From Phases of Change to Communities of Practice

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past fifteen years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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Much of the work I do is working with a handful of long-term clients on an initiative that requires adaptive change. It’s a change that’s hard, disruptive, and creates uncertainty.

These deep and transformative changes require leaders, teachers, and students to examine and oftentimes abandon deeply held beliefs in order to re-frame the role of the teacher and the student, the nature of what is to be learned, and the way in which it will be learned.

Inspired by The Concerns-Based Adoption Model (developed in the 1970s and 1980s by a team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin), here is a simplified stair-step of phases of change for leaders to consider.

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Posing Questions

Leaders need to pose questions, helping teachers push through the discomfort of not knowing the answer and seek solutions through problem solving on their own and with others.

The stair-step progression indicates that change does not happen on a predictable timetable and that we can feel stuck for awhile. We may have a breakthrough or walk back down a step to regroup, rethink, re-imagine.

Releasing the work back to teachers signals a dramatic shift in culture and the way work gets done in schools. It creates an environment in which teachers can own their work, build sustained relationships with peers, and continuously improve their knowledge and skills.

Communities of Practice

Among the most powerful levers for transforming school culture is the formation of “communities of practice” in which teachers with similar content needs, interests, or students meet regularly to solve problems of practice and learn from one another.

These communities mirror the classroom community of practice in which teachers and students collaborate around learning goals and processes. This requires a commitment of time and an investment by each individual in the collective work, which can produce exciting transformation in teachers’ knowledge and skill.

Communities of practice are especially effective when there are structures within the organization that allow the learning, insights, and decisions that emerge to bubble up to the rest of the organization, creating a flow from one community to the whole.

It is far more powerful to develop teacher knowledge and skill in communities of practice than to tackle skill development one teacher at a time.

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