Changing Education – Joseph Grenny and Brilliant Influencer Tim Stay

June 14, 2010

What factors are making it impossible to change our education system in the US? And what would you recommend for effectively changing education?

Joseph Grenny coauthor of Influencer – How to change anything says: There are several reasons why we’re stalled at changing education in the US. These reasons stem from the fact that educators and administrators are both unwilling and unable to make the changes they desire and see as necessary. Their lack of motivation is commonly due to the fact that they are strapped by bureaucracy, disheartened by unmotivated students and unsupportive parents, and overworked and underpaid. Even the most motivated teachers are not given the authority or ability to instigate changes they believe need to happen. They’re dictated by national testing standards and regulations that keep them mired in the daily grind.

With that said, my dear friend and a brilliant influencer, Tim Stay, helped as a parent to lead a very successful school turnaround effort at Lakeridge Junior High in Orem, Utah. Over a period of a few years, “testing-at-grade” scores went from roughly 40 percent to more than 80 percent. It was remarkable to watch. And it all began with a careful but wise approach to increasing motivation.

Here’s what I learned from Tim on influencing change in our educational systems:

1. Start with a few opinion leaders. Tim knew he couldn’t get support from all of the teachers, so he used personal influence to engage a few very respected teachers in the effort. He realized he couldn’t move faster than the teachers, so he let go of resentment about “lazy staff” and bellied up to the challenge of overcoming years of cynicism. His first job was not to improve the school, but to influence teachers. Accepting the situation helped him exercise more patience.

2. Build motivation by direct and vicarious experience. Tim and the council began exposing the group to reports and case studies of schools that had succeeded at creating dramatic improvement without a large infusion of resources. They even made phone calls and visits to other schools. Over time, those involved developed a sense of moral duty. They saw that more was possible and felt duty-bound to influence change.

3. Influence with data. Before talking about what they wanted, Tim made sure they were all crystal clear on what they had. There were many debates about test scores and the unusual demographics of the school that allowed teachers to remain in denial about problems. Tim didn’t argue with any of this. Instead, he emphasized the virtues of measurement. The teachers and community council created a system for measuring—real time—how many kids were doing better or worse than C work. As the numbers came together, a sense of moral disgust developed in the team. The data were also shared with the larger teacher community and similar feelings of embarrassment evolved. Notice that this was not some group of people pointing a finger of shame—the data was doing the job. And these good teachers who truly wanted to make a difference were motivated to take more aggressive action.

This is how it began. Tim and other enlightened influencers at Lakeridge worked slowly to influence the motivation of those who would have to lead and implement the changes. And their patience paid off. The fact that Tim avoided the convenient labeling of “moral defect” that often mobilizes resistance allowed him to reawaken a sense of moral passion in a population that started their careers to bless lives. Going slow at the outset led to rapid improvement later.

In just five years, Lakeridge moved from the bottom of the school district to at or near the top in most academic categories. More than 80 percent of students showed mastery in math and 90 percent showed mastery in language arts. And for the past two years, Lakeridge Junior High has been named a Best of State winner in the Public/Private School K-12 category. And I can attest firsthand to the incredible positive effect it has had on the students.

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