I’m continuing to learn about the brain and how as a principal I can use science to be a more effective leader. Depending on your situation, as the principal, we’re tasked with maintaining the status quo, or we’re brought in to “turn around” a school. Maintaining the status quo typically means don’t rock the boat with too many new ideas. A turn around usually means radical change. In either scenario, wheter radical or gradual change happens.
Last school year I tried to institute change as minor (to me) as switching a teacher's room to what many teachers considered a more radical change, a move away from punitive discipline. I came up against resistance in both instances. In reading The Leading Brain by Hans W. Hangemann and Freiderike Fabritius, and The Education Revolution: How to Apply Brain Science to Improve Instruction and School Climate by Horacio Sanches as well as listening to various podcasts, I’ve learned about brain based reasons for the resistance. The following are a few building blocks that can be put in place to help get staff ready for change.
Once upon a time.
One of our jobs is to introduce a vision to our staff. The best way to do this is to tell a story around the vision. Literally describe in detail what the school will become if we work towards the vision. This is the time to weave in hard facts about what has been and how those outcomes aren’t as good as they should be. The data doesn’t lie, but it can be misinterpreted. Use multiple data points to help show the need for change and to support your narrative. The reason the narrative is important is because the brain does some remarkable things when it is engaged with a story. Raymond Mar a Canadadian psychologist looked at 86 mri studies and concluded that there’s a dovetail between how the brain networks understand stories and how it navigates interactions with others. Which means the brain has an opportunity to “live” something before it actually happens, making it easier to introduce something new.
There it is again
A constant flow of communication surrounding the change is necessary. At every opportunity speak about the change and why it’s necessary and how it’s really not that different to something you’re already doing. Use staff meetings, community newsletters and your social media outreach to prepare your community. Humans’ chemical reaction to change is similar to that of being startled, in such a state there is limited use of the thinking part of the the brain.
Don’t rush into the change and provide some time for stakeholders to wrap their minds around it. Sanches states that,”making associations to things people know well is least taxing to the human brain and is most likely to be understood” (p. 29). By connecting the change to concepts the staff is familiar with there is a far greater chance of acceptance. In addition the brain is less likely to react with fear. Communication over time and connections to past practices are essential components of preparing staff for change.
As the Principal you already know that collaboration or socialization is important. Identify those key influencers on your staff and encourage their input. Use your student governing body to help spread the word and get those students on board. Give an end goal that you would like and have them come up with the means to get there. Having them participate and lead the way will help the other staff and students buy in.
Collaboration isn’t just common sense. It’s also hardwired into the human brain. Studies have shown that the brain works better when involved with a group. We’re social creatures and working together is what has helped us build civilizations. Oscar Ybarra from the University of Michigan noted, “the positive relationship between social engagement and cognitive performance.” Again, activating the prefrontal cortex is ideal when introducing change. The more people involved functioning at a high level the less effort we have to put forth and the greater the chance of success.
When introducing change it’s important to do so within a larger narrative creating a story in order to activate different regions of the brain. In addition repeating ideas frequently and collaborating are both activities that stimulate the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for higher order thinking, and can help smooth transitions from the old to the new.
What are some other techniques that can be used to introduce change? Share your experience in the comment section below.
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I'm a Principal and an Entrepreneur. I'm the former owner of a food venture Hustling Hoagies, the author of the children's picture books Detective Dwayne Drake and the Alphabet Thief, Detective Dwayne Drake and The Case of the Mathematical Misfit and the ebook Making it as a Male Model in Michigan. I've worked professionally as a model and commercial actor......