I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Saturday, July 29, 2017


Every time I come home from the Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston (BLC), ideas swirl around in my brain, and I have so many things I feel I need to share with other teachers. This year, however, our last keynote, Dr. Rob Evans, had the message I think all agents of change need to hear and understand.

He started by telling us (with much humor) who he was and what he does. The short version is that he is a psychologist and the director of Human Relations Service in Wellesley, MA. He used to teach HS and preschool students, and just can't imagine why anyone would choose to work with middle school students... (I LOVED laughing with him.)

Dr. Evans then dove in to share his wisdom about CHANGE. I believed him right away, because what he first shared, I share in my "Shift the Culture of Your Classroom" presentation --> We like the idea of change if it is OUR idea. When change is imposed upon us, we resist. So many conversations this week at BLC revolved around going back to school and meeting with resistance when we want the educational system to change. He threw in humor throughout his presentation, but this is the one gem I wrote down so I could quote him...

Because he has so much to share, this is going to be one of those bullet point posts - just laying it all down.

Points I need to remember and share regarding the reasons WHY change isn't easy in education:

  • Consider changes in your life - the ones you've wanted and the ones you have resisted. The "good" changes we wanted in life came with some unexpected consequences. Same for the unwanted changes - they most likely came with some unexpected consequences that were good. And, if we think of those changes in our lives and the lessons learned, the stronger lessons that were more valuable probably came from the changes that were NOT wanted. We learn in the context of loss, failure, and disappointment. Change is full of ambivalence. 
  • People resist change - ESPECIALLY if they were not the ones to come up with the idea to change. Our brains are hardwired to seek out patterns - even if we think we don't like the patterns, our brain wants them - they make life make sense. "We cling to patterns because they give life meaning, not necessarily because they make us happy. People often hate the pattern they're in, but also hate to change their situations."
  • When we're asking for colleagues to change, we need to consider this: What does this change mean to them? We think it means progress, growth, development, learning... Yet what it means to them often includes LOSS - grief and bereavement. Suddenly, an assumption they've had has been DEVALUED. So ask... what's the loss they will feel?
  • Resistance to change is NORMAL and NECESSARY.
  • Businesses deal better with conflict and problem-solving than schools do. Schools are more personal - and they should be! A school is "much harder to change than a business because a school is more like a house of worship." In schools we're skilled at congeniality (warm, friendly connections), but not at collegiality (which focuses more on growth and performance). Because of this, we have what Dr. Evans called "non-discussables" - things we don't talk about openly - only in the parking lot. "We get along great as long as we agree. When we stop agreeing, we stop talking TO each other, and start talking ABOUT each other." (He did add that if we were TOO candid, we would have a "collapse of society..." There's no need to go around telling people what you think every moment of the day!)
  • Side note: During this keynote, I was sitting next to Carol Salva, a teacher who is a brand-new author and who used to be in sales prior to teaching. (I'm sure she has a much longer story, but we didn't get to chat too much!) She said when she received harsh feedback, she would do what they suggested, get better at her job, and earn more money. It wasn't her nature to have thick skin - she grew it in this position. The feedback - although it meant change - was effective. Instead of taking the feedback personally, she used the feedback to improve
  • Too much pressure from agents of change will drive the resistance underground, yet pressure makes it harder for people to remain status quo. We need a balance of pressure and support.
  • Schools need more tolerance for conflict.
  • Teachers CHOOSE to spend time in the presence of children or adolescents. There has to be something inside us that helps us connect to these students (if we stick with the profession). Being in the classroom makes us happy. ... HOWEVER ...  "The characteristics (nurturing, sacrifice, kindness, etc.) that make us good with kids don't help us work well with ADULTS."

Mind blown right there.
WHY is this? Is this true?
He could have stopped, and I'd be satisfied knowing the reasons why schools aren't changing (fast enough - yet).

However, he kept sharing - and he got to the HOW...

  • First of all - and this notion is directed towards administrators - if you want teachers to lead change in your school, you need to tell the other teachers to listen to them. If these change-agents are not the boss, then others don't have much motivation to even begin to listen to the ideas.
  • "Buy-in" is an end state. It's not a beginning condition. Don't look for buy-in right away.
  • What matters is that people KNOW if they're going to be listened to during the process of change, or if the decision has already been made. The decision itself actually doesn't matter, even if people don't agree with the decision. It's the clarity of the process - who is involved, and who isn't - that matters. If we had to choose someone to work under, we'd choose someone who is clear about their decisions over someone we agree with but is not clear about who is deciding what. If you want change, be clear and truthful about who is involved in the decision-making process.
  • Be ready to support - What are people losing with this change? What will they grieve? 
  • When asking for change, change-agents need to be clear about the 
    • WHY - Why can't I keep doing what I've been doing? Why do I have to do this now? Why should I listen to you?  -- This is the stage where we cause the loss. This is also the stage that is often skipped. Change won't come if this stage is skipped.
    • WHAT - What do you want me to do?
    • HOW - How do you expect me to do it?
  • Difference between problems and dilemmas:
    • People solve or fix problems. People cope with dilemmas.
  • Remember that almost everything we're trying to solve in education was once a solution to something else.
  • The most productive, successful, engaged, happy people have someone who cares about their development. This is why conferences like BLC are so successful and invigorating.
    • Let's do with teachers what we do with our students...
      • Ask teachers about what they do well.
      • Build on teachers' strengths. This will help them cope with the loss and get them to where they're learning. Then change will be transformational.
THANK YOU, Dr. Robert Evans.

The Human Side of School Change is on its way to my house, and I'm sure it will be by my side when I go to the next conference where teachers wonder, "How can I get others at my own school to try this?"

And thank you to my online and face-to-face PLN who continue to challenge me. Whether I choose change or it is imposed upon me, this quote from George Couros is true...

Kudos to this teacher for sharing this mindset with her students!

Update 12/31/17:
     Want more? I've finished the book!
          Part 2: Reluctant Faculty

I'll be adding more references to change below as I find them or they are shared with me:
     Overcome Resistance to Change with Two Conversations - Harvard Business Review
     Managing Change - podcast with Dr. Rob Evans (18 min)
     Dare to Go First (How to Be a Change Agent) - Shanna Peeples in Educational Leadership
     Convince ME - George Couros
     The Grief of Accepting New Ideas - Rick Wormeli

1 comment:

  1. Joy,
    Thank you for sharing your learning! It is good for you and us! I love that you get to go to the BLC every summer.

    Your explanation of the order of why, what and how makes such great sense! If we skip the why, all we have left are the reluctant: OK, what do I have to do? and How do you expect me to do it? Like Dr. Evans said and you summarized so effectively, if the WHY doesn't get answered the reluctance will persist.

    I'm going to remember this. We have to keep a safe environment, where people can discuss the WHYs of change. If they are given adequate time and freedom to consider the why, then the what's and how to's will actually lead them to buy-in rather than compliance only. Here's to starting with the WHY in all we do as educators and leaders.

    Thank you for consistently making your learning visible, so we can all benefit.