The Human Face of Change

In dealing with the natural human reactions inherent in school change, says Robert Evans, a Massachusetts psychologist who has helped train many of the Coalition’s National Faculty, leaders would benefit from orienting their efforts not around techniques but around a few key predispositions or biases:

1. Clarity and focus. Concentrate on one or two big and achievable changes at a time, then pay attention to them at all levels. If there are six big tasks, prioritize and sequence them to give them a chance of succeeding. “Watch where you spend your time when you have an extra twenty minutes here or there,” Evans says. “That is sending a powerful message to your staff.”

2. Recognition. The best low-cost improvement is to recognize the effort adults make, as well as their successes. “If you consistently deny people confirmation that their efforts are adequate, you demotivate them,” says Evans. “We reward kids for hard work and effort; why can’t a faculty do that for each other?”

3. Participation without paralysis. The challenge of adopting radical changes in classroom practice grows even harder when it goes along with adopting a whole new process of sharing decisions. “Most schools lose themselves in endless procedures to the point where they don’t get around to results that have to do with kids,” remarks Evans. “You won’t have a consensual system, remember, until you share a belief system. Getting there is very time-consuming and intense-and you can’t use consensus to do it!” As long as they make sure that ideas are continually flowing in both directions, Evans says, leaders should not be kept from acting on the change agenda for which they are being held accountable.

4. Confronting entrenched resisters. Once a school change priority is clear, the overt or covert resistance of those opposed to it can lower morale among supporters in very harmful ways. “First in private and then in a faculty meeting,the leader must challenge this, mounting a stout defense of the school’s values,” says Evans. “Ask other supportive voices to do their part, too. You are not a sheriff dealing with outlaws by yourself.”