What does it mean to create a culture of change in a school? A district, a state? Is it even something worth talking about? Does it mean the same thing everywhere? Can you take change in one district or building, pick up the lessons and apply them directly to another building?
Is there a school of thought on how and where to place change so that it has the most chance of spreading to where it's needed?
How am I defining the culture of change? There are institutions that do things the same way, over and over again, and keep getting bad results, add more and more of what isn't working, watch things still not change, that can be called intransigent, entrenched. Stuck. I'm a school board member, a parent of schoolchildren; I haven't worked in a school building or central office, so I don't know the subtleties. I do know what groups of people do and I have read Lord of the Flies. Introducing a culture of change in an institution can be difficult, even impossible.
I've written before that the main reason I oppose a charter here in RSU 3 has to do with the culture of change. My fear is that because of the difficulties of entrenchment, the institution won't ever change, and that those who want change will take the opportunity to start something new on the outside. It's easier to make change there, start fresh, no bad history, just good energy and new ideas. Charters promise this. "We'll show you how good it works, so you'll want to do it too!" But the charter started fresh: no entrenchment, no history. There's a reason why very few public schools have adopted models that were tested and worked well in a stand-alone school. The problem is the entrenchment; the problem is the lack of a culture of change.
So why bother with the change that is so hard? Because after you create the new, clean, energetic and exciting school, the old institution will be left just the same. For all the kids who are not being homeschooled, privately schooled or enrolled in charter schools, the unchanged institution remains. I don't think that possibility should be tolerable to those of us agitating for school change. I can't put my energy behind a movement for change that has, in its design, left some kids out.
When you make a change in an institution, you start small. Maybe teachers start something in their classrooms, maybe they talk about it, kids get together at lunch and talk about a new way of doing things, talk about how they are pursuing their passion in a new class. Parents find out about it, they want it for their kids, things get around. As Arlo Guthrie says, pretty soon, they might think it's a movement.
So here is my question: what is the culture of change to you, and how important is it? How many different ways are there to introduce change to an entrenched system? Am I right to be against the opening of a charter in my district, because I don't want to "quarantine" change to a building where the effects of it have no chance of leaking out into the rest of the system? At the same time, it saps money and energy from the mother ship, weakening its ability to make change of its own. I can't get behind it. I dont' want to make change for some, with the vague idea of making change for the rest "in the fullness of time."
I'm asking for input, Stephanie! I'm asking those of us working on this issue to come forward with their experience with how change happens. Please re-post and re-tweet; send folks here. I will listen and change my ideas about this little charter school, if the message is that I'm wrong about change.
March 28, 2012
Today I'll ask a slightly different question: Can adults change the culture of an institution in such a way that makes school more relevant, makes learning more real, to students, without including the voice of students?
What mistakes, what wrongheaded approaches to change will come from this ageist and dismissive attitude toward young people?
Yes, it's a leading question. But WHY can we NEVER feel safe just asking kids, many kids, every day, WHAT DO YOU THINK?