Change is Hard?

As a Transformational Coach for 2Revolutions, the work we do is part Instructional Coaching, part Change Management. We work with schools and districts who have rewritten their vision and who are pursuing Future of Learning models. In general, those include Deeper Learning, Personalized Learning, Competency-based Learning, Authentic Assessment, and a Broader Definition of Student Success.

The challenge of this work isn’t to train teachers and leaders in these instructional practices; but rather to change minds and do so at scale. In order to support educators in transforming learning, our team has needed to learn from a broad range of research on the complexity and difficulty of managing change. A few key insights have emerged that are increasingly shaping our work; I share now in the hopes that it can impact your work in support of transformation. 

As I dug more deeply into studies of change management, I found myself alternating between two emotional states: 😍 and 🤔. Many of the frameworks and theories I was exploring offered interesting models for how to facilitate change. In Switch, you have to motivate the head and the heart while also clearing the path for change. Six Circles states that identity, relationships, and access to information matter deeply and as much as the structural changes you may make. The Transition Model by William Bridges of Letting go, Neutral Zone, Beginnings made sense for how one experiences change or transitions.  Marshall Ganz’ Public Narrative relies on identity and storytelling to foment a movement within a community. All of this learning made my work stronger. I understood more deeply when folks were experiencing the “letting go” phase, and how to connect with their heart, provide clear information, and support the conditions for moving onto new beginnings. I was getting better as a coach because of these ideas. But something still didn’t make sense. Though I often reference the Rogers Adoption Curve with educational leaders, I found it still to be an insufficient description of change, as if there were some predictable curve that could anticipate how and when individuals would change. 

There was something that in practice always seemed different, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was part of what many of the researchers were describing as the human side of change - the adaptive grounded in identity and belief. Working with educators through 2Revolutions’ Communities of Practice, I saw change happening very easily in some cases. I also saw similar changes happening in very different ways. And then I saw resistance, deep resistance, not to change itself necessarily, but to ideas and initiatives, to feeling as if educators were being told how to do things, or that what they were doing wasn’t right. 

Then one late night, when I often find myself pouring over articles, videos, resources instead of getting needed sleep, I found this - Thijs Homan: The inner side of Organizational Change. ¡✨✨✨! 

In his TED Talk, Homan, was describing what I knew and experienced of change - that change is always happening and that it is polycentric - it emerges from everywhere! 

When he shared this visual (below) my scientific heart swooned. It brought me back to the moment I was made aware of the distinction between Newtonian/Classical physics and Quantum physics. I was transported back to my senior year of undergrad trying to make sense of Shrodingers Cat. Change is both hard, and not hard.

What are our deep assumptions about organizations and changing organizations

Homan, explains that every individual within an organization is always existing in their specific reality and doing the best that they can. Which means everyone is making the necessary changes to their environment all the time. This creates what he calls clouds of meaning. Those clouds of meaning are crucial to understanding organizational change. And yet, he says, no manager can ever be aware of all of the clouds of meaning. So there is was! This was exactly what I had seen and experienced.

Organization chart

In reviewing his work, I began to realize that all of the frameworks, research, and resources I was exploring held the deep assumption that Change is monocentric; that it originates and is managed from a center. Monocentric change is not wrong, like Newtonian Physics, it holds up well in some cases, but in complex cases, which systems of education absolutely are, the equations and the principles fall short. 

A Monocentric assumption leads to these types of org charts,

leads to the belief that the manager(s) has to do the right things (aka create the right conditions) in order for change to happen. But the research of Hammer and Champy in 1993 shows that change management projects are not smooth and that almost 70% of planned change projects fail and that number hasn’t changed much over the years. 

Homan’s talk shed light on the work we've been doing as an organization through Communities of Practice which harness individual Problems of Practice in order to provoke real change across organizations. These Communities of Practice allowed me to see and experience change differently. We were flattening the organization and leveraging the truth about change: that it is already happening all the time by everyone versus from one center. By creating shared spaces for meaning making and taking on challenges, we were harnessing the clouds of knowledge and empowering polycentric change.

These new insights have led me to an interest in measuring polycentric change, because sometimes those networks can seem disorganized and frustrating when individual problems of practice don’t lead to scaled outcomes. This resource, Strategic Evaluation of Network Activities, by Beverly Wenger-Traynor, has been helpful in beginning to understand how we might effectively use indicators, feedback loops, and value creation stories to monitor the impact of these networked approaches to change. 

As we continually push as an organization to improve our processes, tools, and approaches to more deeply support transformative change and empower our partners to meet their desired outcomes for students, our research and study continues. We look forward to sharing learning from prototypes of these things in action over the coming months! 

I hope these resources inspire and provoke your thinking as they have done for me. I would love to hear your reflections and have you share resources that have inspired you as well!