Last week in closing the LearningForward summer conference, Anthony Muhammed spoke on the folly of implementing technical changes (think new organization charts or schedules or processes or curriculum or …) without making cultural changes.
Muhammed likened culture—those values, beliefs and norms that permeate a system or organization—to soil. It doesn’t matter how fantastic your seeds are if you plant them in arid, depleted soil. They’ll die. So will great initiatives if a poor culture isn’t first addressed.
A question related to Muhammed’s analogy arose in my workshop on Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences the day before: “How do we convince our colleagues that we need to take the time to build our team and work on these cultural issues when there is so much pressure to implement initiatives quickly?” Borrowing Muhammed’s analogy, I have two suggestions for preparing that soil of culture so that initiatives can flourish:
- Frame Doing the Work (the initiative) AND Preparing to Do the Work (professional development that addresses culture as well as the initiative) as a polarity. Polarities are two interdependent pursuits or ideologies that, over time, need each other. We can’t just prepare to do the work. Students’ futures depend on our constant improvement of instruction. But we can’t charge in and do the work without preparing.
- Provide the evidence people need! Peruse the different forms of evidence people need to be convinced that they may hold an incomplete picture of reality by reviewing the differentiated coaching style descriptions. What might help your colleagues—or leaders—understand the need to PREPARE to do the work?
- Maybe the soil analogy will be enough for some.
- Others may need the story of an organization very much like yours that succeeded where you failed—all because they took the time to PREPARE to do the work.
- Or, perhaps a list of failed initiatives that worked elsewhere might do the trick.
The point is, what convinces you may be different than what someone else needs! And, leaders in general fail to provide the evidence and resources people need to be convinced that change will be worth the hard work required.
Of course, with planning, great leaders find ways to combine preparing and doing. We can create learning experiences that both change culture and provide the information needed to implement a new initiative. Use protocols for discussion with adults that they can use with their students–and focus the discussions on articles, film clips of best practices, examples of student work, and other tools that help change culture.
How are you balancing preparing and doing???