The Best Advice I’ve Ever Been Given
Change is hard. Anyone who tells you that it’s just a matter of telling people what to do or taking a ‘my way or the highway’ approach hasn’t really done it well. In a previous post, I shared some suggestions for how to support others through the change process. You can read that post here.
As a teacher and school leader, I’ve had loads of advice from others throughout the years. Some of it has been helpful. Some of it has been downright diabolical, and some of it invaluable. In today’s post, I’d like to share five of the best pieces of advice I’ve received in working towards school level change.
1. Calm teachers have calm classrooms.
Ever noticed that there are just some teachers whose classrooms are calm and ordered, and you’ve never heard them raise their voice? It’s because calm teachers have calm classrooms. Emotions and moods are contagious, with ripples that spread from person to person. Similarly, calm leaders have calm teams. I’ve had leaders whose anxiety and (dare I say it) drama have infused the team with anxiety and drama. It wasn’t fun. When we are calm in leading and/or supporting others, this supports our colleagues. People look to their leaders for how to react to challenges. When a leader approaches a difficult situation with a sense of certainty and logic, others feel safer. The best principal I’ve ever had was calm, ordered and minimised challenges. That doesn’t mean that challenges weren’t acknowledged and supported, but he made difficulties easier to deal with by actively avoiding catastrophising the situation.
2. Focus on the wins
Ever had one of those days where you wondered why you were bothering to keep going? Have you ever thought that your dream of evidence informed practices across your school was a pipe dream and that you must be a little unhinged to keep trying to make it happen? I have! The advice that got me through those feelings was to ‘focus on the little wins’. That person was right. After all, it’s all the little things that add up to the big wins.
3. When you feel yourself getting cross, you have a choice to make.
I know I’m not alone in feeling frustrated with a colleague. We’ve all had that moment where we felt the emotional/cranky response well up from our stomach and threaten to get us into trouble. The advice that taught me an alternative to actually saying what I thought was ‘you can go loud or you can go quiet. The choice is yours. That piece of advice was from my amazing leadership coach Jenny Cole (you can check her out at www.positivelybeaming.com.au), and it changed how I felt about potentially sensitive situations. Going quiet isn’t about abandoning your point of view. It isn’t about softening expectations or letting things slide. It’s about giving yourself the breathing space to find the win-win in the situation and think about how you can approach the person/situation differently and professionally. Sometimes the answer is in adjusting your communication style. Sometimes it’s about asking better questions to understand the other person better. Sometimes, it’s about putting your big girl pants on and having that tough conversation. But whatever comes next, going quiet saves relationships and keeps connections secure.
4. There’s a difference between compliance and buy-in.
Creating change is only successful when we bring people along on the journey with us. Some people think that change journeys are about giving orders and holding people accountable. That works to a certain extent in that people might nod and smile in the meeting, but I guarantee they are closing their classroom door and doing what they’ve always done or peppering the new stuff in with the old. This kind of ‘half measures’ change will never yield the results you want. Change efforts that build buy-in are usually slower than the compliance/accountability version. It takes time and concerted effort to discuss, gather thoughts and opinions and involve people in creating and implementing shared action plans. But change built on buy-in will always get you better results than change built on compliance. One reason is compliance flies out the window when things get tricky. Submission gets you short-term procedural adjustment. Buy-in gets you the commitment to last the distance.
5. The explicit teaching model is for teachers too.
We all learn new things better with explicit teaching. This is as true for teachers learning to teach phonics as it is for students learning to read. We need someone to help us have fundamental understandings, model and deconstruct practices, to support us as we implement our learning and then provide loads of follow-up help as we refine our efforts. Sometimes we forget this. Giving someone a book or sending them off to a single day’s professional learning doesn’t cater to the full range of the steps in an explicit teaching model. It’s why my courses are delivered over 10-12 weeks with a little bit each week and are focused on creating sustainable action and change.
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