Friday, June 2, 2017

Joshua Starr: Organizing for Adaptive Change Management

One day, when I was a district superintendent, I visited two high schools we had identified as “needing improvement.” I was there to share our strategy to help them boost student achievement and also give teachers and staff a chance to air their thoughts and concerns. The schools faced similar challenges, and they served similar student populations, but the comments I heard on my visits were totally different.
At one school, faculty complained that students lacked respect for authority, had been poorly prepared by their middle schools, and were being raised by parents who didn’t value education. In short, they pointed to problems beyond their control. They wanted me to remove the kids who were giving them the most trouble, and they also wanted more money.
At the other school, teachers and staff told me about their collective struggle to improve instruction, talked about their desire for more professional learning, and described how they were challenging and changing their own beliefs about student abilities. That is, they found specific problems lurking in their own teaching practices and believed they had to learn and grow so they could serve students better.
I think back to that day whenever I need a reminder of the human side of educational change. Over the past few decades, far too many reformers have assumed that school improvement is mainly a technical design challenge having to do with organizational structures and systems. But, in fact, a single organizational procedure — such as designating schools as needing improvement — can prompt very different responses in different schools. In one, faculty and staff might react defensively; in another, they might do some deep soul-searching.

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