Sunday, October 11, 2015

Travelogue for Change and Professional Learning

By Vicki Bechard, Secretary LFKS

This past week I took my parents to Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colorado.  We had been there many times when I was growing up, but my own vacation in August sparked an interest for them to return to a place with spectacular scenery and where we had made many memories.  A major difference this time was that I was the leader, planning and assisting them throughout this journey.  We also went in the fall, instead of mid-summer, so even familiar sights looked different because of the aspen, now golden, and the skiffs of snow dusting the peaks.  There had also been some flooding in the park that altered the landscape since they last visited, so those changes also made a difference in what we saw and did.  As with many of my life journeys, it made me think of education and how we “do school” in general, and how we “do professional learning” in particular.

While school, as we know it, may be similar every year, there are many changes that occur both inside and out that affect how we teach and learn.  Change may cycle like the seasons, allowing us to purge the old to make room for new growth.  Or change might dramatically alter what we do when we are faced with new leadership, promising research, new resources, or emerging strategies; all of which can shift our perspective and ultimately affect how we do business.  There are also actions, seemingly beyond our control, like severe budget cuts and policy changes at the state and federal level that also affect the business of “school.”  As we implement these changes, we have too often heard the cynics say, “We’ve already tried that before,” or “Just wait long enough and this initiative will go away too.”  Yes things cycle, including ideas, and vacation destinations.  But each time you revisit something old, you blend it with something new, and the experience can altogether change, transforming into something better.

With any new learning or initiative, whether you are the teacher or the student, there is a period of adjustment where you wrestle to find balance between what was, what is, and what needs to be. Many factors play into the successful implementation of whatever change(s) will occur.

Relationships:  Identifying and addressing the needs of all the stakeholders is a must.  My parents wanted to see Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park one more time, and in the fall season of the year (which they had never done before).  Their physical limitations would hold them back or even prohibit this trip if they tried to do this by themselves, so I offered to take them.  We are all adults and somewhat set in our ways of living, traveling, and what interests us on vacation-like trips, so it was important that I listen to their wants and needs and blend my skills and interests with their needs and interests in order for them (us) to have an enjoyable trip.  So I asked a lot of questions, offered suggestions, listened to their responses, and ultimately we got to see and do those things that made their trip worthwhile.

In schools, leadership is also charged with the task of identifying and addressing the needs, questions, and concerns of the stakeholder groups that will be impacted by the change initiative about to take place.  Establishing and nurturing the relationships during this process is an action that will build trust and ultimately lead to better communication throughout the change process.  Also during this assessment process, identifying pockets of excellence and blending the strengths of those involved will produce a more successful transition and/or end result. 

Change feels better when you work together and not have it done to you.  If we are mindful of the people in the process and what they bring to the table, we will design learning experiences that are meaningful and provide the players with resources and support to ensure success. 

Learning Design and Support:  My parents don’t have the abilities, stamina, or physical health to do the things they used to do (or at the same speed) when we went on vacation when I was a kid (actually neither do I!).  So I had to be mindful of that and operate at a slower pace, assist them when necessary, and step back and let them be independent whenever possible.  And yet sometimes they still thought I was going too fast!  Sounds like school, doesn’t it? 

How do we adjust the [learning] design so that all can find success?

Adjusting the Time needed to successfully complete the task is a must for all learners.  Whether we are students or educators, we don’t come in with the same level of past experience or learn and understand at the same rate.  Even though we might be on a deadline, finding time to understand and implement is critical.

Collaborating and Asking the Right Questions produces buy-in, ownership, and collective responsibility for the outcome.  I could have easily planned the entire itinerary and just put my parents in the car and took them to sights I thought they wanted to see.  I did have a framework of a “tentative schedule” but that only served as a starting point for this trip.  I asked them questions and made adjustments.  We discovered new opportunities we hadn’t considered and as a result changed course a time or two, which resulted in seeing new and exciting things!  Other factors affected our journey too, such as the weather.  We could only rely on the forecast when making our original plan, but even the weather people don’t always get it right, so adjustments were needed.

How often do we plan a lesson, unit, or professional learning experience without including the opportunity for collaboration or buy-in from the learners?  If we include the learners or stakeholders in this process, it increases the likelihood of success.

Support is critical to achieving our goals.  We all need the right resources and assistance as we progress toward the end result.  This summer, I found using a walking stick on the rocky trails was especially helpful.  My dad has started using a cane everywhere he goes.  My mom took one on our trip “just in case.”  We steady each other on uneven paths, and watch with pride as we stride out along the trail. 

But there is a balance that must be achieved between facilitating or guiding and doing it for them.  “Independent doing” is also a goal.  Sure it’s faster to do it for them but how will that help THEM succeed (think about when you taught your children to tie their shoes and how long it took to accomplish that before you could walk out the door)?  My parents have been independent their whole adult lives, traveling and doing what they want to do.  The physical limitations of their age are affecting that now, but they still want to be as independent as possible.  I have to be careful not to just swoop in and do it for them, or expect them to do things at the same rate that they used to do. 

All educators need support during new learning.  When we ask someone to change how they are doing something, there will be some frustration before there is success.  The kind, frequency, and level of support we offer the staff may be the difference between successful implementation and just putting another initiative on the shelf.  Anyone who is comfortable with the way they do something (teaching is just one example) is challenged when we ask them to do some things differently.   Everyone will need periodic support to ensure implementation is going well or to help correct problems that may have surfaced – and yes, some may need support more often or at deeper levels. 

Providing support becomes a part of the learning design.

Over the last few months, I have been privileged to be a part of and witness some on-going professional learning in a nearby school.  They have not just provided the new learning for the staff, but have committed to providing support from both the outside (me) and from within (time, frequent check-ins from the principal, PLCs, and in-house expertise).  They are committed to this long term goal and dedicated to ensuring it will be accomplished by providing the necessary support to get everyone on board.  They recognize that this new learning is an on-going process – not just an event.

Change requires us to use the pillars of professional learning as we plan, implement, and seek to achieve the goals of the new initiatives.  How will you address the many changes that will occur on your school’s journey this year (or in the future)?   As you consider how we “do school” and specifically how we “do professional learning,” remember that each time we revisit (or revise) something old, we blend it with something new, create a new experience, and transform into something better.

My parents and I arrived home safely from this quick trip that allowed us to enjoy the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Yes it was a different experience from what we had done before, but one rich with new memories, and a greater appreciation for the participants, the destination, and the journey we took together, for it was OUR trip not MY trip.  How will your school experience and view its journey to and through the next change initiative?  

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