“Accomplishing worthwhile things isn’t just a little harder than people think; it’s 10 or 20 times harder.”
I am working with several schools and districts that are setting the stage to implement changes in curriculum, programs, and/or instructional strategies in the coming school year. Most are planning professional learning opportunities over the summer. My focus with them is often on the coaching support from instructional coaches, colleagues, and administrators when implementation begins in the fall. Implementation in the classroom with students is different from the “how to” knowledge. This short video clip from Trevor Regan of the Learner Lab identifies the two phases of learning.
Zachery Herman writing in the post, The Challenge of Change, identifies that changing one’s teaching practices may require giving up some things and that what is frequently labeled as resistance to change may be fear of loss:
- A fear of losing our own competence – Beginning a new practice requires a willingness to feel incompetent. I usually use Gordon’s Skill Development Ladder to illustrate the step of being consciously unskilled or consciously incompetent.
I describe coaching at this point as cheerleading; encouraging the continued experience with the practice even though signs of success aren’t present, and the feeling of incompetence continues. Administrators need to be communicating a non-evaluative role during the change and providing motivation, support, and encouragement during a transition.
- A fear of losing the comfort of predictability – With the loss of predictability there can be a sense of loss of control. A change in teacher practice often requires a change in student learning behaviors. Students’ lack of confidence can generate distracting student behaviors. In many cases, the changes in teacher practice are often designed to require greater student responsibility for learning behaviors. Some students’ initial resistance to that responsibility can create more unpredictability in execution of the teacher’s plan for learning. Patience and perseverance are critical as one looks to move to the consciously competent stage. The teacher can now implement the practice but only with a conscious focus which takes extra energy. Peer understanding and encouragement can support the needed persistence.
- Fear the loss of familiar successes – Herman states, “I’m asking a teacher to move from a predictable and comfortable place to an unpredictable and messy one, where wins won’t look familiar, at least initially.” Teacher learning like student learning requires risk-taking and at times failing on the way to improvement. School leaders need to focus on building and nurturing an environment where teachers are “comfortable with the discomfort” that is part of continuous growth.
If you are engaged in providing professional learning for teachers this summer, be sure to be planning for the purposeful support and environment as they implement their learning with students.
Here is a video that highlights coaching teachers at different stages of implementation with a program or curriculum change.