Wednesday / May 29

How to Maintain Balance as a School Change Agent 

I have always had a good handle on my ‘To-Do’s’, calendar, and priorities, however, this year it didn’t seem to matter how organized I made the work, nor how many I hours worked, I found myself becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume of my commitments. Something had to change [that would be me :)], so I turned to my bookshelf, and am finding much wisdom via the trifecta of Deep Work, The 12 Week Year, and Do Less. 

How does this relate to school change?

I have noticed a growing and deepening problem of burnout and overwhelm for educators leading change. If you are leading change in a school or district, you essentially have two jobs:  

  1. Keep the trains running of the current model. 
  2. Lead an internal start-up comprising the pedagogical and curricular changes inherent in the strategic plan, many of which run counter to the well-run processes of the current model. 

– and there is a third, and unwritten, job as well:  Keep everyone happy while doing 1) and 2).

All of which lead quite naturally to not having the bandwidth to seek consensus and support for every decision, making mistakes, email backing up – the volume of which seems to grow exponentially, needing to let some (important) things go, inadvertently dropping the ball, and not keeping everyone happy.

What’s an education change agent to do?

While there is no panacea, self-awareness is key and “going to the balcony” of your experience (Heifitz) will give you perspective and options. Here are a few suggestions to help orient and navigate your way forward:    

  • Ground in purpose – what is the problem you are solving? What does success look like in 1, 3, and 5 years’ time? Why is it important?  
  • Get really clear on the 1-3 activities that, while difficult and counter to the current model, will launch/support/accelerate the change you seek. 
  • Ask yourself, “How might I stop being a problem-solver for others and start being a developer of capacity in others?”  
  • Surround yourself with at least three people of shared purpose and mission  ideally one of whom has a sense of humor  and meet with these people regularly. 
  • Identify the activities that give you energy and the activities that deplete you. How might you do more of the former and fewer of the latter? 

What has worked for you? What has been helpful? Let me know in the comments!

In the meantime, I hope you are taking the opportunity to rest and recharge. 🙂

Written by

Julie Wilson is the Founder and Executive Director of Institute for the Future of Learning, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping transform the factory model of education. Julie has over fifteen years’ experience in organization development and change leadership; as a learning and development consultant at Harvard University, Julie managed the University’s career and professional development program, provided organization development consulting to University leaders and was the recipient of the ‘Harvard Hero’ award for outstanding contributions to the University.   In addition to helping schools and communities lead sustainable change, Julie highlights great practice and shares reflections on curriculum, pedagogy, and change at Julie graduated from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education with a Master’s degree in Technology, Innovation, and Education.  Look for Julie’s new book with Corwin, The Human Side of Changing Education, published in Spring 2018.  Connect with Julie on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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