Are you a teacher who sees something that needs fixing in your school? Do you have a great idea that you want to champion and have implemented? Worried that school administration hasn't the time or interest to do it for you?
Time for some teacher-driven change! Do it yourself!
I’m leading teachers in our school’s English program in a curriculum improvement project. In the coming weeks, I'll outline the steps we've taken already and the steps we will take in the future. I hope it can inform and inspire other teachers seeking to start change in their schools. Please share any of your tips and advice with me! I can use all the help I can get!
Step 1: Confirm the Need
Before starting out on a change initiative, make sure that change is actually needed. Perhaps someone else is solving the problem already. Maybe what you see as a negative is a positive to your colleagues and you've been looking at it the wrong way. Any broad change will involve your colleagues, too. You should find out their views on the subject.
Before our first meeting, I talked to teachers from each grade to make sure that others saw the same need. I made sure at least one teacher from each grade was willing to take part in meetings throughout the year. My informal discussions with teachers helped to confirm and define our needs. I moved forward once I knew others felt the same and would take part.
Step 2: Involve Administration
At some point you will need the support of your school’s administration to create the change you want to. It is important to keep school administration informed about your project and invite them to be a part of it. Whether they choose to take part is beside the point. It’s important to communicate in case you need to change plans because of new information from the office.
Once I had a core group of teachers who agreed, I shared my idea with our program director. I described my plan to lead an initiative to realign our program's curriculum. I said that to maximize teacher buy-in it should be voluntary, collaborative and teacher-led. I asked to schedule a staff meeting during prep time for any teachers interested in coming. I made it a point to inform administrators and invite them to attend and take part.
Step 3: Frame the Issue
It is important that everyone understands and commits to a shared purpose. There may be knowledge gaps. Colleagues might be passionate about some things but disagree with the need for others. Framing relationships between issues in your project and defining jargon can ease progress.
I held a meeting and gave a brief presentation about the project. I defined key terms like standards, curriculum, and resources to account for knowledge gaps. I framed our problem and presented a basic vision of the curriculum I thought we should move towards. I reinforced that our goal should be process-oriented change and growing our skill. At the end, there was discussion and feedback.
Step 4: Get Data
Make sure to make decisions based on data and not just assumptions. Finding that key decisions are based on false assumptions could lead to loss of support. Base decisions on solid research and best practices. It’s important that all stakeholders in the change process have input in some way.
At our meeting, we decided administration, teachers, students and parents needed to have input. We scheduled further discussions to determine how best to get the facts we’d need. We decided to make parent and teacher surveys. We left it up to teachers how they wished to gather data from students. Some teachers held simple Q&A sessions, while others had lengthier discussions and surveys. A sub-group created the parent survey. I created a teacher survey and gave it in person to each member of our program staff and administration.
Step 5: Clarify Your Vision
A sizable change project may take years to complete. It is important that as team members come and go the project doesn’t derail or lose focus. A clear vision can ensure that the end result will meet the original goals.
To do this, we had a vision building workshop. I summarized and tallied survey responses for teachers and highlighted common themes. Teachers worked in pairs to create vision statements of 20 words or less on a worksheet. Pairs joined into larger and larger groups to combine and refine their efforts. When we had four potential vision statements, we wrote them on the board. Teachers took turns selecting words and ideas they agreed with from other teams’ statements. Finally, the group collaborated to combine the ideas into a final vision statement.
Step 6: Analyze and Research your Vision
It’s easy to come out of vision building feeling great about the high ideas in your shiny new statement. But, what’s more difficult is determining what exactly vision statements mean. It is important to make sure that team members are on the same page about what their vision statement means.
I made a pamphlet summarizing research about the key themes in our vision to help teachers. I met with every teacher and administrator to hand out the pamphlet and hear their opinions.
Step 7: Maintain Momentum and Walk the Talk
After creating a vision statement you need to actualize your vision over the long term. One way to stay motivated is to take small steps to operationalize your vision in the interim. It will help ensure that you walk the talk each day.
Taking action was the topic of our last meeting before summer break. We looked at the themes in our program vision and shared some ideas about how to 'do' each of them. We discussed Digital Citizenship Certification through Common Sense Education and professional development options. We made a timeline to break our large project into more manageable steps. I created a website to communicate, get feedback, host PD, and record our progress.
It has been a busy couple of months working on this project while studying for my M.Ed. and being a new dad! I can’t wait to see how far we take our project in the months to come!
Stay tuned for further updates! To be continued after summer break! And please share advice to help us move forward in the comments if you have any ideas! Thanks!
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 18 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.