enCOURAGE change

By Wayne Russell, M.Ed.

CHANGE: a word that can hurt or heal. What I am learning about change, and more specifically change in schools, is that change may be inevitable, but it is never just ABC, 123. Change in schools is a process and not an overnight switch from old to new. I have learned through personal experience that before you can really plan change in a school, you first need to develop TRUSTING relationships that always seek to ENCOURAGE. Teachers must trust that change will not be implemented without whole-hearted support, and that they will be consistently encouraged throughout the process of change.

A few months before our wedding Misty proposed a plan for me to loose some weight.  The way in which she supported me was by encouraging us to share entrees at restaurants, to order water instead of sodas, and to walk together more.  A foundation of trust was built as I learned that she truly supported her proposals. She was more than talk (I ended up loosing 50 pounds within one year).

In a school, you cannot force change. You describe a new way of doing something and then you explain what you will do to support teachers along the journey.  What you will do for them today, tomorrow, next week, and in a few months time.  The appearance of your support may change, but your support never ends. You cannot "take a break" from supporting something you care deeply about. Taking a break from offering support will quickly erode trust.

In terms of encouragement, we all have bad days and bad weeks. I think of my exercise experiences.  My most successful experience was while I was teaching in Shanghai several years ago.  The reason I consistently worked out was largely because my gym partner gave constant encouragement. He encouraged me to not give up and to hang in there. Major life change is not easy, it takes grit, and if you don't have someone offering encouragement throughout the process, meaningful change will most likely be stifled.

Teachers are some of the hardest working people you will meet. They arrive early, they work while eating lunch, they stay late, and they often take work home.  A 60 hour work week is not unheard of in the teaching field. If teachers come to school day after day learning to expect little encouragement for the hard work they are doing, they will soon find another avenue to gain encouragement. Ultimately resulting in their passion for teaching dwindling and a few years later they may decide to switch to a career where their skills and hard work are appreciated and encouraged.

There are so many different educational programs that schools can decide to pursue. A school can literally change programs every month for at least a decade and there will still be more programs available. The  wide array of options reminds me of walking down the cereal isle in a large supermarket.  So many choices, not enough time and money to try them all.  The skillful leader knows how to discern between good and great programs but also realizes that PEOPLE are more important than PROGRAMS.

Ultimately, change takes COURAGE.  It is not for the meek. Go change the world, one child at a time.

Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours.