I recently spent a weekend painting and redecorating my living room. Stripping the old wallpaper on one long wall provided a lot of reflection time. There were times when the whole process moved along smoothly. Yet, there were other times when everything came to a standstill or difficult huddles needed to jumped. The whole process reminded me a lot of the school improvement efforts I’ve been involved with over the last eleven years.
Change takes time. My living room has had this ugly wallpaper for five years! I’m a bargain shopper and had purchased all the decorations and then some over the course of the last five years. I’ve had the end result in my mind. Knew the color combination I’d be happy with. I worked to slowly add ideas and items to my collection. I had successfully transformed the dining room and kitchen to the style I had wanted and knew I could be successful with the living room, but seemed to lack the motivation (and time).
So what changed – the announcement that family were coming for Thanksgiving! They had been here many times before. They never made comments of my ugly wallpaper, but I know I’ve become increasingly embarrassed of my lack of progress with the living room. It was time for lasting change! I drew from what I knew about the change process to move ahead with the living room project!
Collaboration: This wasn’t a project to be done alone! The more the merrier! My parents helped with the painting & a good friend helped with the final touches. Collaboration in school improvement efforts is likewise important. No one person can guide change by themselves. I’m reminded of a quote by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that has.” My living room transformation – especially the wallpapered wall is proof!
Areas of Expertise: Not only could the project have been completed alone, but outside technical assistance was required. I have not had much experience in the area of painting, yet my father of 81 years is an expert in my eyes! His advice, experiences and expertise were necessary in moving the project forward. I, on the other hand, have had some experience in removing wallpaper. The jobs were divided amongst us and the fun began! As an instructional coach and school improvement consultant I’m always looking for internal expertise in order to guide school improvement initiatives. I have found that the general school staff engages in efforts much more willingly when they are led by their own. I’m fortunate to work with building administrators and leadership teams that also value my own experiences to help guide them. Together we have developed professional learning opportunities that have resulted in accelerated student learning!
Directions matter! Wallpaper removal takes patience. The wallpaper came off much easier when I was patient and followed the directions. The directions allowed for a smooth and gradual removal. When I got in a hurry and didn’t fully follow directions, removal was frustrating. This equates to keeping with the fidelity of models being implemented. We can’t expect the same results in these practices when we change the model or strategy so far from even being recognizable. My beginning attempts to implement a readers & writers workshop approach was far from staying with the fidelity of the intended models. I had students reading whole class sets of books and basically basalizing the approach by finding “worksheets” to go along with the books. I was having students write to generated topics instead of helping them find the topics within them. I became frustrated. My frustrations lead to studying the approaches and changing practice that aligned with models. When I “followed the directions” and provided authentic reasons to read and write, my classrooms transformed into learning communities!
Time: There is no time like the present. I look back over the last five years to how many times I said I “didn’t have time” to start on the living room project. The final project took me a weekend!! I’m quite sure all the talk of redecorating the room amounted in far more time! I once heard a quote something to the effect of: We have all been given the same amount of time that Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein and Alexander Gram Bell were given. Yes, it took time to get to removing the FINAL piece of wallpaper and a nicer living room, but it didn’t take that long! School improvement processes also take time. Talking or thinking about change won’t produce the change itself. Using time wisely, planning efforts with actions, rather than talk, leads to more success!
The results – a living room I can enjoy and a wonderful Thanksgiving with family, minus one nephew that had to stay at his college to march in the band during the football game the Saturday after Thanksgiving. In that sense, football seems to ruin the holidays. Georgia Tech went on to lose the game, but I bet the band was GREAT!
Keeping our eyes to the prize in both personal and professional change is important. Some times it takes stepping out of our comfort zones. Taking the journey with others is much more rewarding!
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn‘t do than by the ones you did do.”
– Mark Twain