The Change Process
This module highlights change theory and is designed to help leadership teams avoid common pitfalls while putting district-wide reforms in place to make and sustain improvements in instructional practice and student achievement.
This module aligns with:
- Ohio's Leadership Development Framework, Area 2: Focused Goal-Setting Process
- Ohio Improvement Process: Stage 0, Stage 2, Stage 3, and Stage 4
Receiving Credit for this Module
The Ohio Leadership Advisory Council offers educators credit and contact hours for OLAC work. Teachers, principals, and superintendents who are working toward license renewal can receive university credit for completing OLAC modules from a number of Ohio universities. Pre-approval is required. For estimated contact hours for credit or to learn more about receiving credit for OLAC work, visit the Credit Corner.
Brian McNulty, Vice President Leadership Development-The Leadership and Learning Center
Hello, I'm Brian McNulty from the Leadership and Learning Center and I'm going to talk to you today about the change process. And I'm going to go back, quite a bit matter of fact, because we've been talking about change for as long as we've been writing or recording any of our thoughts. As a matter of fact one of the oldest philosophers, Heracleitus, was writing in 550 A.D. So for at least 2500 years we've been concerned about change, and how to think about change, and how to lead change.
Heracleitus said you can't step in the same river twice. And what he meant by that was the river has changed and the individuals have changed also. So that always our work and the people we work with, there is a change process going on whether we're aware of it or we're not. So we've been dealing with change for a very long time.
Next we're going to talk about a theory of change, and in talking about a theory of change I would like to reference Kurt Lewin. And Kurt Lewin said, "there's nothing as practical as a good theory." Really thinking the fact that theory provides us grounding for how to think about our work. Lewin's basic change model was a human change model in which he talked about the change was a psychological process that involves real painful relearning of different experiences and different skills. He presents three different stages when he talks about change: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing.
First of all let me talk a little bit about unfreezing. What he says here is that all of us as humans really like a high degree of equilibrium. Now let me ask you a question just because if you think this isn't true for you. I was in Ohio as matter of fact this past week and they had closed down many of the exits on the highway. Now most people like to drive back and forth to work in the same way every single day, and when those exits are closed my guess is many people struggled and many people probably had a pretty bad day and are going to have a number of pretty bad days because their routines have been disrupted. So this idea of our wanting to maintain equilibrium is something that occurs for all of us. But if we're going to think about change then we need to disrupt this equilibrium.
All of us are frozen to a degree. We all have repeating patterns and we all like to do things in the same way. But if we're really going to change things we have to intentionally disrupt these patterns. So his second stage is thinking about the actual change. And really when we think about this we're trying to disrupt our own equilibrium and we're trying to think about how we do that. Well for most people what this means is we have to present some type of disconfirming data. What he means by that is, how do we show people that maybe the world needs to be different? If this is true and we think about this, then what are we going to present people that will help them be motivated enough to change. And I will tell you, data is an important and critical piece of this, but its not enough. We have to personalize the data in terms of specific kids and specific actions that we take that will make a difference for children.
So three things that help us think about this change process is that we have to create a degree of psychological safety for people. Because people have to feel comfortable enough, that it's safe enough to take the risks that are associated with learning new practices and changing their own behaviors. The second things is we have to reduce what he calls is their learning anxieties. And this is, how hard is the task to learn? So in the Ohio work, we've tried to get people to focus specifically on a limited number of goals, strategies, and action steps that are, what we would call, high leverage strategies or high impact strategies. These are not hugely difficult for people to learn, but they are difficult for us to implement as an entire system. The third way to provide change for then is to provide role models for people so they can see the practices being carried out. I'll talk about this in a little bit, but we also need to bring into play our opinion leaders, which are the people who people trust in terms of teaching.
The third stage of the influence model is refreezing which once we've learned the practice how do we make this part of our everyday on-going work. And the answer to that is we provide people with multiple opportunities for practice so that it becomes embedded in the way they do their work, and we provide supports for people to continue to learn how to do this work. We really shouldn't underestimate how hard it is for people to change.
So moving on I would like to talk just a little bit about what causes people to change. The first thing that causes people to change is some sense of urgency. And John Cotter from Harvard talks about this in depth. Usually we don't create enough sense of the urgency that people are really motivated enough to change. So we need to think about what is the most that is going to help people be motivated to change. Now I talked a little bit of this already, but one of the reasons people change is to look at how well are they doing already, and this is our data. But the data from the state assessment is insufficient. It is certainly important to look in on an ongoing way of how kids are scoring on the state assessment, but we need more current and ongoing data to tell us how kids are doing everyday. So this idea of collecting formative data on how kids are doing also helps people to change.
The third thing we want to think about is how this as a personal experience, everybody reacts to change differently. So we have to help meet people where they are. And this is really an important fact because everybody experiences change in a different way. The next thing you should think about is Cotter talks also about this idea of a guiding coalition. What is the coalition that is going to keep the work moving forward? Now in Ohio this is the district leadership team and the building leadership's team responsibility to keep focusing on how well are we doing, what kind of progress are we making, and how do we support people in their learning. It's also the responsibility of the leadership team and building leadership team to identify the opinion leaders in the building. And I said I'd come back to this. It's such a critical point. Opinion leaders are people who people go to when they want to get clear answers about the work. This is not the social leaders in the building. This is the content leaders in the building. So who are your opinion leaders in your building? And it would be really important, if you could, to get those people onto the building leadership team and district leadership team. Or if not on those teams, at least to refer to them and try to engage them to be leaders in this change initiative.
So the last thing is to pay attention to how difficult this is to people. And I'm going to talk about this next. But really what we do want to think about here is how do we support every individual in their own transition in this change process. The last part in this change work is focus on successful practices get you better outcomes. And so we want to focus on what we know to be successful practices to help facilitate our change.
The last thing I would to discuss is the types of change or the kinds of change. And lots of authors have written about this in different ways, but there is a common theme that emerges from all of them. William Bridges has written quite a bit about transitions. He makes the differentiation between the change is external while the transition process is internal. It's how we respond to the actual change itself and how we feel like we have to deal with it. Ron Heifetz from Harvard talks about adaptive leadership, as it requires a different type of leadership then technical leadership. The same processes that you used in the past may not work for the change that you're trying to undertake now. In the book, School Leadership that Works, we wrote about it in terms of second order of change. In the first order change is just the next step, but second order change really goes to your values, beliefs, or the fact that the practice might be really difficult for you to be successful. So this issue of whether its an internal or external change is important for us as change leaders to think about because it's how we react to the change, not how big the change is. Often times we tend to say, "let's just get over it and let's move on." But let me tell you that does not work because people could get over it they would get over it.
Let me just say two other things as we wrap this up. We would all like to think of ourselves as change leaders, but usually we're talking about change leaders we're talking about other people changing, not ourselves changing. And I will tell you this; if you want different outcomes we all need to think about leading differently ourselves. And that's teacher leaders, that's all administrative leaders in the district. We have to lead differently if we want different outcomes.
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