Change is most certainly ‘afoot’ in the field of teaching reading across our country and rightly so. In my mind it is important we lead through this change with the purpose of building deeper understanding, developing sustainable systems and fostering open and willing mindsets. If not it is likely we will lose people along the way. Our struggling readers, students with learning differences, classroom teachers and parents of the aforementioned students are relying on us to make this difference in a way that will have a lasting impact and change the status quo. Jeepers no pressure!
I recall when I was advising in mathematics and it was compulsory for school principals to attend the numeracy workshops we were running. At the time I don’t believe I necessarily made the connection as to why leadership attendance and participation was important. I recall one principal falling asleep and letting out a giant snort during one of my staff presentations. Yes, there were many sniggers! Those of you whom I have worked with (I hope) will vouch for the fact that I am certainly not a boring presenter, and hopefully, this principal’s tiredness was a reflection of his lack of sleep (perhaps age) and not my presentation skills.
On reflection, I didn’t have a clear understanding of the enormity of the task I had set out to achieve. Perhaps I was focussed on delivering content knowledge and worked hard to fill teachers heads with this? So what’s changed you might ask? Well, I am a little longer in the tooth, and having been a school leader myself I truly understand the need for us all to not only be on the same waka, but to head in the same direction with purpose and pizazz.
As I spend most of my days working with passionate educators and leaders across the country I have come to realise my calling is not to solely teach them about the principles and elements of structured literacy, or why and what dyslexic children find difficult. My focus is, yes, without a doubt spreading the evidence-based word in literacy, as well as creating sustainable change and developing a systemic shift across a system which is crying out to be reinvented. Research-based transformational change is what our teachers, students and parents are yearning for.
The three areas which have become my operating protocol or mantra as I support others on their evidence-based learning journey include:
1. Development of Mindset, Skillset and Structure.
2. A shared understanding of how we will behave and operate during this learning journey— Above or Below the line? Your call.
3. That what you give is what you will (or your students will) GET.
MINDSET — first being aware of existing beliefs around the area of learning in question is necessary. Further to this, developing an open mindset and a state of learnacy is necessary for teachers/leaders to be able to be vulnerable and begin to learn. Without this, no change in practice will occur.
SKILLSET — in many respects this is the easy bit when facilitating and or leading through change. I liken it to the content knowledge — tip the lid and fill it. Obviously, it is important that the skillset being developed is a combination of knowledge and application as one without the other won’t make a difference to student outcomes. It is imperative that the content be research and evidence-based not more of the same package with a new bow.
STRUCTURE — what systems, processes and procedures do, or don’t we have in place that will enable us to seamlessly roll out our new skillset with an appropriate mindset? Often an area for development as we continuously strive to work smarter not harder.
None of the above can be achieved without the full team on board.
Building an open and learner-centred Mindset calls for vulnerability and honesty. Developing awareness of our own thoughts, beliefs, behaviours and where these sit in relation to pending and or current change (using the model below) enables us to own these and modify them accordingly. You can’t change what you are not aware of. All too often we hear excuses such as “oh but we don’t have time”, or blame to the tune of “there’s just not enough money or resourcing available to us”. These statements get our students nowhere. Perhaps we could rise above the line instead with thoughts and questions such as….How can we own budget decisions to ensure there is a fair and equitable allocation (for example) of decodable texts for struggling readers? Especially when we already have 1000’s of readers in our bookrooms for other students. How can we be more accountable for how we allocate time in our day for direct instruction. Perhaps silent reading time could be an ideal time to directly and explicitly teach one group their irregular sight words every day? Now wouldn’t that make a difference?
The ‘what you GIVE you will GET’ analogy rings true during the change process. If you GIVE blame, denial and excuses you will get more of the same (student outcomes) as you are achieving now. Should you give ownership, accountability and be response-ABLE it is much more likely that when coupled with an increased skillset and structure you will achieve the results and transformational change you and your colleagues are seeking.
Leading through change is much bigger than lifting the lid (head) and filling it with content based knowledge. It requires strategic leadership actions, relational trust, challenge and support. Presenting content from research and evidence-based platform is necessary to build trust, respect and ready set go motivation. This alone, however, may not lead to sustained nor transformational change or increased student outcomes in the long run.
Many many teachers attend our workshops and ask “How can I influence others in my school? What should I do when I go back?” Be wise in what content you choose to share but further to this be strategic in the way you present and lead through the change.
Prepare the MINDSET of your colleagues for the challenge ahead.
Deliver appropriate content to increase their SKILLSET acquisition.
Build suitable STRUCTURES to ensure the new mindset and skillset is able to be executed with ease and precision for the years to come.
Is change afoot in your school or learning institution? Maybe you are working through things and have been thinking about what this will look and feel like? As only the wise would say… If you believe things need to change (in education) look to yourself first.
Contact us at Learning Matters to learn more about how we can assist you in this journey of professional learning which results in sustainable progress for all.