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Making Pandemic Changes Count: Part 3 - Shape the Path to Change

Monday, December 07, 2020 by Brian Scully

"Switched" by brendonhatcher is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0"Switched" by brendonhatcher is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Large-scale school change is possible and can come from the leadership of individual teachers. Higher-Powered Learning has contextualized the first two pieces of Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch framework for school change, directing the rational side and motivating the emotional side. In this final post, we will consider how to shape the situational context of change. We hope this series will promote school improvement as an expectation in your school, even beyond  the pandemic. This, of course, requires you to be the leader.

Week 3: Shape the Path to Change

The Heath brothers write, “What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.” How can you shape the situational context for school change to make the switch easier for your team? Environment, habit, and community.

Tweak the Environment: When the situation changes, the behavior changes; so change the situation.

Teachers are incredibly service-oriented people; of course they want to change their school for the better. However, the task feels Herculean because of the many demands on a teacher’s time and focus. Once you have decided which changes you hope to make in your school, consider how to make actions toward the change as easy as possible for team members. Tweaking the environment to make change simpler for your team is not patronizing – it is a gift.

For example, if you want more consistent gradebook updates, dedicate 15 minutes of your weekly faculty meeting for teachers to enter data. If you want teachers to differentiate for need, require them to use and regularly submit a lesson plan template that requires differentiation. If you want better communication among teachers and administration, assign a few minutes each month to meet with each teacher. New environmental adaptations should be as simple as (or simpler than) what they are currently doing. Think, “why are teachers not currently doing this behavior?” There is almost surely an environmental explanation, not a motivational one.

Build Habits: When a behavior is habitual, it’s “free” – it doesn’t tax through rational decision-making. Look for ways to encourage habits.

In the routine of teaching, teachers are sure to pick up habits. These range from arriving early to writing the lesson objectives on the board to only using direct instruction. The pandemic has broken many of these habits, for better and worse. As you recalibrate to a new normal, encourage the development of productive habits.

Consider using “action triggers:” every time X happens, we will do Y. Every time we reach ten unread emails, we will answer the five earliest. We will check data trends in our grades on the 1st and 15th of the month. We will read an article on teaching techniques every time we give a quiz. Try to give your team as little “wiggle room” in these action triggers as possible – consistency in behavior becomes habit.

Rally the Herd: Behavior is contagious. Help it spread.

In an uncertain situation, people look around to see how to behave. Each member of your team succeeds in different, productive behaviors. Find the positive behaviors for each member of your team and publicize them. Other members of your team will work to match, and it will become the new norm.

Consider a regular video or email highlighting the good work of members of your team. Has someone been using online programs to track performance during asynchronous work time? What program did they use? Is someone promoting close relationships among students? What does their group work look like? Has someone counteracted a “pandemic slide” in their standardized test data? What instructional techniques are they using? Promote consistent communication about successes among your team.

We hope this final blog post for the year helps as you lead your school toward positive student outcomes: direct the rational side, motivate the emotional side, and shape the path to change. Please share how you have been leading positive change in your school below!


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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.