Sunday, September 11, 2016

6 Fundamentals to Facilitating Change

I’m a pretty straight-arrowed rule follower, and I’ve never considered myself a rabble-rouser. So several years ago, when I got called into the principal’s office, I suffered a mini-anxiety attack. With my heart palpitating and my spores gushing sweat, I feebly sunk myself into a chair opposite of the principal’s massive desk, seemingly hoping to hide behind it.

“Reed, you gave 15 INCOMPLETE grades. Incompletes are only to be used in extreme situations like when a student misses several classes because she was sick. Go back to counseling and fix this.”

With that--and no opportunity to defend myself--my shift to Standards-Based Grading grading had hit another roadblock. I had a great relationship with both the director of school counseling and the registrar, so I was pleased to see them together as I entered counseling department. Obviously, they knew why I was there, and they reassured me that it was no big deal. The registrar let me in on a little secret, another teacher had also given a significant number of incompletes, and from her perspective, the only problem with incompletes was that it required more work for her since she would have to manually enter the new grades. She continued, “We can’t accurately calculate GPAs when a student has an INC. Other than that there’s really no problem with incompletes except that it’s something different.”

With that I immediately understood: different isn’t always good. This is especially the case when it goes against a long-standing school policy.

After I explained to the registrar that students received incompletes because they had not completed a significant assignment or did not demonstrate the required mastery of a strand or unit, the registrar offered a temporary solution, “Reed, give them the F or whatever, and then come back with a grade change form and I’ll change the grade. It’ll end up being the same amount of work on this end.”

I appreciated her understanding and willingness to work with me. Of course, I had already explained to the students and their parents why I had given Incompletes and what needed to be done, so I went back to my office space and started making phone calls.

While this wasn’t how I wanted to spend my time, it offered an opportunity for me to reflect, “Standards-Based Grading has been good for my students and assigning Incompletes (in my classroom I called them ‘Not Yets’) on assignments had led to improved academic performance.  What could I have done differently? What did I need to do going forward? What had I done wrong?

As an educator, I sought to constantly tweak, change and improve, but clearly I had taken a few missteps in my journey towards Standards-Based Grading. Through reflection I identified six areas where I erred.

6 Fundamentals to Facilitating Change

  1. Change requires honest dialogue and courageous conversations. Internally, I had identified a problem and a solution but not wanting to rock the boat, I did not involve others when I should have.
  2. Educational change requires support from many people. By providing information to others, along with the rationale and supporting research, I could have increased support and avoided conflict.
  3. There’s nothing wrong with starting small and sharing. I had been flying solo on my Standards-Based Grading journey, but I could’ve expanded my efforts to include other teachers from my PLC or my team. Doing so would’ve ensured ongoing dialogue, increased validity and improved fidelity.
  4. Change efforts must be organized. Had I been more organized and done a better job of coordinating my efforts with others, I could have avoided cynicism and conflict. By creating a specific plan with the help of others, the change to Standards-Based Grading would have been more valid.
  5. Anticipate problems and emotional reactions, including your own. My principal rightfully felt like the carpet had been pulled from under him as I--unintentionally--broke school rules, and I also became very frustrated. I did not anticipate emotional attachments to educational policies, nor did I proactively plan for problems.
  6. Expect cynicism. To reduce the rampant cynicism among most school staffs about educational improvement, restructuring endeavors should be well organized and coordinated. A written and/or visual model of the change effort can be developed and posted, including timelines, activities, task force members, and their responsibilities

Educational policies should be synonymous with change. Ongoing restructuring and improving should be a valued norm. Such innovation must be appropriately managed to ensure positive results. Doing so will ensure that we meet the needs of our students.