Taking the leap

My profile byline on many online sites says,

A husband,  a parent…

An educator,  a student…

A thinker,  a dreamer…

An agent of change.

I think it says a lot about me, who I am, and who I want to be. But I’ve been thinking about change a lot recently, and I’ve had to deal with a lot of changes recently at my school (we had to move our whole school on short notice at the end of last year/start of this year) and that has me thinking some more again… Change is hard… hard to make and hard to meaningfully sustain.

Literally as I was writing this my Tweetdeck (twitter application) chimed to announce a tweet addressed to me from Phillipa Cleaves @pipcleaves:

A new blog post: The Imperative to walk the Walk http://bit.ly/f5e5Yh Inspired by @deangroom @benpaddlejones and @datruss

The post, The Imperative to Walk the Walk, states “…I therefore put to everyone who is reading this to change. Change how you talk, don’t show those movies any more, work on professional learning opportunities like Ben Jones has suggested, and don’t do one off training. Give participants at your professional learning sessions the feeling of being in a student centred classroom…”

It feels wonderful to inspire change, but the irony is that this message comes to me as I write this, questioning whether or not I’m actually walking the walk? Am I the change agent I want to be?  (Pretend to be?)

David Jakes on Change-2

I wanted to implement many things this year that I have yet to begin. I’m at a school where we spent the first 4 days that should be dedicated to professional development actually unpacking a library and unpacking a school. We implemented a 1-1 program for our seniors and started them on blogs that will also, through pages, become their online portfolio, but the blogs have been blocked for over a month now… not by China but by the blogging platform that has been swamped with spam from China.

I’m at a school where most of my students come from countries where content and memorization is king, and finding different materials or pulling students out for ESL support is often seen as a disservice to the child by many in my parent population, (‘They are missing out on the ‘real’ content’). Textbooks are vital, and I hear “My kid isn’t getting enough homework,” while as a parent I see too much homework coming home.

There is a mismatch between the BC Canada Math curriculum and its’ heavy emphasis on language based problems, the simplicity of the problems that are asked to be explained and the diverse level of Math and language skills of students coming from different countries. My next pro-d session is going to address this. We will watch Dan Myer’s Math class needs a makeover and discuss questioning textbook questions across the curriculum.

My technology focused pro-d has been limited to introducing delicious (soon to be shut down?) as a means to share resources, (oh and my main substitute diigo bookmarking is blocked in China). My other pro-d has been focused on: effective use of Teaching Assistants (another change at our school that had ESL classes and has transitioned to in-class and pull-out TA support); differentiation to deal with large numbers of ESL students in a classroom; and, teaming to get teachers to share their resources and to use their common prep time effectively to enhance learning.

Everywhere I have turned, I’ve been coping with change… but not the changes that I want… the changes I’ve had to deal with. It makes me wonder, how much change is too much? Systems take time to adapt to change. Compounded with this is the idea behind Dean Shareski’s comment quote on George Couros’ post:

“Teachers do not resist making changes; they resist people who try to make them change. The best change comes as a result of individuals realizing they need to change. If we believe that teachers are the right people in the role, we need to help them realize this on their own and not because they feel forced. True change is internal.”

I’ve asked a lot of my teachers in the first term. Challenges we’ve faced with our new building have compounded the stress. Start up has been tough, and I’m so proud of how well my teachers have coped, and how hard they have worked to make the school and their classrooms great. I was blown away with the learning that was happening when I did my recent ‘No Office Day‘.

And yet I sit here and question myself, and question how we can implement system-wide change in education? Because David Jakes is right, “Endless conversation about change is the barrier. Actually committing to doing something and then acting is what is required.”

Yeah, we’ve had a lot to deal with at our school this year, but so have many other schools across the globe. Schools always have a lot on the go, they always have unique challenges that make them places that are already dealing with a lot of change. There are always excuses masked as reasons to not change ‘something’ now because, ‘it’s just bad timing‘ or ‘we’re too busy‘ or ‘we have so much on the go already‘.

I’ve done a lot to cope with change, have I done enough to be an agent of meaningful change?

22 comments on “On being an agent of change

  1. To me, one of the important messages from your post is that regardless of having faced many changes this year, you’re still looking to move forward. You’re a driver of change!

    In Susan Carter Morgan’s recent post, “Resistance to Change”, she cites Rick Maurer.

    Below is one of the most logical points stated:

    “Making a compelling case for change is the most important thing you can do–and the most neglected. Avoid the trap of moving to HOW before WHY is answered.”

    If teachers clearly understand why change is needed, they’ll commit to learning how. Bringing change to their students’ learning is more likely to happen.

  2. Some solid ideas and passion here Dave – BUT let’s not be coy – there are a number of people who find it financially and intellectually valuable to perpetuate this ‘culture’ of discussing literacy, reform and change. It’s a milk run, and way easier to provoke discussion that to actually conduct some social research leading to solid recommendations. In fact, if they bothered to do even a modest literature review we might see new, not recycled information on the internets.

  3. Great post David
    It’s theoretically a simple question do we talk about change or are we the change we want to see?

    But as Dean has already pointed out there are many on the conference circuit making big $$$ from talking about change (my post was inspired by one).

    A dangerous thought:
    The critical question: many ‘talk about change as a form of leadership’. I ask do they talk because talk is cheap and taking action is expensive or do they talk because they hate/fear/can’t/don’t understand/won’t/think they have change? This IMHO is a very scary question to ask and one many I think are too scared to answer. But in perspective of those happy to reap massive profits from change at the expense of schools (the real loser) is a question that must be started to be asked more freely and an answer be demanded.

    Whilst a dangerous thought given the cost of teachers attending professional learning just to watch videos about change represented as SMS count of 13yr olds in the US without achieving bang for buck can we afford not to think it anymore?

    Or maybe I’m wrong and the EduPørn that has been played ad nauseum in schools around the world has been effective and we should just cue more, pop some corn, kick back and watch the change.

    Ben 🙂

  4. Disclosure: I’ve had ONE paying gig, and I was brought in with a team, after the motivational speech, to work in small breakout sessions with the same 20 teachers for two full days. We did a 1 hr keynote each day and spent the rest of the time with the teachers, introducing and playing with tools, answering questions and reducing anxiety and frustration along the way. I was also able to convince the powers that be, that although diigo is considered a social network, it should not be blocked in the district.

    While I totally agree with Dean and Ben about people profiting on the “We must Change” agenda, I am constantly reminded that there are many teachers that still fear tech and see it as an unnecessary, dare I say ‘evil’, distraction.

    Three people helped me make a huge shift in my thinking back in ’06… Thomas Freidman’s ‘The world is Flat’ stated it. Then David Warlick’s K12Online Pre-Conference Keynote (which I saw after the conference was over- a significant point to make), and then an Alan November webinar that our district had him do (I watched it twice in a row)… and it was this inspirational ‘we need to change… now’ speech that actually pushed me to integrate technology into my classroom. I needed this message to actually act!

    Like most that will end up reading this comment, we’ve heard this ‘change’ chant coming from countless people via streamed and recorded keynotes and blog posts for a while now, and many tire of it… but I wonder if it still isn’t needed? When you go to a conference of 2,000 and only 200-400 are engaged with a PLN, tweeting, and following links, and reading what ‘we’ read, we can’t forget about the other 80-90% of the participants. Many still need a motivational ‘push’ before they act.

    As Heather quotes above: “Making a compelling case for change is the most important thing you can do–and the most neglected. Avoid the trap of moving to HOW before WHY is answered.” And as Dean says above, “The best change comes as a result of individuals realizing they need to change… True change is internal.”

    Is there still a need for this message… albeit with a more definitive follow-up on how to make it happen?

    I think one of the changes now is that most districts have some model or innovative classrooms happening already and yet they are looking outward for experts when they should be looking inward. If I was a traveling presenter right now, I’d go into districts and find the exemplars within districts and teach them how to help lead, teacher-to-teacher… I’d probably end up presenting myself out of a job… but isn’t that what a change-agent-presenter should be paid to do?

  5. David:

    What if we stopped talking about change and focused the conversation on growth — Agents of Growth — not Agents of Change. Focusing on change may be a deficit model especially when interacting with others– i.e. I’m here to fix you — you are in some way in need of improvement — you need to change. A growth conversation assumes that where people are is just that — where they are and together we can grow from this place. The latter approach requires a powerful set of mediational tools — preaching at people doesn’t help them grow. As noted above, the drone of the change message has in many ways become white noise in the background for many educators. Mental models organized by an entrenched image of what teaching is will stay firmly in place until we move the conversation to an intense focus on learning. For example, much of what I see being touted as technology integration is unfortunately just that — technology integration into the teaching model — Smart Boards as overhead projectors. I have yet to see a full scale learning model using technology. At this point, we appear to have a 19th century curriculum, 20th century buildings and organizations and 21st century students facing an undefined future. What if we gained wide acceptance of the idea that the future is largely unknowable? How might that influence our ideas about what and how students should learn?

  6. Dave, I also really enjoyed this post. It’s not easy being a change agent because the system in place is literally against you at every turn.

    We started a blended model here, and the most difficult problem was NOT the courses, NOT the technology, but the communication! We had to step in and help people within each school and district talk to each other! So now I am asking myself…who are the leaders here? The ones who talk change or the ones who troubleshoot so change can happen?? Also, I am learning that the teacher’s role in a F2F classroom has little in common with the teacher in an online course. Teachers in the classroom consider themselves curriculum experts — online teachers leave that to the course designer for the most part. Teachers in the F2F classroom teach to the mean…and there is no mean in an online course, just individuals. Lastly, teachers in a F2F setting do not expect to form close relationships with every student, but the more I teach online myself, the more I see that you cannot help but get to know people pretty deeply when teaching online.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say “thanks” more than put forth my years’ learning about the changing teacher role…see you next year!


    PS Don’t feel guilty about consultant work…you have unique skills that NEED to be shared and are WORTHY of extra pay.

  7. Bruce,
    I love this quote:

    “At this point, we appear to have a 19th century curriculum, 20th century buildings and organizations and 21st century students facing an undefined future.”

    (…and already shared it here.)

    I also like your point about ‘growth’ rather than ‘change’, although I challenge you to consider that this:
    “I’m here to fix you — you are in some way in need of improvement — you need to CHANGE.”
    …can equally be interchanged with this:
    “I’m here to fix you — you are in some way in need of improvement — you need to GROW.”

    So I wonder, when you say this: (Yet another brilliant quote by the way!)

    “Mental models organized by an entrenched image of what teaching is will stay firmly in place until we move the conversation to an intense focus on learning.”

    Isn’t this a major shift (or change)? Do we move here through growth, or through throwing the 20th century organizational model out the window and actually changing to a new …learner and learning centered… model?

    As for ‘Smart Boards as overhead projectors’, I couldn’t agree with you more and wrote about this idea here: Transformative or just flashy educational tools?

    You’ve given me a fair amount to think about, thanks you!


    First off, I’m so glad that you did indeed share your ‘years’ learning‘ – Thank you!

    I don’t think you saw Bruce’s comment, (which went to moderation and was approved after your comment was written). And yet, the shift in the teaching model that you’ve gone through has exemplified how teachers can learn and ‘grow’ when given a new model to work with. See my post on Promoting a Spirit of Inquiry where I looked at useful communication skills in a Pro-D session with none other than Bruce Wellman from the above comment.

    And as for guilt about consultant work, I don’t have any. I was making a ‘disclosure’ in the comment above, but also a point… When I did that work, it was far more than ‘selling change’, the teachers were first given the ‘we need to change’ message, then they were put into cohorts and given time to experiment, play and learn. I keep meaning to write a post about this process, but for now I’ll just say that many teachers still need the ‘wow’ before the ‘how’.

    I just love it when the comments enrich and even outshine the value of the original post!

  8. David, to answer your question: yes. Those of us who have been tasked with asking others to change often find ourselves in this predicament. You’ve had to deal with what’s been handed to you–and you have done it well AND continued to reflect upon those changes. I don’t believe any of this can be done with any less angst than we are all feeling. We are dealing with large institutions with their own rules, infrastructures that block, political movements that ebb and flow–so all we can do is model the kind of learning and growth we want those around us (both students and teachers) to embody. I agree–people can’t be forced. And, yes, the “wow before the how” (love that line). I also agree with Dan about communication. I find my relationships and how clearly I communicate determine whether people find my ideas to have merit. Both of those take much work, don’t they?

  9. Yes Susan,
    They both take a lot of work! And yet, with the wisdom that has been shared here, I’m reminded that it’s work worth doing, and work being done by many wiser than me that are willing to share! 🙂

  10. Hi Dave,

    Your post, and the excellent comments that have followed, nicely summarize many of the thoughts I have had this year. I said to a mutual friend of ours that I work with – I think I may need to add a caveat – do as I blog, not as I do (kidding of course), to my posts, because it is hard to sustain the change that is built into the values and beliefs of the system we are working towards.

    I bet that you will always be able to say something like you did in your blog post, “we’ve had a lot to deal with at our school this year” – every year. I appreciate that this is not a reason to stop moving forward.

    Finally – I think we (those who are passionate about the change) need to be careful of the OPUD (over promise, under deliver). In my excitement about what is possible, I will not build in the reality that comes with change – new technology that takes time to learn, and often does not quite do what we hoped, a realization that the “new” makes our work different and not necessarily easier, and the honest admission that the speed of this change is only going to increase and in many ways is outside of our control.

    Thanks for your honest and thoughtful post.

  11. Dave – you’ve started another deep discussion hey. I like what Bruce W said about “Agents of Growth”. Really change is a given, this minute is different than the last – it’s built into life but isn’t descriptive of good or bad or indifferent. But, Growth, now that says something. Moving from here to there. Then agents of growth have a role to play in helping people see where “there” is, why it might be important to “go there”, and then help them with strategies to “get there”. I too think the “wow” is a helpful starter but we can’t get stuck there. We need to be action oriented – as I’ve said many times, an action research learning model interspersed with the appropriate “wow” moments, can move many people to their own “there”. Action research for our District has been very helpful for teachers trying to embrace the use of technology – over 60% of our learning teams now have an educational technology focus and they’re all about growing one’s practice.

  12. Chris,

    As much as I chuckled at the your play on words: “do as I blog, not as I do”, I was equally appreciative, for different reasons, of why you said this, “because it is hard to sustain the change that is built into the values and beliefs of the system we are working towards.” I would like to add… ‘while working within a model that was not built to sustain, and actually hinders such changes.’ I’m moving more and more towards the idea that organizational restructuring is, and will be, key to moving beyond a progressive crawl forward. Don Brown’s comment above suggests to me that the changes to our structure can and are happening now!

    I’ll be quoting your final section in a long overdue post about the “…realization that the “new” makes our work different and not necessarily easier…”, which I hope to have time to write over the holidays.


    As much as I played devil’s advocate with the term ‘Agent of Growth’ in my comment response to Bruce Wellman above, I too like the term.

    I love this point: “I’ve said many times, an action research learning model interspersed with the appropriate “wow” moments, can move many people to their own “there”.”

    This is what I was attempting to say in my comment to Dean and Ben above, but you were able to say it far more succinctly and eloquently than me!


    Again, I’m blown away by the quality of these comments. This is why I appreciate blogging so much… the learning can continue well after I hit the ‘publish’ button!

  13. Thank you Dave, for your inspiring and engaging blog! I enjoyed this posting as well as the wealth within these comments.

    I completely agree with you, change is still necessary, but it is so important to have the filter of “is this meaningful?” as we approach the “necessity” of change. Too often schools become overburdened with too much change, new curriculum, tech tools, and even philosophies.

    I work at a small school, and the beauty of that is the potential we have for innovation and a truly living and breathing professional learning community that everyone takes part in, which is great. However, the downside is that we are in danger of being spread too thin.

    Ten years ago, our school excelled at student portfolios and student led conferences, but at a time when a new writing curriculum was being instituted school-wide, provincial wide curriculum change, and a few other school professional learning projects… these portfolios and conferences were abandoned because we were simply doing too much. Looking back, some of the other initiatives of that year have come and gone, been replaced with other curriculum, but here we are again in the throes of formative assessment and tackling again the notion of portfolios and student led conferences. How I wish we’d have had the “meaningful” filter on back then and been able to determine what was busy work and that which was essential! A good lesson to keep in mind as we move forward in education. Thanks for the post!

  14. Thanks for your comment Cheryl!

    I’ve been on a staff that did so much that we felt spread too thin, and yet that was far more invigorating and exciting than being on a staff that didn’t do enough.

    You bring up a great point that change needs first to be meaningful but then also sustainable.

    I also think ‘now’ is always a good time to put the ‘meaningful’ filter on, and so your experience in the past only serves to add value to what you will do in the future. This is one filter in education I actually agree is useful! 😉

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