”. What a concept!! Is it painful to move? Maybe a bit disconcerting to move outside your comfort zone. I remember feeling the same way when I was a principal. At principals’ meetings, I wanted to sit by the people I knew well so we could exchange quick comments between ourselves about how something would impact us. I once heard Todd Whitaker (one of my favorite school leadership experts) say something like, “If you principals are not willing to get up and move around to talk to other people, I don’t want you in my district. If we expect teachers to help students work with everyone in the class and we expect teachers to work with everyone on the faculty, then I expect my principals to work with everyone, as well.” I shouldn’t put that in quotes, as I know I am not quoting him exactly but it was pretty close to that. In other words, be willing to do something different to expect some different and maybe better results.
When I was teaching a few days ago, several participants remarked how they had been changed by the content we had learned that day. We used the work of Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman to talk about Learning Focused Conversations (2013) and we learned new ways of talking with teachers so that pre- and post-observation conferences could impact teacher practice (and administrator practice, as well, by the way) at a higher level. The willingness of the participants to try out new ways of speaking and new behaviors makes or breaks a training such as this. The participants said things like, “My conversations with teachers will be transformed completely after today” and “I want to make sure I talk less and let the teacher talk more” and “I have so many new strategies to put in my principal tool kit”.
One participant, however, shared the way of thinking that haunts many of us if we aren’t careful. He said, “I didn’t learn anything because the way I work with people is perfectly fine and I don’t need to change a thing.” I get a visual image of a mind (and heart, perhaps, as well) that is closed up so tightly, no light is able to get in. No new idea can reach the inside, no matter how loudly the idea knocks at the door. I used to get mad if I heard even one teacher or administrator respond in such a way after I taught my rear end off all day. Now, I will be honest. I get sad for a few minutes then move along. My sadness is for the reluctant learner---the one who is unwilling to change and grow---the one who is unwilling to let the light shine in. I’m not sad for me, anymore. I will continue to find passion in every day, every hour, every minute I teach because I am truly blessed to be able to share my passion with others who share a similar passion. The people who are willing to add even one thing new to their repertoire will be the winners, as they will reap the fruits of their “change” labor.
Just for today, perhaps we can think about the way change has enhanced our lives after we have given it a chance to settle in. I would love to hear your comments on your willingness to grow and how it helps you!!