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"Herding Cats” and Change 3.0 (Part 1)

Perhaps, I am just more of a “dog kinda person”! Anyways, one day (many, many moons ago) I was fortunate enough to get the chance to chat to one of my first “bosses” at lunch (we did not see him a great deal and I did not really know him that well – besides he was a bit “scary”). We got chatting about “change” and the large number of “change initiatives” the school was introducing – and he used “the phrase”! I outlined my feelings about the notion of “herding" (very diplomatically). He thought for a minute and said:

Tony (he knew my name, cool) – we are "failing" as a school. Half of our department heads "haven’t got a clue"…probably more than half of our teachers do not really want to be here…and most of our kids are not learning. What would you do in my position? OK – so my first thought was “Are his numbers correct”? My second thought was about the “staff meeting” a couple of weeks before – a staff meeting in which we’d been told that we were a “great bunch of teachers” working with an “even greater bunch of young people” (!) But, I did not feel brave enough to mention either and simply said maybe we should just “ask the kids first…” - I remember he said something about “herding kids” being even more difficult than “herding teachers” – and I think he took his pudding away with him to his office. We didn’t have lunch again and nothing much changedhe left at the end of the year (probably as disappointed as all the teachers were about the fact that we were not making the difference we all wanted to make). Sad really... A few years later, when I had “grown up” enough to take on a “supervisory” role myself, I did start to see that the problem (in an organisational context) is that not all change is "internal" (stuff that we decide to do ourselves, for ourselves and our own learners) – much of it, sadly, needs to be “external” (introduced and “managed” by others, for us and our learners - but not always by "bosses") and this is really where the “fit hits the shan”… It was also around this time that I heard around 75% of organisational change initiatives “fail” – and still fail even today… Maybe, I should have stayed in banking afterall - a mortgage rate of 2.25% wasn't too shabby and I would have got used to "selling my soul" over the 25 years it would have taken me to pay it off!

Isn't that how it goes? But, and hear me out, what about "improvement" at an organisational level. We all know that most of us can only see as far as our own experience and we all have room for improvement. Our schools, colleges and universities might have have some of the best teachers in the world - in some of our classrooms. But what about the moral (and collective) responsibility we all have to ensure that every student in every classroom, gets to become as good as they can be? This is what change in education is really about (or should be) - and, not all of this can come about through the individual efforts of individual teachers working in individual classrooms. Good leadership is as critical to effective TEACHing and LEARNing as it is to effective curriculum, effective assessment - and effective improvement. The problem, however, is how "change" is conceptualised - and, perhaps more importantly, implemented. This is especially the case if we have let things go for a while - and need to address a wide range of issues at a more "systemic" level... Change 1.0 

I did say this was...Part 1. More later...

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