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Posts Tagged ‘change

I am not sure why this memory from 20-plus years ago resurfaced.

I remembered a phone call with a friend who said that her grandfather was “more hip” than she was because he knew all the “nooks and crannies at Orchard Road”. Thanks to a lapse in attention, I misheard the message as he “looks for grannies at Orchard Road”. Hip indeed!

Some leaders mistake communication for dissemination of information. Simply transmitting is not enough. It is just as important to clarify the signal from the noise.

When consulted on systemic change, I focus on the need to articulate messages and stories. When you articulate, you connect, move, and get feedback. You do not stop at buy-in; you try to create ownership.

You need to be familiar with the pop-culture reference of Bart Simpson being punished by writing lines on a blackboard.

You also need to know how “interactive” white board vendors descended on classrooms to replace blackboards. Some still do now, but with glass boards instead.

When you see a tweet like the one above you might smirk or laugh.

After appreciating the joke, and if you are more critical, you realise that the rhetoric is not met by example.

The call is for teachers to move with the times. Bart was punished punitively, but he found a way to get around the work because he was more adept than the teacher or administrator. Perhaps the call should be for teachers to move with their students.

Changing the medium does not guarantee a change in the message or the method. The new and expensive boards do not move teachers away from chalk-and-talk. They leave the technology largely in the hands of teachers instead of with the learners. The creators, communicators, and correctors of content are the teachers. Neither the message nor the method has changed.

The overall message the GIF sends is this: Do the same thing differently. Being more efficient is necessarily being more effective. This is certainly not being innovative.

Ultimately, this is putting money in the pockets of vendors. There is nothing wrong if the vendor provides a worthwhile and meaningful service or product. But it is a cardinal sin if you are not getting any change in pedagogy for your dollars.

Before the new PSLE scoring system was announced two weeks ago, it was described by Acting Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng in May as “no silver bullet”.

That cliché aptly describes the changes. So do “a mixed bag” and “to have your cake and eat it too”. In my sixth and final reflection on PSLE2021, I explain why the restructuring does not go far enough.

As if to pre-empt this line of argument, Mr Ng said:

“Some things are best evolved and not revolutionalised,” he said noting that Singapore’s education system is a strong and robust one as educators have done very well over the last 50 years in building a strong system.

The PSLE2021 is an evolution, not a revolution. Again, very apt.

The most important but undersold change is the switch from norm-based testing to criterion-based testing (see Part 1 of my reflection). However, the PSLE retains its summative testing and sorting nature. These counteract the messages of the restructure being less stressful, not being a source of competition, and focusing on the learner and learning (Part 2).

Those that study change and are familiar with the literature will describe the proposed changes as piecemeal. This contrasts with systemic change.

Piecemeal change is often top-down and tacked on to an existing system. It might make incremental improvements and it does not disrupt the status quo. That is why such change is evolutionary and not revolutionary.

Systemic change is often the opposite, although its leadership and sustainability can stem from a mix of top-down, bottom-up, and middle-up-and-down. Such change takes place by first identifying key leverage points of a system.

In schooling, one critical leverage point for systemic change is assessment. Change this and everything else has to change. It is the tail that wags the dog.

If the PSLE2021 was systemic, it could start with changes in the assessment at the end of Primary 6 — if there was one at all — and cascade changes to educational policies, curriculum, teaching methods, school support, stakeholder behaviours, and more.

Piecemeal change often leads to little appreciable change or no change at all.

The changes in PSLE2021 will not include curricula (see point 10 of this article). It is also relatively easy to get used to the Achievement Levels (ALs) since we were all schooled to think that way — they are like O-Level grades!

Teachers can keep drilling in the latter stages and tutors can keep “enriching”. Enrichment tuition centres need only replace their trophy heads’ grades with AL1s instead of As or A*s. Parents can keep pushing their kids to compete and subject them to hothousing.

Consider another example. With regard to the PSLE2021 changes, a school principal said:

…this would reduce the previous “pressure points” of comparing against peers and chasing the last few marks. Instead, the focus can be on grasping and having a “mastery over content”, and striving towards one’s personal best.

The change from conventional grades to ALs will do little to stop the paper chase. The ALs are not actionable because they are products of a terminal activity (Part 2).

Trawl what leaders in education are saying online about grading and you will see something like this emerge.

Quantitative grading ends learning. Quality feedback sustains learning.

It is possible to do very well in a test or exam by drill, rote, and formulaic thinking. It matters little if you have “mastery of content” if you do not hone thinking skills.

The changes in PSLE2021 have not been accompanied by changes in curriculum to address student thinking and skills, or professional development for teachers to teach differently.

For example, the curriculum is still designed to be learning about Mathematics or Science. It is hardly about learning to be or think like a mathematician or scientist. Some teachers want critical, creative, and independent learners, but they either do not know how to model or nurture these traits, or are not willing to let go.

So I am critical of the piecemeal change. The vision for change is not met by its currently proposed implementation. Mr Ng’s vision was:

…to move this school system forward so that we reduce the competitiveness of it, and encourage creativity and collaboration of succeeding together.

How is retaining and polishing an old and increasingly outdated assessment and sorting system an attempt to “encourage creativity and collaboration of succeeding together”? Creative answers are not encouraged and not appreciated in grading rubrics. There is are names for “collaboration” and “succeeding together” in exams — they are cheating and colluding.

If we remain rooted in the domain of summative assessment, we operate by its rules and language.

Here is another cliché: Fortune favours the brave. Did Finland worry when it implemented keyboarding over handwriting? Did it wonder what others would think about:

No. It focused on what its students need today and tomorrow. It takes care of its citizens so that they take care of themselves and their country.

I am not suggesting that we adopt Finland’s strategies wholesale because our schooling contexts might be different. Our schooling system already has so-called alternatives like DSA, e-portfolios, institutional entry tests, interviews, performances, and train-through like integrated programmes. Why not empower and support these more?

I say we put our money where our collective mouth is. If we say we must value creativity, innovation, critical thinking, and collaboration, then we must implement processes that nurture and measure these things.

Today I start guiding leaders who are seeking to embrace educational technology as part of organisational change efforts.

As I dug my archives and prepared new material, I found a common meta message in three artefacts.

The first was a CC-licensed image.

Most people can rationalise why they need change, but very few will actually get involved in driving the change. This was why I wrote about the differences between buy-in and ownership yesterday.

The second was an image quote I made for a keynote in April.

The hardest part of learning something new is not embracing new ideas, but letting go of old ones.

The quote provides some insight into why there is inertia. Systems have baggage that is historical, emotional, political, etc. People also cannot be loaded with more things to do; some things have to be collectively let go. While systemic change is not a zero-sum game, there must be some balance.

The third was a serendipitous tweet.

The third artefact adds to the message of the second. We have to identify inefficient and ineffective processes, and label them as they are. This is like the preliminary process of a garage sale where you decide what to keep and what to toss. We have to be cruel in the short term in order to be kind in the long run.

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Mention systemic or organisational change in schools and you will invariably hear a few phrases like taking baby steps, involving stakeholders, and creating buy-in.

These and other practices are critical to making change that is actually worthwhile and effective. However, the change processes often have unspoken assumptions. For example, I unpacked what is wrong with taking baby steps.

Today, I focus on buy-in.

Creating buy-in among stakeholders of change is important because if they are not aware of the need or do not believe in the change, the effort is doomed from the start.

However, it is not enough to simply create buy-in. Buy-in is a state of mind. It is about understanding what the change is, projecting possibilities, and deciding to be associated with it.

The message to buy into can sometimes remain someone else’s property. Stakeholders may understand the rationale for change, but still think “This is not really our problem or that is your solution!”

Buy-in is a state of mind. Ownership is a state of being.

What is missing is ownership. Ownership is a state of being. It is a sense of belonging.

Creating this type of ownership is less traditionally top-down and more socially bottom-up. Depending on the structure of organisation, ownership can also be generated middle-up-and-down by an empowered group that deeply understands both ends.

Creating buy-in tends to be associated with the process of communicating change. It typically involves engaging stakeholders at the early phase of change efforts.

However, ownership is about articulating change. It is not only about connecting with stakeholders, but also moving them and empowering them to take action. Creating ownership is a continuous, multi-phase process.

Buy-in is a state of mind. Ownership is a state of being. It is far more important and effective to create ownership of change.

In the context of educational leadership, do you agree that “Culture is like a tree. It takes years to grow, yet it can be chopped down in minutes”?

I see the point, but I have also observed something different.

The tweet presupposes that culture is good. There can also be withholding, “always done this way”, or otherwise negative culture. Such a tree-shaped culture needs to be cut down because we do not need a tree standing in the way progressive change.

Changes in leadership are sometimes carried out to prevent group think and inertia. However, the entrenched school culture not only persists, it can sometimes shape the new leader.

Some gurus advise that leaders not mould organisations to be like them. But if these leaders are adept to change and forward-thinking, isn’t the point to reshape or even cut down the tree?

There will always be rhetoric about the good old days and the good old ways. While the vessels of that rhetoric might mean well, they sometimes reinforce the position of those who oppose change.

So instead of saying that some good values are “old”, I say we call them “timeless” instead.

 Saying only

This is not a semantic game, but a strategy for change.

One element of systemic change is articulation. This means using powerful words and stories, and yes, rhetoric too. This could mean reassuring people that worthwhile values are not abandoned while simultaneously not leaving people in their comfort zone.

Timeless values and practices like “do unto others as you would them do to you” endure. They persist because they are socially adopted and adapted by people. There is no logic to resisting them.

There is no logic to labelling them old either. They are here now and as current as ever. They are timeless and we should value them as such.

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