As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
That’s as true today in our interconnected classrooms as it was in ancient China. Big, meaningful change — such as Skyping with faraway experts or working on projects with students half a world away — often starts with one educator who wants to try something new.
“It’s hard to get a movement started, but if you lead by example, it’s a bit easier for other people to get on board and see what’s possible,” says Kristin Ziemke, a Chicago-based teacher and coauthor of Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom.
6 small steps to change
The key to successful change is a step-by-step approach that allows people to gradually experience and acclimate to the new. These six steps will help you on your journey to big change:
- Personalize and differentiate. Instead of asking all teachers in your building to take a uniform step, individualize your approach. Recognize the achievements and hesitations of each team member, and involve them in setting individual goals. “We need to look at adult learners just as we do student learners and recognize that we’re all at a different place on our learning adventure,” Ziemke says. Such an open-ended approach allows teachers to find and implement strategies that fit their personal learning styles.
- Set manageable goals. A teacher who is expected to learn one new thing a quarter is likely to meet — and possibly exceed — that goal, while a teacher who’s asked to incorporate five new changes per quarter is likely to feel overwhelmed.
- Expect challenges. Teams that anticipate and expect challenges are better able to weather obstacles than teams who view problems as evidence of impending failure. Share that truth with your colleagues, even as you’re extolling the benefits of the proposed change.
- Plan for iteration. Remind everyone that your first attempts are merely your first iteration. “I tell people up front, ‘Our final product might not look like this in the end,’” Ziemke says.
- Remember your purpose. When obstacles arise and you’re not sure if your plan is working, return again to your goal. Why are you implementing this change? If you’re trying to improve education for your students, ask your students how it’s going. “Sometimes,” Ziemke says, “adults get carried away with driving change, but really, our students have the data we need.”
- Maintain your focus. Meaningful change doesn’t happen after one meeting or one professional development session. It requires sustained effort and attention. So schedule time to discuss what’s working, what’s not and what you’ve learned. These sessions can help identify next steps.