emotions edtech

There’s an emotional side of edtech—and it’s affecting school innovation

Change management expert Rob Evans discusses how to understand the human side of integrating change in schools and manage the loss of control.

“All human beings react to any kind of change not purely to the event itself, but to its meaning to us,” he said. When change is occurring in a school system, “the question isn’t just what does it consist of pedagogically, but what does it mean to the people who are going to have to do it?” Leaders can be very helpful “if they’re able to shape the meaning of the change so that it combines an obvious commitment to something new and important for students with an obvious commitment to the practitioners who are going to have to deliver it.”

Managing Loss

The initial meaning of the change to the practitioner often involves loss, Rob said. Teachers are giving up not just something they know how to do well, but the whole way they learned how to do it. This sense of loss is very real and pervasive, but often it’s disregarded by K-12 leaders. To an advocate for change, he said, these issues “seem very, very small—but they are loaded with meaning for the teacher.”

Leaders need to communicate to their staff that edtech holds the potential not just for promise and excitement, but also for loss and challenge.

“If those things can be combined,” Rob said, “what you’re able to do is give people more encouragement to try something new, because you’re acknowledging the challenge built into (the change) and therefore not expecting them to be perfect at first. At the same time, you’re saying, ‘There is a way forward here. And we’re going to balance the tension of what you’re losing and giving up with a focus on what we’re going to gain.’”

Pressure + Support

None of us changes without some combination of pressure and support, he added. Pressure is anything that makes it harder for us to continue doing what we were doing, and it can be range from simply asking someone to change, to threatening to fire them if they continue their old course of action. Support would be anything that makes it easier for us to try something new. This can include money, incentives, training, or even overt permission to take risks without having to be perfect.

“If you only pressure people, they retreat into a shell and the resistance goes underground,” Rob said. “If you only support people, they typically stay where they are and don’t do much.” It’s the combination of these two strategies, he said, that makes a real difference.

When communicating with their staff about change, leaders must explain why, what, and how, he said. In other words: “Why we can’t stay where we are, what we have to change to, and how we’re going to get there.” Most school districts cover the “what”: “We’ve got a new math series this year.” They address the “how”: “We will hold training on the second Tuesday of every month.” But they typically omit the most important element, he said, which is the why: “Why do we have to do this?”

If more K-12 leaders addressed this one simple word—“why”—when discussing change with their staff, they might see more success with using technology to transform teaching and learning. Of course, knowing this and putting it into practice are two different things.

For more change management advice from Rob Evans, come hear him speak at BLC ’17 this July, where—after his keynote address—he’ll continue the conversation about this critical topic during a more intimate question-and-answer session with conference participants.

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