A close friend who works in a leadership role in a local school asked
me an interesting question this week. "I just want to build something
that teachers can buy-in to that will help kids," she said. "How do you
Chances are that if you've worked in schools for any
length of time, that question resonates with you, right?
We've ALL had
moments where we were completely frustrated by a group of teachers who
just weren't interested in moving forward with a new project and/or
The good news is that getting teachers to buy-in to
change initiatives isn't NEARLY as hard as it seems. You just need to
Teachers buy into change efforts that they believe are important.
The change initiative
that I've spent the MOST professional energy on in my 20 year teaching
career was an effort to convert my traditional middle school into a
professional learning community that started a little over 8 years
Since then, I've literally spent thousands of unpaid hours trying
to polish the collaborative work of my learning teams.
commitment to professional learning communities started because I was
convinced from the start that they were important for students.
that I didn't have the skills to meet the needs of every kid in my
classes, but that peers on my hallway did. If we shared what we knew,
there was a real chance that we COULD ensure success for every student.
were about much more than improving student learning, however. I also
saw professional learning communities as an opportunity for teachers to
reestablish their credibility as instructional experts.
policymakers march towards a world where educators were seen as
professionally dispensable, that chance to reassert our expertise was an
opportunity I wanted to take advantage of.
The leadership lesson for school leaders:
If you want teachers to invest time and energy and effort into a change
initiative, you have to first prove to them that the change you are
championing is important -- for students AND for teachers.
Teachers buy into change efforts that they believe are doable.
change effort that I've struggled with the most in my 20 year teaching
career has been my own personal attempts to incorporate more formative
assessment into my classroom.
It's not that I don't believe that
formative assessment matters -- there's enough professional evidence of
the impact that formative assessment has on student learning that I KNOW
every time that I try to make formative assessment a larger part of the
work that I do with kids, I get overwhelmed by the logistics behind
developing and delivering measures that I think are reliable indicators
of just what students know and can do.
Worse yet, I can never find the
time to look for patterns in or to record the data that I collect from
the assessments that I do give.
efforts have been cumbersome and balky -- and they've literally left me
wondering whether or not formative assessment is even possible.
had 8 students or unlimited access to digital tools that would automate
some of the data collection and reporting," I catch myself saying, "then
I could do this. But I don't. So why bother."
The leadership lesson for school leaders:
Simply convincing teachers that your change effort is important isn't
You've ALSO got to convince your teachers that your change
effort is doable given the realities -- class sizes, time constraints,
other school-based responsibilities -- that they wrestle with on a daily
Teachers buy into change efforts that they believe will be around for awhile.
the course of my 20 year teaching career, I've probably seen nothing
short of 100 DIFFERENT change initiatives championed in the schools that
I've worked in.
There were study skill programs like AVID, behavioral programs like PBIS and relationship building programs like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
were federal programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.
There were team-based projects like studying the role that current
events can play in social studies instruction and the role that Socratic
Seminars can play in language arts instruction.
I've had my cheese moved and I've tried to move from good to great. I've had crucial conversations and crucial confrontations. We focused on The First Days of School. We've done curriculum mapping and PLCs and Reading Readiness and instructional walkthroughs.
single one of those efforts required a significant amount of time and
I sat in countless meetings and planned countless lessons and
filled in countless checklists and took countless surveys about all of
them -- only to see them pushed aside as soon as something newer and
better and flashier came along.
every time that one of those initiatives was pushed to the side, I
learned to see my efforts to invest energy into change initiatives as a
waste of time because the chances of seeing any kind of meaningful
return on my professional investments was pretty darn small.
sense committing to something that won't be around in a year.
The leadership lesson for leaders:
Building teacher buy-in depends on convincing teachers that any
initiative that you are putting forth is going to be around for awhile
-- and that means making a commitment to identifying patterns of
practice that are worth pursuing and sticking to them.
If you can't
make that professional promise to yourself or your faculties, don't even
bother trying to drive change.
Any of this make sense? More importantly, did I miss any important tips for building teacher buy-in?
Related Radical Reads:
The Power of PLCs
Is Real Formative Assessment Even Possible?
Don't Skip Vision and Values Statements