Wednesday, May 13, 2009

3 Keys to Sustainable and Significant Change

Of late I have been thinking about the key enablers for driving significant and sustainable change in education. Often the most significant influences of change can be seemingly quite simple, some would say common sense.
The first important milestone of such change I believe is the creation of a vision. A clear purpose encompassing the organisations beliefs, desires and best crack at foreseeing the future. Such a vision needs to be created collectively and in wide consultation with all stake holders. The consultation needs to be authentic not tokenism, the child’s voice that states ‘stop teaching us stuff we already know’ needs to be heard, truly heard and reflected on. Most visions and mission statements are created and then put on the odd bit of letter head and shelved! A vision needs room to grow and live within the organisation. In an educational setting a visual metaphor helps to ensure the principles within it are owned by the key stake holders, and importantly our clients, our students.

Once a vision is established, a synthesis of up to date theory and research, current practices and trends needs to be conceptualised to prioritise a way forward. Strategic implementation of the vision principles and prioritises is essential. To successfully implement a vision I believe there are two important words to live by. One being abandon and the other embed. Current school practices need to be talked about and questioned as to their alignment to the vision. For example if a vision belief is one of empowerment then students not being allowed to use photocopiers or assessment measured that are done to students rather than done with would need to be questioned, and maybe abandoned. It’s not ok to keep adding more to the load.

When a vision is created and a strategic plan for it implementation established, thought and collective decisions need to be made about how that transfers to the student. After six years in your primary school environment what would you hope your students would leave being equipped with? What sort of dispositions, self worth and learning abilities would you believe were necessary for future success and satisfaction in life? I ponder often as to whether our expectations in a primary school setting are achievable and realistic. Julia Atkin’s question ‘what is powerful to learn? is a fundamental question to ask when living in an exponential information age.
Simply we believe at Red Beach School that students need to leave with four key concepts and understandings. These 4 concepts relate directly to the vision.

We are two steps of the way to implementing sustainable change. The essential questions addressed so far are;
What do we believe education is all about? (vision)
As a result of our vision what do we want our students to leave our school equipped with, being able to do?

Finally the third essential component to achieving sustainable change is to then ask what teachers and teaching practice will make this possible? What do we need to do as practitioners to ensure our vision principles live and our students leave our school living those beliefs. Teachers are the difference makers, they influence and have power beyond reckon to ensure the next generation will be our future leaders. I have not met a teacher who does not wake up each morning and want to do the best possible job they can for each individual in their class. How do we ensure our teaching practice is strategic, future focused and the best it can possible be to move all from good to great?

Visioning has such potential to gain clarity and provide a way forward when done well. It is a wonderful filter for informing decisions and ensuring alignment. From employing the right teacher to providing effective feedback to moving practice forward it is the essential driver of change.

The three steps to significant and sustainable change are
Creating a collective Vision
Decide on what a student should leave your school equipped with as a result of the vision
Create clarity around the teaching practice that will enable the student to leave as decided.

This is all wrapped in an organisational culture that has underlying norms of continuous improvement, deprivatising practice and ensuring learning is the organisations core business. In creating such a culture mental models are shaken up a little, narratives are shared to highlight beliefs and difference valued.

I believe we are in very exciting times in education. I sincerely feel privileged to be involved in such a dynamic and exciting vocation where I learn, think and feel challenged daily.

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