A close friend who works in a leadership role in a local school asked me an interesting question this week. “I just want to build something that teachers can buy-in to that will help kids,” she said. “How do you do that?”
Chances are that if you’ve worked in schools for any length of time, that question resonates with you, right? We’ve ALL had moments where we were completely frustrated by a group of teachers who just weren’t interested in moving forward with a new project and/or program.
The good news is that getting teachers to buy-in to change initiatives isn’t NEARLY as hard as it seems. You just need to remember that:
Teachers buy into change efforts that they believe are important.
The change initiative that I’ve spent the MOST professional energy on in my 20 year teaching career was an effort to convert my traditional middle school into a professional learning community that started a little over 8 years ago. Since then, I’ve literally spent thousands of unpaid hours trying to polish the collaborative work of my learning teams.
My commitment to professional learning communities started because I was convinced from the start that they were important for students. I knew that I didn’t have the skills to meet the needs of every kid in my classes, but that peers on my hallway did. If we shared what we knew, there was a real chance that we COULD ensure success for every student.
PLCs were about much more than improving student learning, however. I also saw professional learning communities as an opportunity for teachers to reestablish their credibility as instructional experts. Having watched policymakers march towards a world where educators were seen as professionally dispensable, that chance to reassert our expertise was an opportunity I wanted to take advantage of.
The leadership lesson for school leaders: If you want teachers to invest time and energy and effort into a change initiative, you have to first prove to them that the change you are championing is important — for students AND for teachers.
Teachers buy into change efforts that they believe are doable.
The change effort that I’ve struggled with the most in my 20 year teaching career has been my own personal attempts to incorporate more formative assessment into my classroom. It’s not that I don’t believe that formative assessment matters — there’s enough professional evidence of the impact that formative assessment has on student learning that I KNOW it’s important.
But every time that I try to make formative assessment a larger part of the work that I do with kids, I get overwhelmed by the logistics behind developing and delivering measures that I think are reliable indicators of just what students know and can do. Worse yet, I can never find the time to look for patterns in or to record the data that I collect from the assessments that I do give.
My efforts have been cumbersome and balky — and they’ve literally left me wondering whether or not formative assessment is even possible. “If I had 8 students or unlimited access to digital tools that would automate some of the data collection and reporting,” I catch myself saying, “then I could do this. But I don’t. So why bother.”
The leadership lesson for school leaders: Simply convincing teachers that your change effort is important isn’t enough. You’ve ALSO got to convince your teachers that your change effort is doable given the realities — class sizes, time constraints, other school-based responsibilities — that they wrestle with on a daily basis.
Teachers buy into change efforts that they believe will be around for awhile.
Over the course of my 20 year teaching career, I’ve probably seen nothing short of 100 DIFFERENT change initiatives championed in the schools that I’ve worked in. There were study skill programs like AVID, behavioral programs like PBIS and relationship building programs like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
There were federal programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. There were team-based projects like studying the role that current events can play in social studies instruction and the role that Socratic Seminars can play in language arts instruction.
I’ve had my cheese moved and I’ve tried to move from good to great. I’ve had crucial conversations and crucial confrontations. We focused on The First Days of School. We’ve done curriculum mapping and PLCs and Reading Readiness and instructional walkthroughs.
Every single one of those efforts required a significant amount of time and energy. I sat in countless meetings and planned countless lessons and filled in countless checklists and took countless surveys about all of them — only to see them pushed aside as soon as something newer and better and flashier came along.
And every time that one of those initiatives was pushed to the side, I learned to see my efforts to invest energy into change initiatives as a waste of time because the chances of seeing any kind of meaningful return on my professional investments was pretty darn small. There’s no sense committing to something that won’t be around in a year.
The leadership lesson for leaders: Building teacher buy-in depends on convincing teachers that any initiative that you are putting forth is going to be around for awhile — and that means making a commitment to identifying patterns of practice that are worth pursuing and sticking to them. If you can’t make that professional promise to yourself or your faculties, don’t even bother trying to drive change.
Any of this make sense? More importantly, did I miss any important tips for building teacher buy-in?
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