Progress is about finding the best way to do the best things, and what those things actually are is like a shifting dune with new slopes and perspectives continuously being formed. By progressing to something new, the old has to be changed. And this is where the conflict can arise. Perhaps the learning environment is one of those sectors that has to undergo tremendous amounts of change when compared to other public employment.
Boston, USA, recently held a conference on “Building Learning Communities”. Top minds and professionals from the learning sector congregated here to discuss ideas and methodologies for bringing top drawer education to all. Author, change strategist, and psychologist Robert Evans was there to talk about his work in the psychology of change within learning environments.
Evans stressed that change is often met with problems because the team has an emotional investment in the way things are. Instead of focusing on the positive aspects of what change will bring, people tend to instead mourn what they will lose. This is important to remember when initiating change in any team.
The speech then went on to address how these conflicts can be either avoided or given light in positive ways. Evans noted that “Resistance to change is normal and necessary” (Mindshift), and that we must be prepared to work with it when ever we bring change to the table. Change can feel like a devaluation of the individuals methods and habits. A member of staff can work for ten years under one system and they learn the ropes in their sleep, then suddenly they have to start acting like a newbie all over again. This is stressful and difficult for any worker.
With the already strong pressures on teachers to deliver high standards with often very limited resources, asking them to reknit their daily routines and lesson plans is something for tact and understanding. As with all changes, there will be grievances and the best primary action is to enable a way for people to voice their issues in a non-judgemental and positive manner. A proper channel for complaints and suggestions must be available. This way everyone involved can focus their energy on the one point and it allows those in charge to collate everything at the same time.
Evans chooses the phrase “Constructive conflict” and it seems to fit well for a holistic democratic work environment in which all have value. Once this culture is in place, change will be easier to implement but it also involves conscious leadership in which the team truly is listened to. There then comes a point where we have to be firm and put the lines down to where conflict can and cannot go to. Change isn't often implemented without good reasoning, and it's important that the key factors of the change are not lost.
The next step for implementing change is to lay down the negotiable and non-negotiable aspects. The end result is often where the non-negotiable elements lay, and the pathway to those end results often have more flexibility. It's important to keep perspective on both sides of the change journey, giving leeway when available and if required.
Finding the correct balance between listening and applying pressure is essential. The individuals involved in change will need to be continuously reminded on the new protocols and without this, old habits will not be easy to remove. We are all just people and it's very difficult to stop doing something we have been doing for years without someone else applying pressure. On the other side of the equation, staff who feel over-managed don't feel valued and respected so it's important to give time and space during this process.
Along with all the techniques for managing change in positive ways, its important to continually remind everyone involved as to why this is necessary, what it is being done for, and how management is also implementing change alongside the staff. When it is shown to be for good reasons that everyone can understand and appreciate, the steps taken feel like positive ones. It takes effort and confidence to change effectively, but as evolution has shown, there is always room for improvement.
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