5 Ways We Can Influence Meaningful Change in Education

5 Ways We Can Influence Meaningful Change in Education

Now and then, a post that I wrote years ago is tweeted my way, and it is a chance to look back at what I used to share and evaluate my thinking today.  The one that was recently shared with me was “5 Ways to Influence Change,” that I originally wrote in 2014.  I gave it a “Grammarly” update as I cringed at some of the errors in the post, but many of the ideas shared resonate today. In fact, some of them I am more adamant about.  

Here are the five ways I suggested without the explanations from the original post.

1. Model the change that they want to see.   2. Show that you understand the value that already exists. 3. Tell stories. 4. Bring it back to the kids. 5. Get people excited and then get out of the way.  

So does this still apply to a 2021 context? (I wanted to write 2020 because I feel this has been a long extension of one bad year, but I digress.)

Yes! I think these ideas are more important than ever, especially in the context of what we have learned over the past eighteen months’ish. But I think some updates are needed as well. 

1. Model the change that they want to see.  

I believe in never asking someone to do something that I am not willing to do myself.  But, I also understand that people are in different places at different points in their lives and empathy is crucial to our work.  

There are things that you do today (everyone reading this) that are quite different from one point in your life.  Eventually, you got to the place you are today, and you will also evolve from there. We all do.

I remember when I first started using Twitter to connect with educators and saw tremendous value in the practice. I then got to a point where I thought, “If you are not doing this thing I am doing, you will become irrelevant.” How wrong I was.  It is not that I don’t see value in social networks, but I also know there are different ways and mediums in which we can connect that are of value.  I share things that I am doing and will gladly help others, but I also know that others are doing things of value that I can learn from. 

So yes, model the change you want to see and understand people are at different places and bring different strengths to our spaces. 

As I have said before, innovation begins and ends with empathy.  

2. Show that you understand the value that already exists.

People have been so overwhelmed with so many different things in the past two years, and we see how much our personal and professional lives are connected.  To clarify, I don’t mean that they should overlap, but that they inevitably do. If I am struggling personally, that can affect me professionally and vice-versa. 

There are many things that we can point at that we could do better, but there are many things that we are already great at in this moment.  Focus on ensuring that people feel valued. 

Often, we lose so many great people in our profession because we chose to share gratitude for what they do far too late rather than way too early.  There are always things that we can improve in education, and learning is a process that focuses on growth. But it is much harder to get better when people feel they are never good enough.  

Start with the strengths of others first, and weaknesses will eventually develop.  

I have watched the narrative of education in the past two years told by way too many people that have never worked in the profession.  But I have also witnessed many educators share incredible stories of their classrooms and schools that are not only inspiring, but they paint a present and future of what school can be for students, staff, and communities.  

There are many different ways to share the stories in education, and I wrote a post discussing some of these ideas. (Outlined in the image below)

Paraphrasing what Joe Sanfelippo states, “in the absence of information, people will create their own narrative.”  It is more important than ever we share the stories of the incredible things happening in our schools as they can connect with our own communities and inspire other educators and schools around the world.

4. Bring it back to the kids.

Why do we do what we do in education? For the benefit of our students, which ultimately benefits our communities.

I was having a great conversation with an educator at a conference this past week about being cognizant of saying, “We need to do what is best for kids” because sometimes, that can be seen as something to the detriment of adults. I understand that point of view and have been reflecting on it a lot lately.

I have tried to focus on acknowledging that doing what is best for kids is ensuring that we take care of the adults who work with them each day. Still, remembering why we do what we do and who we serve is a place to “center” our work and conversations on education. 

5. Get people excited and then get out of the way.  

I want to grow, and I crave mentorship often. I love having conversations that push my thinking and make me better. But, there is a line between those conversations that are meant to help us grow instead of holding us back with red tape and policies that are focused more on following arbitrary rules than doing what is “best for kids” (see point 4).

I wrote this in an older post titled “The Wisdom of Those Closest to Students“:

“I asked a group of teachers recently if they had ever had to break a “rule” or policy to do the right thing for students and the majority of them raised their hands. I say this over and over again if the policy trumps “common sense” than the policy is stupid.

What if we merely asked the people closest to our students to “make decisions in the best interest of serving the students in front of you”? Of course, we have curriculums and mandates from states and provinces, but we also compound some of those constraints within our context when we don’t need to. Would we be terrified that anarchy would reign supreme in our schools and all structures would be thrown out the window, or would this lead to educators feeling the freedom to making decisions needed for students in front of them?

When people are micromanaged, they often do the minimal amount needed. When we look to unleash the talent of those servings our students, they are more likely to do great things that go above and beyond what is expected, and in turn, create the same opportunities for our students.”

This quote from Steve Jobs sums it up beautifully:

Try to find that balance of mentorship and support, knowing that in any position you are in, or no matter your years of experience, you can learn from others as well.

When we tap into the expertise of those in our communities, we all become better.

There are two reasons I wanted to write this post. The first is that I like to revisit my old thinking and see if the main points still resonated in my head years after I originally write them.  These points written in 2014 still connect with what I feel in 2021.

I also wanted to share so that I could model that we need to revisit our old thinking to question, “What has changed and what has stayed the same?”

I encourage schools and districts to revisit their old “vision and mission” statements and ask, a) “Do you still believe in the core of what is being said here, and what does that look like today?” If schools are “learning organizations,” this is a great way to exemplify that practice. 

What the vision of your school or district, and what does it look like and mean today?

Getting better is not necessarily about doing “new things” but about focusing on depth and becoming more knowledgeable and actionable on what you and your community see as important in moving forward.