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Making Pandemic Changes Count: Part 2 - Motivate the Emotional Side

Monday, November 30, 2020 by Brian Scully

"File:Macbook Pro Power Button - Macro (5477920228).jpg" by vincentq from Melbourne, Australia is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0"File:Macbook Pro Power Button - Macro (5477920228).jpg" by vincentq from Melbourne, Australia is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Every day we see schools changing in response to the pandemic: new procedures, hybrid classes, increased engagement with technology. You can ensure these changes are not made haphazardly. You can ensure these changes count. 

Think of this time of imposed change as an opportunity to lead your school toward positive student outcomes and lasting school improvements. In Part 1 of this series, inspired by Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch, we presented tactics to lead fellow teachers by engaging the rational side of change-making. This week we will discuss motivating the emotional side.

Week 2: Motivate the Emotional Side

There is a significant, and valid, emotional side to change. Even if the rational mind understands the benefits of change, there can be valuable pushback from the emotional heart: knowing a diet is healthier doesn’t negate the joy of a piece of pie. Leading school change requires meeting team members where they are emotionally, helping them feel change is possible, and fortifying a community of service.

Find the Feeling: Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something.

The rational and emotional sides of the teaching vocation are inherently symbiotic. Without an emotional connection to press through the challenge, there is little hope of change starting–let alone sticking. Consider how your fellow teachers feel about each school change right now. If they feel successful about balancing synchronous and asynchronous instruction, can you grow that feeling through public recognition? If they are discouraged by technology use, can you find examples of schools who are using technology meaningfully to improve instruction? Difficult times often showcase the deep magnanimity of teachers; help them to recognize–and really feel–the positive significance of their work.

Each teacher feels a mix of emotions right now–pride, drive, duty, compassion, anxiety, even exhaustion. As you decide your goals, whether increased personalization, strengthened school community, or more cultural relevance, think through the current emotions that accompany them. How will you fan the positive emotions, and how will you leverage negative emotions into positive action?

Shrink the Change: Break down the change until it no longer intimidates the emotional side.

Changing a school is hard. (Let’s be real–sometimes even changing a seating arrangement feels hard.) Focus on changing one small thing. If you hope to improve communication, ask teachers to call one parent a night to discuss their student. If you hope to improve classroom communities, set aside time each week for students to congratulate each other’s accomplishments. Decide among your team some achievable actions you can take toward your goal. Recognize where you are on the path to change and commend the successes you have already achieved.

Celebrate small wins. While small accomplishments are good in their own right, they are also crucial to instilling hope that the big change is possible. Just like children, small things quickly become big. Commit to the small things, and you can see change on a big scale.

Grow Your People: Cultivate a sense of identity and instill the growth mindset.

In addition to meeting each teacher where they are, you must grow a common mindset among your team. What is the core identity of a teacher at your school? Do you accept solutions that are “good enough,” or do you commit to improving them? Are you satisfied filling the needs of most students, or will you commit to serving every single student? Defining a common identity helps drive a common goal.

The most crucial common identity for school change is the growth mindset, first described by psychologist Carol Dweck. People with this mindset believe that ability is built through trial and persistence; there is no “cannot,” only “not yet.” When your team tries something new, make a big deal out of it! Even if this particular attempt doesn’t go perfectly, you are one step closer towards your change goal. Tenacity and iteration are part and parcel of improvement. Through promoting a common growth mindset, trying new approaches will become a habit. Improvements will then lead to more improvements.

Check in next week for the final week on making school changes count, shaping the path to change.

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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.