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Making Pandemic Changes Count: Part 1 - Direct the Rational Side

Monday, November 23, 2020 by Brian Scully

"Old Light Switches" by Orange Steeler is licensed under CC BY 2.0"Old Light Switches" by Orange Steeler is licensed under CC BY 2.0

School change can be intimidating, arduous, and bumpy–like riding a mountain bike down a curvy path. With the added complication of pandemic accommodations, changing your school’s trajectory may seem ill-advised or impossible. We argue that now is precisely the moment to take a close look at your school’s path, particularly with regard to technology. We are already in a period of school change; you and your fellow teachers are already making decisions about the new identity of your classes. How will you ensure the changes you make are meaningful, positive, and lasting? How will you leverage this difficulty into an opportunity?

We hope to help as you identify positive changes for your school and lead your fellow teachers toward these goals. Our approach is informed by the incisive book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. [For a brief overview of their proposed framework, check out this video review.] The book describes two forces behind behavior, a reflective rational side and an instinctive emotional side. They are often at odds with each other: while your rational mind tells you to go to school early to prep stations, your emotional mind wants nothing more than five more minutes in bed. The Switch framework allows a team’s rational and emotional sides to work together on a path towards positive change. Over the next three weeks, the Higher-Powered Learning team will contextualize this powerful framework for teachers interested in leading their school to use technology meaningfully.

Week 1: Direct the Rational Side

Planning and analyzing information are crucial to moving forward. The following are recommendations to engage your fellow teachers’ rational sides into positive school change.

Follow the Bright Spots: “Investigate what’s working and clone it.”

People tend to investigate the cause of problems before the cause of successes. Investigating success allows you to multiply and deepen these victories moving forward. Once you recognize the lessons in each other’s good work, you can replicate them across the school. Teachers have spent months working with new technology; make sure your team maintains and spreads the bright spots of this experience.

As a team of teachers, list the positive aspects of using technology in classrooms. Are assignments easier to grade? Has someone found new, helpful, or cost-effective software? Are there online lesson planning resources you can share among teachers? Initiate school change by replicating each teacher’s successes in every classroom.

Script the Critical Moves: “Don’t think big picture, think in terms of specific behaviors.”

Heath and Heath write “in times of change, autopilot doesn’t work anymore, choices suddenly proliferate, and autopilot habits become unfamiliar decisions.” We are certainly undergoing times of change. Reduce ambiguous goals during this change by asking, “What specific behaviors do we want to see across our classes?” Then determine the critical teacher moves to produce the desired school-wide behavior.

In schools, some of the most critical moves are classroom procedures. Establishing common procedures reduces exhausting ambiguity during times of change for both teachers and students. What procedures would be most beneficial across your school? Can you establish a common format for asking questions during synchronous Zoom time? Is there a website all teachers will use to communicate due dates? Check through class procedure resources like Teach Like a Champion or The First Days of School. After critical moves toward desired behavior are named, communicate the move and rationale to all teachers involved.

Point to the Destination: “Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it.”

Where have you been in your school, and where do you want to go? Establishing a vision for ideal school operation is the first step towards effective change. After this, teachers can start down the correct path together.

Leaders in our Higher-Powered Learning Program set a bold destination to “meet students where they were.” Rather than setting a vague destination of “improving the school,” they specified their desire to “personalize learning by augmenting traditional instruction with technology.” The clearly-stated destination helped their teachers commit to in-class station rotations and the faithful use of meaningful software; they now differentiate instruction for the needs of each student.

Since everyone now encounters technology in an educational setting, it is the perfect time to decide your destination for technology use. There is so much potential to make blended-learning technology a cornerstone of your school. What is your vision of using this technology in your school? Set an achievable goal and date for fellow teachers. Communicate where you are going and why it is worth it to your students; they are going through these changes, too!

Check back next week for more thoughts on making school changes count, motivating the emotional side.

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About the Author

Brian Scully

Brian Scully

Brian Scully serves the Higher Powered Learning Team as the Associate Program Director. 

Brian earned his undergraduate degree in Psychology and Pre-Health Studies from the University of Notre Dame in 2014. He returned to Notre Dame to join ACE Teaching Fellows, earning his M.Ed. in 2017 as a member of ACE 22 in Biloxi. In 2020, he earned another M.Ed., this one in Student Affairs in Higher Education from the University of West Alabama. 

Brian previously taught Chemistry and Physics at Resurrection Catholic School in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Performing Arts at Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta, Georgia. He is originally from Gainesville, Georgia.

Brian will support coaching efforts at one of our new Higher-Powered Learning schools, Sacred Heart in Milwaukee, WI and assist in our schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He will play an integral role in managing operational tasks, like helping plan our Blended Learning in Catholic Schools Symposium.