Consider the Elephant When Leading Change

An excellent analogy for examining behavioral change is that of an elephant and its rider trying to follow a certain path, writeschange Chip and Dan Heath in their bestseller SWITCH. The elephant, being a powerful, stubborn creature, represents the emotional side of people, looking for a quick payoff rather than long-term benefits. The rider in turn represents the rational side that knows what should be done, and can tug at the elephant’s reigns to exert some small degree of control over it. Finally, the path represents the situation in which the change is to take place.

There are many components that influence whether change will be successful, whether progress along the path is made. From changing your own diet to influencing others’ behavior, your success will depend on your ability to direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path.

Consider the following when implementing new school initiatives:

  1. Use a “systems” approach to ensure that all aspects of the learning community are considered when planning and implementing change and develop a team of stakeholders throughout the change process.
  2. Share oversight with teachers and others to encourage the implementation of the change efforts.
  3. Make plans, but “hold your plans loosely.” Develop plans, but know that they will have to be adapted to change as needs change.
  4. Realize the tension between establishing readiness for change and the need to get people implementing new behaviors quickly. While getting people intellectually ready for change is something to be considered, don’t take so much time and effort that people lose interest and motivation.
  5. Provide training and staff development for staff.
  6. Choose innovative practices for and with teachers that are research-based and student centered. Picking approaches that have been used or researched can help the implementation.
  7. Recognize that change happens only through people. The emotional effects of change on educators need to be considered and understood by all involved in the change process. Understanding resistance and working with it is key.
  8. Be prepared for “implementation dip.” Fullan (1993) and others note that things often get worse temporarily before improvement begins to appear.
  9. Seek out “paradigm shifters” and “idea champions” who are interested in making substantial changes in practice.
  10. Take the long view; realize that change takes time and should not be forced to occur too quickly.elephant

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