Whether it’s the result of a new technological tool, teaching practice or administrative process, introducing change in your school district can mean a significant modification to the way you and your team operate.
However, changing the status quo can yield bursts of creativity, innovation and collaborative teamwork among K-12 educators, helping them reclaim their love of teaching—which can help mitigate feelings of inefficacy and burnout.
Follow these tips from district superintendents to help your teachers not just survive but thrive during transitional periods.
Encourage a Positive Outlook Without Trying to Eradicate Negativity
When you implement change, it’s vital to have a positive mindset to inspire and invigorate your team. However, you should always give staff the space and psychological safety they need to voice their concerns. If you can accept their feedback with generosity and empathy, your staff will be much more transparent and honest with you, which will give you deeper insight into their work experience.
When Rick Surrency, superintendent of Putnam County Schools in Putnam County, Florida, planned to alter the graduation process in his district, he held discussion groups with his staff so that they could raise potential issues and ask questions.
“I think the most important thing in change management is establishing good communication prior to all the changes you want to make,” says Surrency. “That’s how you build trust initially. So, when you do have to make tough decisions, your educators will feel like they can voice their opinion freely, which is conducive to a healthy, transparent working environment.”
Start a Dialogue
Even when staff feel comfortable expressing their opinions, it can still be useful to create situations where sharing ideas is encouraged. Whenever possible, hold meetings and roundtable discussions during which staff can learn more about the change you’re implementing, how it will affect them, and what benefits it will bring to the district.
Susan Tave Zelman was superintendent of public instruction at the Ohio Department of Education for 10 years. When she joined the organization, Zelman made substantial changes to the work culture by talking to new employees about the different processes she had put in place.
“I went over my one-page strategic plan with them and I would welcome feedback and discussion about our goals,” says Zelman. The process helped her gather and act upon more ideas (more than she would have received had she not reached out to anyone).
Conversations can significantly benefit educators by providing them with a way to confront their own attitudes toward change and why they might be resistant to it. If skillfully facilitated, an open dialogue can help your staff assess their personality and understand where they sit on the bell curve of change adoption, ranging from early adopters who relish innovation to laggards who dislike change. This is especially useful when introducing new technology to your district.
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Embracing districtwide change This guide outlines offers a three-part approach to change management and includes:
Meet Curiosity and Insecurity the Same Way: With the Offer of Professional Development
Whether your staff are asking well-informed questions based on their willingness to adapt or expressing doubts about leaving the old way behind, they’re showing symptoms of the same underlying condition: the need to upskill.
Make a note of the topics that come up during conversations. If, for example, staff are unsure about how to implement a new tech tool, you could devise a professional development training session to boost their skills and confidence in that particular area.
Professional development opportunities don’t always have to take the shape of formal courses and certifications. When building a new middle school in Fair Haven, Vermont, Brooke Olsen-Farrell, district school superintendent at Slate Valley Unified School District, involved her new deputies in the process as much as possible in order to empower and motivate them.
“I made sure they felt like they were part of the decision-making process so that they could lead certain aspects of the project, which increased their motivation and interest in this demanding work,” says Olsen-Farrell.
Learning new skills during transitional periods might seem counterintuitive, since we tend to assume staff already feel burdened by adapting to change. But these can be timely moments to offer professional development opportunities because the training you offer will meet their immediate needs. In a survey of almost 1,000 K-12 educators, we found 91% of them are interested in professional learning tailored to their individual interests and abilities.
By increasing teachers’ access to professional learning that supports them during times of change, you can improve their job satisfaction while counteracting the growing challenges of teacher fatigue and retention. Combining targeted professional development opportunities with a work culture where staff feel safe to ask questions and voice concerns will allow you to pinpoint opportunities for learning and growth. This will help your educators evolve as individuals alongside your school district.
Learn how to coach your educators through technology adoption in our short guide, Please, Not Another Tech Tool!