Changing a norm is difficult. Simply put, a norm is normal to us and is deeply embedded in the culture. Have you ever seen a new leader attempt to lead change and fail miserably because the culture “ate” all the aspiring leader’s strategies and plans for breakfast?
In my last blog, I wrote that hypothermia is a leading cause of child mortality in third world countries and that the implementation of one simple strategy could drastically reduce infant deaths. But the life saving strategy of quickly getting the newborn “skin to skin” with the mother has been very difficult to gain widespread acceptance in these countries. This is because it would mean changing the practice of a deeply held norm.
How does all this apply to leadership in education? If a simple, cost neutral strategy that could save a child’s life is difficult to implement, how much more difficult is it for school leaders to lead change in areas that, while they are important, are not immediately life threatening? We know it is extremely difficult and calls for strategies that are not widely practiced.
In their classic book on leading change, Patterson, et. al. (2007) make the point that verbal persuasion and rewards are widely practiced change strategies but are really not very effective. What does work?
They state that people will change their behavior if they believe it is worth it and if they believe they can do it. So the leader’s job is to convince people the change is worth it, and make sure they have the skills to do it.
According to Patterson and his colleagues, strategies that tap into intrinsic, personal motivation are much more effective in lasting behavior changing. One example would be stories that make a connection between a person’s current behavior and resulting negative outcomes. Jesus used stories (parables) to lead people to a commitment of lasting behavior change.
The authors cite many other strategies for effectively influencing behavior change such as skill development, social motivation (peer pressure), and environmental changes.
We educators are in the change business. While that work is complex, it is not impossible. But in order to lead, we must read. I recommend you read and study Influencer, the Power to Change Anything as you lead change.
Patterson, K., et. al. (2008) Influencer the Power to Change Anything. McGraw Hill.