5 Ways to Support Others Through Change
This week I spent some time talking with upper primary teachers about what structured literacy is all about. I presented for an hour on the Simple View of Reading, Scarborough’s Reading Rope and what an upper primary literacy block might look like. At the end of the presentation, a very brave teacher put her hand up and said (words to the effect of), “I just don’t know what any of this means”. It was clear that my well-meaning presentation was more than a little overwhelming and had actually caused a fair degree of discombobulation. Discussions after the session made it clear that these hard working, dedicated teachers were p*&^ed off. At the end of the longest term in history, they had just been told that what they were doing to try and help their students was ‘wrong’. Now, don’t misunderstand me. These teachers are not resistant to change. They have proven their willingness to change by adopt an analytic spelling program when asked to. They don’t view their strugglers as a nuisance. They are, in fact, intensely anxious for their students heading into high school and personally committed to doing whatever it takes to help them. They don’t resent having to make individual learning plans. They do them for most of their students and know the contents of those plans intimately, including what PM level every student is working towards. What they are is upset that they have been dutiful, hard-working, responsive and willing to do what was asked of them and that the things they have invested themselves in have been taking them and their students in the wrong direction.
So many of us have been down this path of grief and anger at realising that we have been denied the information and tools to teach reading and writing simply. That the answers to our questions and worries were right there all the time and were not shared with us. At some point we have moved through those feelings to emerge on the other side ready to implement strong practices. We may now also be supporting our colleagues who find themselves in that place. So, today’s post is focused on how we can help others, whether they be teaching upper, middle and lower primary, to make their way through the rather horrible feelings that can characterise the shift to structured literacy.
The Kubler-Ross Model
The process of change often resembles the process of grieving. So it’s probably not a coincidence that the person who came up with the stages of grief, also has a stages of change model. The image below suggests some ways that we might support those in the various stages of the change process.
As with grief, no two people will spend the same amount of time in each stage or respond in the same way to change, but this model does provide us with a handy framework from which to support others.
Looking at this model, it’s clear to me that the upper primary teachers I was working with were initially in shock and them moved pretty quickly into frustration. i really felt for them and look forward to working with them over the rest of the year as they make their way through their structured literacy journey. If you are facing a similar situation in your school, here are some suggestions for how to provide support.
How to Help Others
- Make this change model known to all involved.
Knowing that our feelings are normal and that there is a way to work through them, helps us get some distance from our own emotions. This distance is important so that we can make decisions and approach situations from a productive, rather than emotional perspective.
- Allow people to feel the way they feel.
We often want to make things better for people who are experiencing difficulty. We are teachers after all. However, trying to ‘smooth things over’ and encourage others to be positive all the time might just shut down the paths of communication that are necessary to help them make it to the next step. Watch this clip from Brene Brown about the difference between sympathy and empathy.
- Be prepared to hold your horses.
For those of us who are now comfortable with the reading science and what that means in practice, it can be tempting to bombard others with research and information. It all makes sense to us, so it seems obvious that the research is the place to start. However, there are times when teachers just need a couple of simple routines or tools to get them on the road to structured teaching. Once they can see the benefits and find some fluency in their teaching, they will have a mental model of what is meant by the words structured, explicit & the alphabetic principle. We know that our students need hands on opportunities to interact with new knowledge. We teachers are no different. I don’t mean don’t cover any theory, but be mindful of teachers’ cognitive load.
- Be prepared to be flexible in your approach to support and guidance.
The person sitting in the frustration stage needs different things from you than someone in the experiment stage. It’s ok to work differently with different people depending on their needs. This is, after all, one of the skills of a strong leader.
- Recognise that the appearance of resistance doesn’t make someone a bad teacher.
What might manifest as resistance in practice, could well be borne out of fear and anxiety. Further, different personalities approach change differently. Some people love to just jump right in and do it all. Others want all the information before they are comfortable to take a leap. It’s ok for people to feel differently. The one constant is the need for connection. Everyone needs to be heard and respected and to have their needs met. Trying to force someone to think like you will most likely backfire and push that person further away. Connection is the driver of teamwork and growth.
Finally, recognise that change is hard. It’s hard on the person going through the change and it’s hard on the person supporting. Take the time to hold space for others to communicate, connect and question. After all, it is through walking alongside our colleagues that we will get the greatest benefits for students.
Are you looking to help your team build capacity in Semester 2? Read about the Reading Success and Writing Success Teach Alongs here. If you have questions about booking your team in, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org