All Talk: 3 Phrases That Resist Productive Change

Stalled change

Change is a very difficult process, but it is the catalyst to continuous improvement. It tests our ability as professionals at many different levels. Sometimes, when things get too challenging, we tend to look for short-cuts or we quietly surrender. We live in a political climate that demands that we change, whether we choose to or not, but I have found that some organizations are good at creating the illusion of change, rather than being fully involved in the process of change. There are a three key phrases which clearly indicate that an organization is not fully committed to the change process.

  1. “We are having conversations.”
    This phrase is a code for; “we have a lot of opposition to this idea and we are afraid to make people too uncomfortable and release an onslaught of political and social opposition.” I recently worked with a school that has been involved with the implementation of the Professional Learning Community (PLC) process for three years. They have created collaborative teams and they have designated time for those collaborative teams to meet. They have created district-wide formative assessments that are administered four times per year. These milestones were reached in the first year of the process. So, I asked about PLC Questions #3 and #4 which address systems of student intervention and enrichment, and the room got very quiet. When people finally began to speak, each answer began with the phrase “we are having conversations.” If your district is “having conversations,” the change process has stalled.
  2. “We are in different places.”
    This phrase is code for; “we don’t have a universal system of accountability, and people who understand the intrinsic value of what we propose have embraced it, and those that are averse are allowed to disregard it until they ‘buy-in’.” Schools and systems that use this phrase are engaged in what I call “accountability light.” This is a diet version of universal professional accountability where group expectations and coherence are the norm. Healthy school cultures make collaborative decisions and they hold each other mutually accountable for full participation. When shared commitment is not achieved, a tiered-system of commitment emerges where implementation is based upon personal preference. Partial commitment is the same as no commitment.
  3. “District initiatives.”
    This phrase is code for; “there is a huge philosophical divide between school practitioners and central office which has led to a stalemate.” I have had the pleasure to work with thousands of schools on the change process and whenever practitioners refer to the change process as a “district initiative,” it is never good. In essence what they are expressing is a feeling of imposition. In the mind of the school practitioner, they are confronting real world issues and they have their fingers on the pulse of the needs of the school; and central office lives a world disconnected from reality and their priorities are unreasonable and unnecessary. This is a clear indication of poor communication and professional disconnection. If you district has a lot of “initiatives,” effective change is probably not on the horizon.

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One thought on “All Talk: 3 Phrases That Resist Productive Change

  1. (I don’t know the person under whose name I am apparently logged-in, but I do have a comment/question).

    In speaking with K-12 education leaders, I hear these 3 phrases all the time – especially reference to “district initiative,” as in, “We can’t do another district initiative right now.” I typically respond by questioning the need to call it an “initiative,” as opposed to assembling a guiding coalition to lay a PLC foundation without necessarily announcing it: make time in the schedule for teams to meet, establish team norms, set SMART goals tied to building objectives, etc.

    Are there advantages to announcing change as an “Initiative,” or is that a decision made in the context of given circumstances?

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