Monday, July 8, 2013

Maybe Change Isn't Hard, Maybe It's Just Messy

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend an outstanding Innovative Leadership Seminar hosted by Santa Fe Leadership Institute (highly recommend) with school leaders from all over the country.  While the background context of each of our schools and communities differed a bit, there was a core desire from every individual in the group to learn how to more effectively inspire change and innovation within an organization to improve learning for all students. Everyone recognizes the educational landscape must change to better prepare students for the world in which they will live and leaders must stay ahead of the curve in order to effectively lead the changes necessary.  To help build our own leadership skills, we spent a better part of a week exploring four main themes:  
  • What is innovation?
  • sustaining innovation
  • change & culture
  • innovative leadership vs. good leadership

In each of these themes, “change” is a major player.  No surprise.  There are tons of articles out there about how hard change is,  tips for how to manage change and motivational pieces to help see you through change in an organization.  In fact, if you google “change is hard” there are 941,000,000 results.  I haven’t taken the time to investigate all of these resources, but the sheer number of related items is a clear indicator that change is something humanity struggles with. Now this isn’t to discount all of the incredible research that has been done on the difficulty of change.  Clearly there is a lot to be learned about change.  But somewhere during day two or three of the Innovative Leadership Seminar, our conversation shifted from “change being hard” to “change being messy.”   This simple alteration of word choice helped me reframe a lot of ideas about change.  

Reframing change from “hard” to “messy” instantly made it feel more do-able and action oriented. We all have different tolerance levels of messiness, but we all know what it feels like to be in the middle of a mess.  As a mother of two boys under the age of four, embracing messiness has become a way of life.  Honestly, this wasn’t easy at first but I have learned that some of the best times come from the biggest messes.  I can now almost gauge how much fun my boys have had at preschool by the amount of dirt caked on their clothes and under their fingernails.  The other thing I have learned is that the mess is temporary.  All messes eventually get cleaned up.

Embracing the messiness of change seems to give permission to experiment, freedom to play and investigate the answers along the way.   I wonder how many people we have let off the hook by overstating how hard change is, thereby giving them permission not to change.  It is my hope that we collectively embrace the messiness of change in education and get going!

Contributed by Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnerships

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