Sunday / May 26

How to Overcome Fear and Thrive in Your School  

It is one of the fundamental laws of organizational change that innovation is spurred by “networked connectivity,” the degree to which individuals and groups are connected to others.  And, the degree to which innovation percolates across an organization is often a function of how much those individuals and groups meet, talk, and share ideas with others who are outside of one’s own traditional group or sphere of practice. Simply, the more we expose ourselves to new ideas and fresh experiences, the more likely we are to find creative ways to solve the inevitable obstacles that arise in each of our organizations and lives. 

In my new book, Thrive: How Schools Will Win the Education Revolution, I deeply explore how school communities and their stakeholders can both find the kinds of change that will help them to keep pace and succeed in this rapidly changing world, but also how they can create the conditions in which change is a welcome part of the school process, not something to be feared and avoided.   

Why do members of your school community fear change? In large part, it is due to the fear of the unknown, and the fear of failing in that unknown. We should think of school change like a bridge. When we recognize that we need to change, we are asking people to be comfortable with life on the other end of the bridge. If that is a place they have never been, then the fear is reasonable. No one, and particularly no teacher, wants to risk failing at something that might mean the students suffer. 

The great news is that many, many teachers and administrators in schools just like yours are already across the bridge, and they actively share that experience! In the book, I share many activities that will help your school stakeholders, including students, teachers, parents, administrators, and even future families engage in the kids of conversations and experiences that make them comfortable with both the process and product of change. 

But what I want to share here is fabulous example of this kind of sharing…and I had almost nothing to do with it.  In January, a group of more than 40 educators in Indiana gathered under the facilitation of the Early Learning Alliance Network for the first of three book club meetings around Thrive. I was not there and only could follow along, as did many others, on the Twitter feed. The participants were teachers and administrators from a number of different schools, many of whom did not know each other. No one had to buy a plane ticket or apply for money for an expensive conference registration. This was “teachers teaching teachers” through shared ideas and experiences. 

Look at the Sketchnotes that they made! 

These are not my words, they are their words. There was no lecture involved; these notes reflect the practical translation of ideas that I might have suggested in the book, but that they are already amplifying through the simple act of intersecting. They took some theories that perhaps I relayed from a school that none will ever visit, translated it into something immediate and important to their schools and lives, and, according to that Twitter feed, shared a lot of great, practical ideas for success. 

And that is how an organization like a school overcomes the unreasonable fear of change. It is commonly said that a single sapling may blow down in the wind, but will grow strong when surrounded by a whole grove of young trees. We are the same. When we surround ourselves with others who are each willing to take a little risk, and share the experience, we collectively can make large leaps. I can’t wait for the second and third meetings of this Thrive book group in Indiana, and I hope it will give you some ideas about how to move your school across that bridge, because the other side is beautiful! 

Written by

Grant Lichtman is an internationally recognized thought leader in the drive to transform K-12 education. Based on two decades of work as a senior administrator, teacher, and trustee in K-12 education, he speaks, writes, and works with school and community teams to build capacity and comfort with innovation in response to a rapidly changing world. He shares his numerous articles, speeches, and resources at, and is the author of four books: Thrive: How Schools Will Win the Education Revolution; Moving the Rock: Seven Levers WE Can Press to Transform Education; #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education, and The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School.

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