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February 27, 2015

Change is Exhausting

by Dr. Eliezer Jones

This has been wonderful week of learning. Not just for the students, but for the staff as well. We began the week with a staff development day focused on Leader In Me. We spent most of our time on our current mission and vision of VTHS and where we are headed in regard to bringing in this framework of leadership for our students and staff. Later in the week, Mr. Joseph, Mr. Rodgers, Rabbi Semmel and I went down to High Tech High in San Diego to see project-based learning in action. This was our second staff trip. Rabbi Felt, Mr. Paradzik, Rabbi Samuels and I went last time. This trip was organized by the I.D.E.A. Schools Network of which Valley Torah is a founding school and is generously funded by a grant from the Joshua Venture Group. We spent time with the C.E.O. Larry Rosenstock, met students and teachers, saw amazing classes and engaged in discussions with representatives from YULA, Shalhevet, Kohelet and Yeshiva Lab who were in attendance. A special thank you to my co-founder of the network, Tikvah Wiener who made this trip happen. In both of these learning experiences culture was a prominent theme. Specifically, a culture that promotes growth, change and innovation is critical to success. However, to support this culture you must focus on, as Dr. Todd Whitaker says, the people not the programs.

In 1998, psychologist Dr. Roy Baumeister produced groundbreaking research in the area of self control. Basically, two groups of participants were placed in a room with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in one bowl and radishes in the other. One group was told they can eat the cookies but could not eat the radishes, and the other group was told they could eat the radishes but not the cookies. As we might expect, the radish eating participants were not happy and their self control was truly tested. However, this was not the end of the study. Both groups were given an unsolvable puzzle to solve after the cookie/radish test and that is where the study took shape. You see the radish eating group made fewer attempts and spent less than half the time trying to solve the puzzle than the cookie eating group. Why? Simply put, the radish group had used up more energy resisting the cookies than the other group so that when it came to pushing themselves to solve the puzzle they were exhausted.

This was a study that I opened our staff professional development with on Monday. Valley Torah is commitment to continued growth, innovation and change to ensure our students continue to always get the best learning experience possible. However, change is not easy and it can be exhausting for the team supporting it. At the same time, this exhaustion often gets confused for laziness which could not be further from the truth. As Dan Heath, best selling author and lecturer, states “that what looks like laziness is often exhaustion. Change wears people out—even well-intentioned people will simply run out of fuel.” Why?

To create change and make it stick requires a deep and consistent focus on the new task you are learning, while, often at the same time, remaining focused with expected excellence at the current way you are doing things. Plus, this exhaustion is only exacerbated when the call for change is different every other week. So what are the solutions? There are things teachers can do to help support a change process, but for now I would like to focus on what the administrators can do as I am currently working hard together with the VTHS administration to do them.

The first thing is to recognize that your teachers are the most important cog in the wheel of this mechanism called school. At our training we had each teacher share why they went into education and “inspiring” would be an understatement to what I heard. Second, as we see from the study above, we must recognize that resistance to change is not laziness. It is often exhaustion or in some cases fear, lack of confidence or a deep sense of loss for models of teaching and learning they truly believe in and, in their skilled hands, works. When we call for change without taking into account the emotional impact of our teachers we have completely sidelined those who are in the best position to affect change. Third, we must work together with our teachers to define the change needed. They are likely to have better insights into how new ideas can actually be integrated into the current culture than you could have ever had. Also, if you choose not to do it with them, you are giving a strong message that you do not value their opinion. What impact do you think that could have? Fourth, whatever change happens, make sure there is a clear path to its fruition so everyone can see where we are headed. That does not mean that path won’t change, but if new ideas are just thrown out every other day without fully thinking it through, you will likely see teachers who learn to ignore you. Fifth, realize that no matter how well you work with your staff on change there will be mistakes that tire them out. So, be sure to plan some ways to rejuvenate your staff and celebrate the things that are working. Organize staff get togethers, give gifts, point out what they are doing right or simple say thank you. Lastly, make sure to support your teachers with any of the changes. That includes professional development for new tools, models, etc., time to work on new ideas, mentors and coaches if possible and a sensitive ear when things get challenging.

The goal is that everyone should be in the change process together. This is not simple, but critical lest we exhaust all are amazing educators to the point where they won’t have the energy to do what they do best; educate.

Read more from Boys, Dr. Jones

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