Here’s an activity you can do with school administrators and teachers (and maybe school board members?). Total time: about 45 minutes.

Resources needed

  • PowerPoint slides (pptx ppt pdf)
  • Pre-made Google Doc formatted like this, with sharing set up so that anyone can view AND edit
  • Internet access and a laptop for at least one participant in each group

Set-up (about 5 minutes)

Whem most folks think and talk about organizational change, they envision it in linear terms:

Resourceallocationcurve1

In reality, change in organizations looks more like this:

Resourceallocationcurve2

In other words, change occurs more gradually, particularly at the beginning as employees spend time wrapping their minds around desired changes, how to fit those changes into existing practices, what they need to get rid of or substantially alter, what they still retain, etc. Change always starts slow and takes a while to (hopefully) gather steam.

I heard a presentation by IBM a few years back in which managers explained that, as much as possible, the company tries to frontload a heavy dose of resources toward any new change initiative. The resource allocation curve essentially is a mirror image of the change curve, allocating heavy amounts of training and training time, money, support structures, etc. up front and then tapering off closer to the end once the desired change is well-established.

Resourceallocationcurve3

The goal is to actually shift the change curve to the left - accelerating sooner to the desired outcome – by allocating large amounts of resources up front.

Resourceallocationcurve4

Few schools have the resources of IBM, of course. As a result, the resource allocation curve looks more like this in most school organizations:

Resourceallocationcurve5

In most schools, then, we have a resource allocation gap of sorts, between what we typically provide and what we perhaps should provide:

Resourceallocationcurve6

This is one of the reasons that change in schools thus looks more incremental / evolutionary / linear rather than revolutionary / exponential.

Group work (about 40 minutes)

  1. Divide the group into smaller discussion groups of three to five people. Have each discussion group appoint a recorder.
  2. Send the recorders into the Google Doc. Have them type in the group’s answer under the question in Part 1. 5 minutes in small group discussion, 5 minutes in large group sharing. What kind of intense resources are necessary to move you forward faster than incremental change? BE VERY SPECIFIC. Don't just say "time," say "time for ??." Don't just say "professional development," say "professional development for ??."
  3. Send the groups back into the Google Doc. Have them answer the question in Part 2 by filling in the numbered items. They can add a couple more items if they have time. 5 minutes in small group discussion, a few minutes in large group sharing. What are 5-7 reasons why your school organization can't get beyond incremental change?
  4. Have the groups then look at the next highest group’s responses to Part 2. For example, Group 1 looks at Group 2’s responses, Group 2 looks at Group 3’s responses, and so on (the highest-numbered group will look at Group 1’s responses). Have each group type in possible solutions for each of the reasons offered by the other group. 10 minutes in small group discussion. What are some possible solutions for each of the reasons offered?
  5. Conclude with a large group discussion about the overall document in Google Docs, focusing particularly on the reasons and solutions in each group’s Part 2. Possible questions include Is it easier to identify solutions outside one’s own context?, Were the solutions reasonable or overly optimistic?, Are these true reasons or simply excuses?, Is it possible for schools to make more than incremental change?, and so on.

Obviously you could expand or modify this activity in a variety of different ways (if you do this, let me know how it went!). How would you change and/or improve this activity if you did it in your own school organization?