Dr. Cristi Ford (00:00):
Welcome to Teach & Learn, a podcast for curious educators, brought to you by D2L. I’m your host, Dr. Cristi Ford, VP of Academic Affairs at D2L. Every two weeks, I get candid with some of the sharpest minds in the K through 20 space. We break down trending educational topics, discuss teaching strategies, and have frank conversations about the issues plaguing our schools and higher education institutions today. Whether it’s ed tech, personalized learning, virtual classrooms, or diversity inclusion, we’re going to cover it all. Sharpen your pencils. Class is about to begin.
Dr. Brittany Singleton (00:38):
Thanks for joining us on Teach & Learn. I am Dr. Brittany Singleton, and I’ll be guest hosting today’s show. I’m the academic affairs manager at D2L, and have spent my career working in roles across the K 12 special education, in higher education sectors. Today, I’m thrilled to be speaking about the topic of change management amongst K through 12 educators. Change is inevitable, and many educators are resistant to change. However, it is important to shift the narrative from resistance to response. Change management and education can involve pedagogy, administrative process and technology, or a combination of one or more of these areas. Often, this requires being proactive through aligning technology and teaching goals to empower staff and students to embrace change in the classroom. We’ll discuss how to shift the narrative from resistance to response, as well as share best practices, processes, and examples to help teachers and students embrace change, and share strategies to help educators change fatigue and burnout.
Listeners, before I jump in, I want to introduce you to our guest we have the honor of chatting with today. I guess I can call this colleague a friend now because we have worked together on numerous occasions. Dr. Kathleen Grigsby is the assistant superintendent at Jackson Public Schools, an accomplished educator and advocate for change. She draws inspiration from her upbringing in a household with deaf parents using American Sign Language as her first language. Her remarkable leadership achievements include elevating Marshall Elementary’s rating from F to C in three years, and achieving top rankings in student proficiency during her tenure at Davis Magnet. And her extensive community involvement includes roles as a commissioner on the Better Together Commission for Jackson Public School District, and contributions to advanced review committees. Dr. Grigsby has a strong belief in using a holistic approach to education, one that emphasizes academic achievement, while nurturing the long-term development and success of each child. Dr. Grigsby-
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (02:38):
Dr. Brittany Singleton (02:38):
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (02:39):
It’s always a pleasure to be here working with you.
Dr. Brittany Singleton (02:41):
So, we’ll go ahead, and get started. I’m going to jump right in with the questions. How do you approach change management in the context of education considering the unique challenges and dynamics of the education sector?
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (02:56):
So, when we think about approaching change in the K-12 setting, a lot of things come up in my mind from personal experience. One of the unique challenges we had in Jackson Public School District, as you mentioned, was the state takeover, the potential state takeover for Jackson Public School District. And as a result of that, I was honored to serve on the Better Together Commission. What that whole process entailed was a process of change, changing the way we used to do things in Jackson Public Schools to a much more progressive mindset, a growth mindset.
So just even a part of that process, which I can’t believe it’s been probably eight years ago now, we’ve been able to see some other changes that have happened as a result of that. So Jackson, as you all may be familiar, we’ve had the water crisis here not too long after dealing with state takeovers. We had COVID that everyone’s familiar with. We’ve had just a litany of things, of challenges that really cause for us to look introspectively at change as a whole for the organization. So those are some of the things that come to mind when I think about change.
Dr. Brittany Singleton (04:40):
So, I want to ask a follow-up question from that first question. Which stakeholders do you involve when you are taking this approach to change management?
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (04:51):
So, from once we got past the whole state takeover, then I was involved in the strategic plan for the district. And with that strategic plan, we looked at, and I can’t even begin to take ownership of working the strategic plan. It was a collaborative effort among all, so stakeholders, of course, our school board, superintendent, all of the assistant superintendency executive team members, as well as teachers, administrators, parents, even students, and the broader Jackson community. We were all involved in the development of the strategic plan, which it was an awesome experience to actually see it being built from the ground up. But it is that strategic plan that began a whole series of change management for the district within the last four years. So we’re now going into our fifth year of the strategic plan, and the final year of this particular strategic plan. And we’re really excited about the changes that we’ve seen as a result of that.
Dr. Brittany Singleton (06:23):
So you talked about your approach. You talked about involving all stakeholders, so all hands are on deck. So I’m going to shift gears just a little bit, and ask you this question. Could you share a success story where effective change management led to significant improvements in a school or education institution?
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (06:38):
Absolutely. So, oh, there’s so many success stories. I’m just trying to think of one, and I do have one in mind right now. So as a result of the goals that we set, of course, we set academic goals. We set our Thrive Goals, which is a little bit more of our culture goals. We set leadership goals. So there’s a variety of goals that we set. And thinking about one particular school, Boyd Elementary, it was a school where we had various issues as it relate to maybe classroom management, school culture, of course, academics. It was an F rated school. And in Mississippi, we rate our schools A to F on that scale. And so as a result of the changes, and providing the administrators and teachers in that building the support, as of last, so this is May 2022, the school had moved to a C.
And of course, I can’t really discuss just yet what their rating will be this upcoming year because our scores are still under embargo. But let me just say, I’m pleased with the additional growth, if you will, that has occurred as a result. So that’s just one success story. But I really believe that our district as a whole is a walking success story because we’ve seen so many dramatic shifts in student performance, and teacher performance, culture, family engagement, all of those things as a result of us being intentional with the strategic plan.
Dr. Brittany Singleton (08:47):
So you’ve shared with us your approach. You shared involving all stakeholders. You’ve shared your success story. You’ve shared goals, and setting those across all platforms so that everybody’s on the same page. So in addition to that, what strategies do you find most effective for gaining buy-in from teachers, staff, students, and parents when you’re implementing those changes in the educational setting?
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (09:09):
Absolutely. The first thing that comes to mind is communication, communication, proactive communication, communication during the process of change, as well as follow up. The communication piece is truly a cyclical process. What is it that we want all of our stakeholders to know before getting ready to make this change? What is it that we need to keep tabs on while we’re going through the process, so that we can hopefully gain some additional buy-in by listening to the concerns of various stakeholders? And then in this phase, we’re actually beginning to close the loop on the cycle, meet any final goals, but also hear back from all stakeholders about, “So where do we go next?” Because this is the year that we develop our next five-year strategic plan. So communication is as cliche as it is, is truly key. And it’s not just sending an email.
There’s communication on all different levels, communication in the community by having round tables, communication at the local churches about what we have going on, communication, even with our legislators. We host as a district a legislative breakfast every year. And so we keep them informed on what issues that we need their support with as well all the way down to just the everyday management of just school. What are our teachers saying? Our classified staff members such as our paraprofessionals, what are they seeing about change? And again, while I’m focused more on the academic instructional aspect, if you will, there are some other changes that are happening on the operational side. The use of technology, the facilities, how do we change how we function in the facilities, particularly when we have a declining enrollment and declining population in the City of Jackson? So trying to figure out how we optimize to make great use of our resources is also something that we take into consideration with change management. So yeah, that’s just the short of the long.
Dr. Brittany Singleton (12:03):
Okay. So my next question is, we know that the educational landscape is rapidly evolving. So how can educational leaders balance the need for innovation with the stability required for a successful learning environment?
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (12:16):
So I think how leaders can balance, how they can balance between being innovative, and of course following certain set protocols, if you will, whatever it is, if it’s the curriculum, if it’s the way we manage our buildings, or what have you, I think there’s room for it. What we have to do as leaders of leaders is to encourage it. A lot of times, our teachers and administrators, particularly in a setting where for so long they’ve not seen success, and now the momentum is building, and success is becoming something that’s connected to Jackson Public Schools, now it’s opening the door for administrators and teachers. Because we see them as leaders as well to say, “Okay, so how do we think outside of the box? How do we think a little bit more innovatively about reaching these goals?”
Because there’s times where you can’t keep doing the same things, and expect to get the same results. So at times, you do have to tweak some things. And as folks who have boots on the ground, so to speak, our principals and teachers, we have to, as leaders of leaders, make sure that we are giving them that opportunity by empowering them to have this balanced approach, innovation versus what are some must-dos that we’ve got to do as an organization. Yeah.
Dr. Brittany Singleton (14:14):
So you talked about things that education leaders can implement when they talk about the innovation with stability. I want to ask an additional question in terms of that question. What type of autonomy do these leaders have within your schools to implement change management? Is there a certain plan that you all stick to, or do they have the autonomy to do their own thing, but according to a criteria?
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (14:37):
So for the most part, because we have four different divisions, we have elementary division one, which is the one that I lead. There’s elementary division two. There’s the middle school division, and then there’s the high school division. But for the most part, where administrators have the autonomy is after they’ve analyzed the data with their team, analyze test score data, again, culture data, all of the different data pieces across the summer, they actually look and determine as a team, as a team at the school site, “What are our three big rocks that we want to focus on?” Maybe it’s something that we’re doing well, and we want to propel forward. Maybe it’s something that we absolutely just drop the ball in, and now we want to focus more in that area. Maybe it’s the implementation of technology-based programs.
Maybe it’s something as simple as focusing on writing. So even though we have these broad goals, and there’s a certain curriculum, core curriculum that we want our teachers to use, certain technological programming that we want our teachers and administrators to use, at the end of the day where there’s flexibility is what they choose to focus on.
What do you feel like,” and that’s the question we ask administrators. What do you feel like based on your expertise, based on your experience, what you see that’s trending in your data will propel your school forward? So they come up with their three big rocks/ and actually, I’ve met with all 16 of my principals. We’ve talked about their goals based on academics, culture, leadership, and we discuss what are their three big rocks. With the three big rocks, it’s not just something we just randomly say, “Okay, these are our three big rocks.” There are things that are consistently being tracked throughout the year. So when they have their leadership meetings weekly, or every other week, they’re looking at, “Hey, we said we were going to focus on the use of a particular intervention program. What is the data tracking on that particular program?”
“We said we would hone in on students’ writing skills. What are the data trending? What are we tracking,” so that we can consistently make any changes based on that. So that’s what I would say is the area where principal. There’s plenty more, but that’s one that stands out to me right now is they get to choose their big rocks if they want to focus on, so that of course, they, along with their team, get the buy-in.
Dr. Brittany Singleton (17:42):
So you talked about assessing the data, education leaders, assessing data, and working with their teams to see what their three primary goals are as far as change management goals for their school. What advice would you give to educators who are tasked with implementing change that might be met with resistance or skepticism?
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (18:03):
So one, the first advice is to expect it, to anticipate it. Because if you’re not expecting it, or anticipating it, then you’re not really coming to the table with a plan of how you’re going to at least, I guess, move forward from it, the resistance. So I think it’s to expect it, and to keep a safe space for people to express what it is that is making them resistant to it. I’ve found that sometimes folks are resistant because they don’t know what they don’t know. Sometimes folks are resistant because nobody asked them about it to start with. They didn’t feel like they were included, that their voice was heard. Sometimes folks are resistant just simply because we’ve done new things over, and over, and over again, and we’re still not getting the results that we need. We change too quickly, or we don’t give a chance for something to work.
So there’s a litany of things why people might feel some, I guess some resistance to change. But if you go in, and expect it, and have an open mind, and give folks a chance to express it, I think that you avoid it. That’s the first thing. The second thing I believe that will avoid resistance is some of the things that I just mentioned, is being proactive, and having folks at the table to start with. And believe it or not, whether it’s been intentional or unintentional, I don’t believe that when change is occurring, or is about to happen, that the leaders who are in charge of the change intentionally leave folks out. I don’t believe that that’s always the intention. Maybe the idea is that we have to change pretty quickly, and so as a result, we leave out some communication pieces that’s necessary, or maybe it’s that we didn’t quite really think through what the communication plan was going to be, and so folks are left out.
So I think we have to leave room for human error in the process, and acknowledge it. Acknowledge where there’s been an error, and then move forward from that, again, communicating, being proactive, and just being prepared for resistance, and being open to hearing why people are resistant to that change.
Dr. Brittany Singleton (21:00):
And those things all resonate with me being a former educator, and an administrator as well. I think about when I was an educator, and having to come in, and being told by the leaders that change was coming, and being resistant, but also on the other side of things, being an administrator, and having to implement change, but always remembering that you have had that communication. You need to have that open door policy where people feel comfortable with you talking about things, but also involving stakeholders who are the voice for the population within your school, who can tell you what is needed, and what needs to be changed.
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (21:31):
Dr. Brittany Singleton (21:36):
So that’s a very good answer you gave to that. So my next question to you is, “How do you address the concerns of teachers who might feel overwhelmed by the prospects of adapting to new teaching methods or technologies?” And I asked that question because with where we’ve come from within the past few years, there have been so many new things that have been implemented within education that has made the landscape evolve. So how do you address those concerns with teachers?
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (22:01):
So in that way, while none of us really like COVID, we don’t really admire COVID for a lot of things, but one of the things, the silver lining that came from that is the quick adaptation to technology, and the way that we teach our children. And when I say children, I still think of our young adults, our teens as children as well. But I think that, again, the silver lining is that we’ve had to quickly adapt to technology. And what I’m finding though now, there’s maybe emotionally a sense of wanting to go back to things being the way that they were, because of course, change is uncomfortable, or the way that we’re using technology is not that different from the way we’ve used smartboards, and chalkboards, and I’m dating, dry erase boards. It’s the same thing, the same style, but just using a different means of teaching.
And so it is a transition to try to figure out what are some ways that we can truly be interactive using the technology pieces, and not use them the same way that we’ve been using other things, or using other means of technology as we have in the past. So yeah, we haven’t quite shifted all the way, but I think that COVID did provide an open avenue for teachers to seek out other ways to provide student instruction in that way.
Dr. Brittany Singleton (23:59):
And I will answer that by saying it is. I won’t say the word force because this is so strong, but I will say it has allowed teachers to become more innovative in the way that they teach students, to implement different things, and make it creative and fun so that it grasps the student attention, but it also challenges teachers to learn ways to teach as well.
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (24:19):
Dr. Brittany Singleton (24:21):
We’ve talked about the leaders. We’ve talked about the teachers. So I want to shift gears and change to talk about students for a second. So could you elaborate on the importance of involving students in the change management process, and how their perspectives can contribute to the successful outcomes?
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (24:38):
More recently, I would say in the last year or two, have included students as part of our board meetings, and when I say as part of our board meetings, as part of presenting policy, and offering a different perspective. We’ve involved students on panels so that we could really hear what it is that they have to say about things that we’ve done in our district in the past, their overall experience, and what advice they could give us to ensure that future students have a better experience than what they have. And that’s not to say that our students are sharing that they’ve had negative experiences across the board, but they have been very open and honest with us about what areas we could improve on. They really want some level of independence in their learning. They want to learn about things that are more closely aligned to what they want to be when they grow up.
They want to have experiences beyond this area, beyond just going to various colleges, but whatever it is that interests them, they want more of those experiences. So we hear that more so on the high school level with elementary. We have not. Maybe we will hear more about that during our book clubs. We get a sense of what it is that our students are experiencing through schools. So yeah, so I think we’re not there yet for sure, and listening to our students, and getting their voice, but we’re certainly beginning to open the doors, and create avenues for them to do so now.
Dr. Brittany Singleton (26:43):
Dr. Grigsby, those are all fantastic initiatives, and I hope that our listeners are taking notes from that, because it gives students the opportunities to have that safe space, to have their voice be heard, but also be open and honest, which goes back to the communication factor we talked about earlier. So I really love those initiatives that you all have. They’re very creative. I’ve never thought about having students on panels, and board meetings, but it makes them not only take ownership of their learning, but helps them work on their public speaking skills as well. So that’s amazing.
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (27:11):
Dr. Brittany Singleton (27:11):
That’s really amazing. Can you share your insights on how change management practices have evolved in education over the years? And what trends can we expect to see in the future?
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (27:29):
I can’t predict just yet what those trends will be, but one thing that I know for sure is when we have a plan that had been thoughtfully crafted, and that we interact with on a almost weekly basis, gather data on per quarter, at least for the last four years, and we really watch where the pebble lands with every single one of our goals, I do think that the intention that’s been given to, and the attention that’s been given to those goals really create the change that we need in smaller steps at first. And then in year three and year four, that momentum just gets winning. We’re hoping to not just operate just solely on momentum at this point, but right now, we’re just finishing up the goal as we speak.
But as it relates to the future, I think if we put that same level of energy into any plan, whether it be just a college professor that’s trying to work on a course that they feel like would make a difference in a student career pathway, or a K through 12 general district plan, I think when you don’t just put it on the shelf, and let it collect dust, and you truly monitor that plan, I think what trends we can see is that we’ll see some positive results as a result of that.
And it’s not all peaches and cream, so to say. There are some goals that we set. And we said, “Oh my goodness. We were unrealistic about these sets of goals. So we may have to filter those goals back into the next plan.” And I guess in terms of my systems thinking mindset, I think if we do create something that everybody is looking at, and that’s something being a plan, and everybody is engaging with, and understand the vision, and the mission of the organization, and what our intentions are, at the end of the day, it’s about student achievement, and creating joyful learning environments for them. I think that we’ll see more positive result as a result of that.
Dr. Brittany Singleton (30:27):
So my next question for you is, “What key skills and qualities do you believe are essential for educational leaders to effectively manage change, and drive positive transformation in their institutions?” So you talked about implementing the vision, and mission, and making sure that everybody is on the same page as far as they’re concerned. So what key skills and abilities do you believe are essential for these groups?
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (30:46):
So our district core values, while some of them are not necessarily skills, I think that they play a large part in the success. So we’ve got equity. And so when we talk about equity, and providing equitable services, we’re not just talking about equitable services for our students who have extreme needs. We’re talking about equitable services based on demographics, based on what the data is indicating. It determines where we need to direct our support. Excellence, if we’re constantly and consistently setting excellence as a bar, then that’s what we’re reaching for. So having that as a cornerstone for us is helpful growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset. We’re consistently bringing that to the forefront. What does growth mindset looks like? So that is a true skillset as opposed to a fixed mindset. We’ve got relevance, and that’s something we’re really trying to hone in on this particular year, relevance, and what does relevant really mean?
Well, relevance in the workplace is ensuring that the thing that we do makes sense to the person that can connect based on culture, based on their experience, and the same for students. Are we ensuring that the goals that we’re setting for our students, or the enrichment, the remediation, the exposure, is it relevant to our students? The other one that we have is positive and respectful culture. So with that, as I mentioned, our Thrive Goals center around ensuring that our students experience a positive and respectful culture. And so our sixth one is relationships. You can’t begin to have initiatives in place if you don’t have the appropriate relationship. So that is a skill. What is it that we’re doing to ensure that we’re having great relationships with folks before we’re asking them to do something, and not just inauthentic relationship, but authentic relationship that show that, “Hey, we are caring and concerning, but caring and concerned, but not by shortchanging our vision for excellence,” right? So we can edify, and have excellence at the same time. They both can coexist.
Dr. Brittany Singleton (33:52):
So you discussed having equity, core values, the data to look at to see where you need to direct your support, setting a level of achievement for excellence, having a growth mindset, having relevance, and knowing what it means, and then building those relationships. So my next question to you is, “How can educational institutions create a culture that is open to change, where innovation and continuous improvement are embraced by all members of the community,” so implementing all those things you previously discussed to create that culture for change.
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (34:24):
I think they have to be a part of the puzzle. I think we have to find out what their goals are for the students, and do their goals really align with the goals of the organization? And unfortunately, in smaller pockets, we do have individuals and organizations where their vision for the organization is far different from the vision of the organization itself. And so we have to have honest and transparent conversation about, “Is this really a good fit for you?” And it’s not that maybe their vision is the wrong vision. It just does not go along with what we’re expecting. And so those are the, as Jim Collins says, the “good to great,” the courageous conversations that we have to have to ensure that every everyone is on board with that.
But I think if we tap into teachers, professors, all of the ones who are closest to the students in terms of implementing change, if we tap into what their overall goal is, and work backwards from that, I think we’ll find that at the end of the day, we want the same thing, and again, making sure that they’re appropriately and more than adequately trained on whatever the implementation of that program or instruction is. Because sometimes you also have that as well, “Hey, we’re starting a new initiative. Go forth.” And it does leave folks leaving some way when, and it just leads them to make a decision that they’re resistant to the change because again, they don’t know what they don’t know, and they’d rather deal with what they’ve been doing in the past.
Dr. Brittany Singleton (36:37):
So you just talked about having a goal, and working backwards to see what that goal is, and then working backwards to see what is needed to achieve that goal. You talked about having the professional development opportunities to make sure that you execute the goal as well. So I want to close out with this question to ask you this. Are there any specific tools, frameworks, or methodologies that you find particularly useful for guiding change management initiatives in the field of education?
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (37:10):
I can’t speak to one particular tool, and honestly, I can’t even begin to name the various tools. But one thing that I can say for sure is having the brainstorming sessions with the various stakeholders, and getting a sense of what’s important to each of the stakeholders, and narrowing that list down to find a common goal, that’s one thing that I have found. That’s one strategy that I’ve found that works for all because no one can disagree with the fact that that particular thing, such as equity, has surfaced in various settings. So I think just having the conversation while it’s time-consuming, it is time-consuming, and that poses a challenge in some organizations, is well worth the preparation on the front end to ensure a smoother sail on the back end. Yeah.
Dr. Brittany Singleton (38:27):
Well, Dr. Grigsby, I want to thank you for joining us today on our Teach & Learn Studio for our podcast. It has been such a pleasure to talk to you about change management amongst K through 12 educators, and for you to share your expert advice with us. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Dr. Kathleen Grigsby (38:41):
Thank you for having me as always.
Dr. Cristi Ford (38:45):
You’ve been listening to Teach & Learn, a podcast for curious educators. This episode was produced by D2L, a global learning innovation company, helping organizations reshape the future of educational work. To learn more about our solutions for both K through 20 and corporate institutions, please visit www.d2l.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. And remember to hit that subscribe button so you can stay up-to-date with all new episodes. Thanks for joining us, and until next time, school’s out.