Use Duct Tape or WD-40
“There is too much change to deal with” is the expression I hear a lot in schools and district offices. Bullfeathers. We love change. Don’t we want kids and colleagues to learn? Learning means change. Changing what or how we think and/or act. Doing something different than before. And, usually, change means learning. When things change, we normally have to adapt which means changing how we deal with the new landscape. More on change in future rules. Reframe this: ‘Change is Learning, Learning is Change.’ This last statement came up when Dr. Shirley Hord and I were working on a book called Leading Professional Learning Communities.
So, the metaphor I am using is if something is moving and you don’t want it to move, duct tape it. For example, values people have learned or developed through learning or experience. As a principal, I will not let safety issues change like no guns, knives, drugs, fights, sexual assault, or bullying. How about teaching ‘learning to learn’ skills? I don’t know anyone who thinks the world will remain the same, so keep learning and learn new ways to learn.
There are some things that don’t or shouldn’t change. An activity I learned from a colleague Dave Schumaker is the Three Charts. To demonstrate the point, a group could talk about how schools will change five years from now. (you can think of other questions).
To forecast five years in the future, start with five years ago. (if you are doing ten years, go ten years back, etc.) On flip chart paper write down the most important learning issues that were being advocated for five years ago. To the right put up another piece of chart paper. Draw a box in the upper left quadrant and write the things still important or in use today. The rest of the chart paper fill in what are the hot topics or major initiatives today. (In today’s world, you have those things that haven’t changed in the upper left quadrant).
To the right of the two pieces of chart paper, post another piece of chart paper. Draw a box in the upper left quadrant. In the upper left quadrant, draw another box in the upper quadrant of that quadrant. In the small upper quadrant list, the things that you think will still be used in five years that were used five years ago. In the rest of the upper left quadrant list, the things that are in use today that you think will still be in vogue five years in the future. Complete the rest of the chart listing things you believe are on the horizon in five years.
This activity helps people see that not everything changes and some possibilities that might be useful in the future.
Then, there are people or programs that are stuck. There needs to be change or movement toward a better future. We need WD-40 to grease the wheels. Note that the reason it is called WD-40 is that it was the fortieth iteration to find a product that would help get materials to move more efficiently.
What WD-40 means to me is we need repertoire. Whatever the issue is, we need multiple options to work with a diversity of people and organizational problems. There is no Silver Bullet. Quit looking for it.
What is needed is to develop a repertoire for people collaborating together, communication that is inspiring, and an array of coaching strategies, all aimed at systems change. Leaders will be required to have multiple ways of managing change. Change will continue. Get over it.
And one of the most important skills to help people and systems move will be creativity. What I have learned in forty years in education is, ‘if it isn’t working, try something else.’ Sometimes we are better off with both/and thinking rather than either/or thinking, which can trap us into political debates like arguing destructively over reading or math programs.
The language I listen for as indicators of possible problems are:
- Language of Certainty – other than those values, etc. mentioned above, learning is messy because humans are doing it. That means the more repertoire, the more influence I might be able to apply. Typical certainty issues involve time, money, thinking, and talents. Look for positive applications rather than only focusing on what won’t work.
- Language of Universal Quantifiers – ‘Everybody does it,’ ‘you never let me,’ ‘I have always done it this way,’ and ‘they won’t let me.’ These are some of the red flags that can stop possible ideas.
So, when you face your next problem, do you need duct tape or WD-40?