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What is the Secret Sauce of School Change?

"There's an assumption that schools are for students' learning. Well, why aren't they just as much for teachers' learning?" - Seymour Sarason

"I'm not asking you to change, I'm asking you to learn."
Missy Emler, Change School v3

Last Monday night and Cohort Three of Change.School was discussing change leadership and learning when Missy Emler dropped this gem on us from fifty thousand feet. Her follow-up comment was, "When people learn, people, systems, and organizations change." This simple, yet insightful commentary has been rattling around in my head for the past few days.

While mowing the front yard the following evening, I begin thinking about famous individuals who went through some form of transformation, historical figures, sports heroes, celebrities in pop culture. What preceded their conversion? All of the situations I could think of supported Missy's assertion, there was some kind of challenge, a period of reflection, possibly an epiphany, that resulted in learning, and in turn, transformative change.

Change is difficult. I have been curious whether people find the name to be a bit threatening. What is the typical reaction when people are asked to change? My response would be something along the lines of, "Why, what's wrong with me?" That's what I find so sensical about Emler's advice, ask people to do something that is challenging, organic, and nourishing, change follows naturally.

The following evening, Wednesday, Will Richardson referencing Seymour Sarason, challenges our breakout chat room by asking, "What do you mean by learning?" This question is more complicated than it seems. Sarason tells us without an agreed upon, working definition of learning, school improvement becomes significantly harder to achieve. 

Finally, after being held a few days in suspense, Bruce Dixon, while moderating tonight's conversation provided us with my favorite definition of learning, also from Sarason,

"Productive learning is a process which engenders and reinforces wanting to learn more."

There you have it, my takeaway from this week's sessions of and the secret sauce of educational reform are learning. Think about how many of the emotionally charged issues facing administrators, teachers, students and their caregivers, get framed appropriately when we keep learning in its deserved place of prominence. Afterall, the business of school is learning. Pass the teriyaki, please.

Related Reading

Schwartz, K. "How School Leaders can Attend to the Emotional Side of Change," Mindshift. October 20, 2017.

Wheeler, S. "Outdated Practices", Learning with Es. October 22, 2017.

photo credit: wuestenigel Tomato Sauce and Peppers via photopin (license)


Aaron Davis said…
Interesting reflection Bob. I was left with two questions:
1. Can there be or should there be consensis or will there always be an element of ambiguity to the notion of 'learning'. From memory, Richardson listed eight in his book.
2. Is the focus of school.'learnibg? Biesta labels that the learnification of education..
Joy Kirr said…
Bob, I'm really enjoying THE HUMAN SIDE OF SCHOOL CHANGE by Cr. Rob Evans..... I think it would be very valuable to administrators who are looking to implement change. There are so many aspects to how we do things and how we feel about and deal with change. Thank you for sharing - keep it up, please!

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