By Michael Piccirillo, Ed.D, CASDA Executive Director
Fittingly, CASDA’s latest Quarterly Newsletter addresses the topic of change. John Kotter (2012), noted for his work on change theory stated, “The speed of change is the driving force. Leading change competently is the only answer” (p.iv). How educators and educational systems reframe their roles in the current pandemic-driven reality will determine how we emerge from these uncertain times.
Organizational change has been a topic of research for many years. Historically, in educational systems, change has been studied through the lens of new initiatives and their impact on teaching and learning. Though we may view these change experiences as siloed, the reality is they are not. This is one of the many reasons change initiatives fail. Change creates many ripples through the system on a structural level, however, it is the “psychological impact” as William Bridges (2009) notes that is often ignored.
Now take a disruption like the current global pandemic, currently entering its third year. I would assert the pandemic has forced change on many levels of life, personal and professional. Though we have attempted to manage these changes, most people find themselves exhausted and frustrated. Why? As Bridges (2009) asserts, “Unmanaged transition makes change unmanageable.” Bridges (2009) goes on to say, “The failure to identify and get ready for endings and losses is the largest difficulty for people in transition. And the failure to provide help with endings and losses leads to more problems for organizations in transition than anything else” (p.8). What have you lost professionally and personally during the past two years? What endings have you experienced? Perhaps, more importantly, what help has been provided to assist you with these transitions?
Educators have experienced personal and professional loss during the pandemic. The daily disruptions to the school day related to a host of circumstances like students absences, or buses running late have compounded the challenges of teaching and learning. To address some of this sense of loss, author and educator Alex Shevrin Venet (2021) urges leaders to take a systems approach. “School structures need to shift and leaders need to provide time, training, and resources for teachers to develop these skills and competencies. There need to be changes in things like the bell schedule, student-teacher ratio, and communication structures to support relationship building” (Venet, 2021 p. 85). Additionally, Venet (2021) urges educators to be intentional about relationship building.
Students have experienced personal and educational loss during the pandemic. The disruption to the learning process has impacted all learners, but especially those who have been most dependent on adults. To empower students, Zaretta Hammond (2015) provides a model for student-teacher learning partnerships based on an “alliance” between teacher and student (p.94). Hammond (2015) describes the alliance as including a “pact or formal agreement between teacher and student to work on a learning goal and a relational covenant between them” (p.94). As Hammond (2015) states, “The goal of the learning partnership is to help students become more actively engaged in their own learning” (p.106). Given the struggles many students have faced during the pandemic, this seems like a worthy approach to consider.
Families and communities have experienced loss during the pandemic. At a time when we need everyone associated with public education moving in the same direction, Ann Ishimaru’s (2014) work provides powerful evidence for “rewriting the rules of engagement” between school, non-dominant parents and community. “Educational leaders may benefit from a deeper understanding of community-based approaches to educational change that can challenge the notion that greater power for organized parents constitutes a loss of power for district and school leaders” (Ishimaru, 2014, p.212). The work of navigating the complexities of change facing school communities may benefit from a shift in our thinking about who is authentically engaged in solution-making. “Rather than operating from the premise that schools are the central actors with the agency to involve and engage families, a journey of equitable collaboration asks that we recognize schools as part of broader communities within which we foster new kinds of relationships between families and schools” (Ishimaru, 2020, p.33).
CASDA occupies a unique space in the region. We offer many opportunities for educators to confront current issues and collaborate on solutions. What we have learned over the past two years, is not new or earth shattering; relationships have been and continue to be the core work of educators and the foundation to student success. As Venet (2021) notes in her book, “Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education,” “Proactively building relationships sets us up for success” (p.83). Through our in person and virtual workshops and Roundtables, CASDA will continue to support educators and school communities through the transitions they face today, tomorrow and in the future.