Reduce Change to Increase Improvement, Viviane Robinson


Is change is always desirable?

This Is the question Viviane Robinson asks in her book; Reduce Change to Increase Improvement. My advice to those who are work with change in schools is this; if you only read one book, please let it be this one!

I just wrote an article on how changing the software system in our county has backfired completely, and how change implemented and incited from people who are distant to our school, has had such a negative effect. At the same time, I have with great interest read this book on how to reduce change to increase improvement. And my advice to you is to read the book.

Here is the link to the book, you should buy it online, and here is Viviane Robinson’s webpage. where I found these highlights.

I want to help leaders increase the payoff of their change efforts so that they undertake change less frequently but more successfully. I think it is time to stop talking about change and innovation and to focus on the far more ambitious goal of achieving improvement.

Improvement means positive impact on learners

The widely shared moral purpose of education is, broadly speaking, is to enable all children and young people to succeed at intellectually engaging and enriching tasks and, in so doing, to become confident and connected lifelong learners.

In an overview of the book Viviane share these highlights; To lead change is to exercise influence in ways that move a team, school, network or system from one state to another. The second state could be better, worse, or the same as the first. To lead improvement is to exercise influence in ways that leave the team, school, network, or system in a better state than before.

She poses interesting questions, some we should always ask before implementing change.  In their approach, they have certainly bypassed teachers’ theory of action.

  1. What exactly is it that needs improvement?
  2. Why does it need improvement – why is the status quo unsatisfactory?
  3. What are the likely school-based causes of the unsatisfactory situation?
  4. How well does the proposed solution address those likely causes?

Instead of taking for granted that change or innovation will lead to improvement, we should do the opposite—that is, believe that change will not deliver improvement unless there are structures and processes in place for ensuring that all involved can learn how to turn the change into the intended improvement.

Perhaps my key message is that the path to improvement lies in deep and respectful inquiry into the practices you want to change. Once your teachers agree that you have understood those practices, then, together, you can compare the relative merit of what they do now with what you are proposing. The goal is an agreement about whether your proposal is worth trying. From that point on, you experiment and learn about how to create a change that is truly an improvement.

Instead of taking for granted that change will lead to improved outcomes for learners, the history of educational reform tells us that we should do the opposite. In other words, we should assume that change will not deliver our intended improvement unless there are structures and interpersonal processes in place for ensuring that all involved can ensure that change produces the intended improvement.

Viviane describes 4 phases.

  1. Agree on the Problem to Be Solved
  2. Inquire Into the Relevant Theory of Action
  3. Evaluate the Relative Merit of the Current and Alternative Theories of Action
  4. Implement and Monitor a New, Sufficiently Shared Theory of Action

She offers an insight into the conversations you need to engage in. In most cased the leader has not rigorously investigated the beliefs, values, and material conditions that sustain the practices they wish to change. Without such inquiry, change leaders do not know, from the perspective of implementing agents, what is involved in making the change they seek. This approach is more effective because improvement does not involve the adoption of new practices but their integration into a complex repertoire of existing personal, interpersonal, and organizational practice. Another interesting dilemma is this; How do leaders communicate their dissatisfaction with the status quo in a way that is uplifting rather than demoralizing? In this book you see examples from schools it is easy to recognize. One is a senior leader talking to a middle leader who asks for help with one of his teachers whom he considers to be underperforming. The other example the principal is meeting with the head of English to discuss a written analysis of the national exam results for his students. After a structured conversation, the headteacher explains the challenges with students who are particularly weak. Both challenges that hit home with any school leader I would imagine.

Instead of taking for granted that change will lead to improved outcomes for learners, the history of educational reform tells us that we should do the opposite. In other words, we should assume that change will not deliver our intended improvement unless there are structures and interpersonal processes in place for ensuring that all involved can ensure that change produces the intended improvement.

To lead change is to exercise influence in ways that move a team, organization, or system from one state to another. The second state could be better, worse, or the same as the first. To lead improvement is to exercise influence in ways that leave the team, organization, or system in a better state than before.

Of course, people resist rather than embrace change, for change takes time, money, and effort. If the implementing agents are teachers, they not only have to learn, for example, how to teach, assess, or relate to students differently, but also how to adjust all of the other practices with which the new ones must articulate. The cognitive and practical effort required to make these adjustments is usually greater than learning the new practices in the first place.

 

Robinson, Viviane M J. Reduce Change to Increase Improvement (Corwin Impact Leadership Series) (Kindle Locations 503-506). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

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