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Leading organizational change to transform existing schools or launch new schools

Video transskription
- So one of the clear findings from our research on innovation is that every organization has clear capabilities, but understanding those capabilities also helps you see what an organization's limitations are. That is, an existing organization may not be able to do the new things that you're trying to set out to do. - So, what I hear you saying is, to do really complicated new prototyping, may be easier if you're actually a startup starting from scratch. - That's exactly right, and I actually think that a lot of you may be starting to see this. That if you're trying to do blended learning in a brand new classroom or school, it's probably a lot easier to start to strike that innovation. But if you're trying to do this within an existing classroom or an existing school, there are more constraints. Legacy resources, routines, priorities that might constrain you in innovating. - Summit Public Schools has actually had the experience of starting schools absolutely from scratch in a blended way, and also trying to figure out how you convert existing schools. - In our experience so far, new schools are a little bit easier in terms of innovation. Why, well, you're starting from scratch, number one. In our case, we're starting with a smaller group of students, a smaller group of faculty, it's a little bit tighter culture. And they generally have a little bit more runway to really think about what they're going to do and how they're gonna do it before they launch because they're starting fresh. Whereas in an existing school, no matter how well planned, there's a time frame between what you were doing and what you're about to do. And you're planning for that is a little bit clouded by sort of reflecting on and dealing with closing up what you've been doing. Our schools are a little bit bigger, the existing schools, there's more established practice there, there's a lot of tradition. And in our cases the kids are a little bit more resistant to change and certainly the parents are a little bit more resistant to change. So, you're not necessarily dealing with, oh, this brand new vision that everyone was attracted to and came into, you're trying to talk about this more as enhancements or improvements as opposed to this fresh new idea. - When we're talking about whole school redesign, we have to think about a whole different set of considerations because you have an existing model in place, with resources, processes, culture, priorities that while actually huge assets in your current model, might be liabilities as you move toward a new model. - And that said, almost all the kids in America are in existing schools. We're not gonna solve this problem just by building a million new schools all across the world. So when you think about converting an existing school to very big new models, we'd suggest four big ideas to keep in mind. First, who do you need to have involved in the process and how do you want them to be involved? Second, how do you get their buy in? Third, how do you make this part of their everyday job, that they see this innovative process as core to who they are? And fourth, what do you do with the naysayers? - So what our research and innovation has shown us is that the level of change that you're trying to make determines the type of team or who you actually need to actually have on board to make that change. So, if you're operating within schools, and you're just trying to change something within a given grade or a given classroom, the right type of team to have on board is what we call a functional team. And a functional team is basically just made up of the members within a given department or a particular grade level. So the kindergarten teachers make up one functional team and foreign languages might make up another one. And this type of team is all you need when you're just trying to change within a given classroom or grade band, and it doesn't impact any other parts of the school. So the change is basically contained within that unit. So if you're simply flipping a classroom or moving to a station rotation, then a functional team is the way to go. - So as we're thinking about redesigning schools beyond just a classroom level, that's gonna take a different kind of team. - That's exactly right. So when you're starting to coordinate from the classroom to other parts of the school, you need what we call a lightweight team. And in a lightweight team, the teachers still remain in their departments, but there's basically a project manager on the other side that's coordinating the activity across these departments. So, say you're implementing a lab rotation model, and you just need to coordinate when you can use the lab versus when another teacher's students can use the lab, you need to start coordinating across the school to make that work. Similarly, you might be implementing a station rotation and you have certain technology requirements so you need to coordinate with the IT staff to actually deliver those requirements for your classroom. That's basically a lightweight team. - So the innovation is allowed to happen separately in different settings and they need some coordination. What if we want to redesign the whole school? What if everybody wants to come together and have a big vision of new teaching style, new approaches to education? - Yeah, so then you're starting to talk about really an unpredictable process, right? So actually what you need there, is what we call a heavyweight team. And a heavyweight team is where you actually take people out of their traditional departments and you say, "Bring your expertise to the table, "but don't bring your loyalty to the department "you've always been in, don't bring your loyalty "to the way things have always been done, "and use your expertise to really redesign "a new schooling model." And the key thing about a heavyweight team is that you need to appoint a leader, who everyone can say that when that person is signed off and we made a decision as a group, we don't need to go back to all of the other existing departments and get them to sign of too. So we really have the autonomy that we need to rethink all of those things we've been talking about in this lesson. - This kind of heavyweight team that you've been talking about, Michael, is what makes blended learning so different than the past, let's stick technology into classrooms. People say it all the time. "We've already done IT in schools, "we get it." And I actually think this is a really important point. When I say high quality blended learning, it requires having the right people at the table who can truly redesign schools. That's why in this movement it's all about having the lead teachers there, the principles there, the assistant superintendents of instruction, and the folks on the tech side of things who understand the logistics, because if we get them involved in really redesigning schools, then I think we might have a shot of actually getting this right. - Yeah, I think that's exactly correct. And one more critical note about this. The reason that these team structures matter is that if you're trying to redesign a whole school but you only have members from a functional team there, you're just not gonna get it right. Similarly, if your ambition is just to flip a classroom or something like that, and you try to bring a whole heavyweight team on the process, you're going to make that process slow, burdensome, and bureaucratic. - So, basically what you're saying is match the team to the change you have in mind. - That's exactly right. - We thought about the design process, and it was so crucial that the principle and the teachers, essentially a school, has so much of the control over the design. If it was a plan that was rolled out from my office or the district office, it wouldn't have survived reality. People would have run into the challenges and they would've said, "Not my plan, I'm out." When they developed the plan, the ownership of it got them through the implementation curve. And so maintaining some broad parameters, so for us it was student engagement, using technology and software, that's the blended learning part, certainly student outcomes. And for teachers to lighten up about control of use of time and even space. And so, that was the extent of our design principles and then we gave our school's parameters to design and I think that defined autonomy is crucial 'cause if the district plans it, we've seen how that works over decades of school leadership. It never lasts, it doesn't survive the innovation curve. - Another theme that we've heard people talk about when they're thinking about picking their teams, is to start with the folks who are bought in. Sort of a coalition of the willing. Get them on first to be your early adopters, and get some really winds, right, pick that low hanging fruit, and then you'll have some proof points of success when we need to go and address the folks who maybe aren't as bought in, or simply sitting back waiting to see if this initiative is gonna fail. - So, one piece of advice as you embark on this redesign process. If you don't make this reinvention work a key part of someone's everyday job you're probably not gonna get the results that you're hoping for. Teachers are already overburdened enough as it is, and if you just sort of pile this on as one more thing that you do at the end of the day or something like that, you're just not gonna get the results that we're hoping for. - You know, that makes me think about Summit, when they were doing their reinvention and redesign work, they did a couple really smart things. The first was that they used those intersession periods of time when they weren't teaching full time classes to have everybody in the organization envisioning what this new model could look like and prototyping even in a theoretical way. And then the second thing they did is when they started to built out all those playlists that actually allowed for personalization, they had the teachers doing that over the summer. So it was their full time to be innovative in designing structures for a new school model. - And what's interesting is that as this redesign work took hold in these other periods, redesign at all times really became part of the core a teacher's job actually in their model. - I think that's right, I think there's a mindset that we have to go after which we don't think of it as, "I have a day job, and then we go "and do a little bit of innovation." It's that we say in our culture in our school, innovating new models and going towards personalization is what our job is about. And I think if you look at most of our protagonist schools, all their teachers would say they're sort of on a mission to figure this out. It's not the thing they do in addition to teaching their classes or being the principle of their school. So if you do everything right and you get those early adopters on board and you get some initial winds, you still have to think about what do you do with the naysayers, or the people who might otherwise be obstructionists. And I think the key idea here is for folks to be really strategic about who goes first, who are your early followers, and then who do you turn your attention to to make sure they come along as well. - One of the principles that I've learned about communication and moving an initiative that's this broad forward, is to think about some of the groups that I normally wouldn't have thought about communicating with. And so, for example, we started this work in our elementary schools. But it was really important for our middle school and our high school teachers to know what we were doing. Otherwise, they would've heard a different story about it and could have complained and caused enough noise to shut the whole thing down. Now, normally I wouldn't have focused on those other groups. But I've had some people coach me on how do you communicate well, so that everybody is at least informed, so that they can either be neutral, or even be supportive of it. - This is new, and so there's a lot of people who think that it's not gonna work. And for a variety of reasons, they say, "Oh I don't believe in it" or "I don't buy into it" or "It can't make sense." And so our approach to naysayers is first of all to make sure they understand the vision that we're aiming for. And I'll be honest with you, when you can share and articulate the vision that we're aiming for, most people actually buy into that vision. So then, once you get them bought in the vision it's really about, what about the implementation? "Okay, I get where we want to go, "but what's it look like?" And there, it's getting people over their fear of doing something different. So it's really back to, about change. People are afraid of schools not looking the way that they know them to look, which is very uncomfortable. And so you really have to work through fears with people. "What are you afraid of?" "What will happen if we do that?" "Okay, well, if you're afraid of that "what can we do to mitigate that fear?" And so it really becomes an exercise in getting people to overcome their fears, which are very normal, very natural, and then see it start to work and then begin to buy into a vision that they really do care about. - If we're talking about converting an existing school there is this really interesting question. How do you even get started? And one local district I know did a very interesting process where they essentially put out a request for proposal, RFP, to all the schools in their district. And they were very clear about the outcomes they had in mind. Very different school models that use personalization for each student. But they weren't dictatorial about the how. And they let every school that was interested voluntarily go after it, design their own school models, and then they picked the ones that they thought were most compelling and provided them some early seed funding, and eventually some implantation money. But it was essentially a competition to see the best ideas come up as the first starting point. - What was important, the first cycle of design, and I call that design 1.0, that was my first year in this district, was that inviting teams of principles and teachers to a design conversation. And we used a blend of outside consultants and our own staff to lead with questions. The best question was, "If you could design "a school of the future now, "what would it look like?" And that was the question that I posed to our principles that first year. And they went off and designed for a couple months, came back, then we just massaged them and then we launched amazingly two blended learning schools with four months of advanced planning. It's really, I've actually never done work this fast in my career. A little scary, and tremendously rewarding. - There's a second approach as well, which is, if you want, we've talked about how conversions are really tricky, so make your conversion like a startup. What I mean by that is find the areas in your school that are greenfield if you will, where there's total opportunity to invent from scratch what you're doing. Every school has plenty of these opportunities where you can literally invent your model from scratch and then start thinking about all those tricky areas to convert. - So this in your theory would be the non-consumption areas? - Yeah, that's exactly right. And we see them in every school, right Brent? - Right, so if you think about after school time like we've talked about earlier or summer school or even an area where you're just doing a really bad job. We offer one foreign language. But what if a student actually wants to learn German? That might be a really interesting place to pilot an online class or a blended class where students are working on very different languages all at the same time, because you're not competing with that superstar German teacher who's already gonna be doing a great job on that subject. - And we've seen this work really well. There's a school called the School of One out of New York City that started to do blended learning, and the place that they started was in summer school and the reason was that they really needed to think and have a space for how to radically personalize learning for every single student. Try that approach, figure out what worked and what didn't. Iterate and correct course, and then really put it into action in schools across the district once they really started to figure it out.