‘Change’ is a frequently used term (if not coherent activity) within industries – including education. Many have taken positions, defined and researched in this arena. I recall Tom McGreal, University of Illinois at Urbana, some years back calling for authentic school reform as being something more than simply ‘tinkering around the edges’.
In our work and research ‘change’ is at the heart of our services, professional learning opportunities and consultancies. Helping educators understand and drive to this threshold is often amorphous…we just don’t have a defined vision and understanding of what ‘change’ does or would mean. Without that basic perception we cannot envision expectations – what change would be, how it would look, feel, etc.
Three Types of Change
Most of us think of ‘change’ via a repair and/or maintain lens. Robert Marshak discussed three types: developmental, transitional and transformational. He notes that each ‘has its own characteristics and associated change technologies’. These metaphors and their distinctions can help the work in schools and states. The differentiators among the 3 types are key. They help determine the extent and levels of ‘change’ for which the organization will have an appetite, energy, will and commitment to pursue.
1. Developmental change is constructed from past performances intended to steer the organization to improved outcomes over time, i.e. higher levels of learners’ collaboration and problem-based learning. Here the images that come to mind are something/somebody that is a work in progress. The notion is to ‘get better’, ‘keep improving and evolving’. These are all positive anticipated outcomes. Ideally, the plan and associated goals are agreed upon in advance by stakeholders. The change ‘agents’ within this imagery are called ‘trainers’, ‘coaches’, ‘developers’. They will likely build team skills and understanding as a foundation for going forward-to ensure capacity building and desired improved performances. These agents will nurture their constituents. The notion is to develop who we are now, what we’ve got going for us without attention to changing trends, landscape, demographics, global information and expectations for an evolving workforce.
2. Transitional change is migrating from one condition/state of being to another, i.e., using technologies to input/store/retrieve data instead of traditional pen/paper/filing systems; moving from analog to digital systems. This is like saying ‘look and go forward’, ‘chart a new course’, ‘take best pathway’, ‘let bygones be bygones’. The dangers here are a lack of a roadmap or clear destination, diverse opinions and allure for the move and what pathway is best, timing and speed of the transition. Change agents for this arena are project planners, guides, those who know the journey inside and out. They are asked to stay on board throughout the transition, make sure all stakeholders are on board and on the right path. It is assumed that once the ‘destination’ has been reached, their role and assistance will no longer be required.
The dangers here are two-fold - the lack of recognizing and tending to the numerous moving parts within the transition itself. For example, we found in many schools with which we work that the transitional change is at the forefront. Millions of dollars are spent on learners’ personal, portable devices. They are deployed and the ‘spray and pray’ approach goes to work. That is, ‘let’s spray everyone with a device and pray that wonderful educational things happen’. Project RED found 9 key implementation factors that are crucial for successful, robust, edtech programs. Each factor requires full attention and adherence to best practice. Having devices is a basic part of a strategy. Professional learning, infrastructure, leadership, sustainability, integration of curriculum and instruction – are some of the ever moving parts that accompany this transition. We have witnessed many failed programs due to lack of understanding the need for transformational change – not just transitional change.
3. Transformational change implies the metamorphosis from one state of being to ‘a fundamentally different state of being’, i.e. from a traditional, all in, bricks and mortar school, to a fully virtual or blended one. The alteration is in the ‘state of being and becoming a ‘fundamentally different kind of organization’. Clearly, this is a more revolutionary and intense than the developmental change described above. Transformational change alters the very foundation of the organization’s identity, culture. The past is let go for a uniquely different organization. Phrases like, ‘go outside the box’, ‘reinvent ourselves’, ‘wake up’ may be used. Change agents for this category may be called, ‘visionaries’, ‘futurists’, ‘thought leaders’, ‘inventors’, or ‘entrepreneurs’. Traditions and time honored systems, values and beliefs may be buried and resurrected into unknown or unrealized new practices that will facilitate the organization’s next genesis. These will be aligned with the new sense of vision and mission of the transformed organization. This is the key to eventual success.
There have been many attempts at transformational change in education. Most, if not all, have failed for a variety of reasons. Those reasons are important.
An Essential Step to Change Success
A first step is to know which level of commitment the organization has for which level of change. Here is where the real dialogue can begin.
Leslie Wilson, founder and CEO of One-to-One Institute, has served education for 38+ years in top level, key decision-making roles at state and local levels. Recognized as an international expert in education technology, Wilson is a frequent writer, presenter and interviewee. Among her many publications, she co-authored, “Project RED-The Technology Factor, Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost Effectiveness” which is the most broadly used research around successful implementation of 1:1 technologies in schools.