The Internet is a wonderful thing. It has given us everything from dancing babies to cat videos. It is also an astounding place for the creation of communities of practice, the sharing of professional knowledge, and for people who are interested in quite narrow topics to find communities of affinity with others around the world.
One of the quite interesting things to come from the rise of social media in particular is the meme:
‘A meme (/ˈmiːm/ meem) is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.’
Memes are exemplified by the fast spreading of things, like the dancing baby above, through social networks and social media. The wondering for me is:
“How do we make effective leadership and school change practices into memes?”
How can we make effectiveness and high performance contagious and for them to spread like some sort of disease that has no cure? How can we develop the super-bug of effective school change?
Some of the key influencers of the effectiveness of change that I see in my work with schools and in the literature are:
- Relationships — people need to develop trust and agreed ways of working before the ‘hard stuff’ of change can be a focus. Only surface and ‘safe’ things can be explored. There is a saying that equally applies to change:
This challenges us to ensure we have agreed ways of working and high levels of professional and personal trust before we can get to the really meaningful conversations and change efforts.
- Understanding — I have written before about getting ideas outside the echo chamber and avoiding the Medici Effect. Are you really getting to the underlying cause, or simply looking at and dealing with the symptoms? I think we often do this with assessment data – perhaps our literacy results are lower than we would like, so we do literacy Professional Learning and Development. But if we dug a little deeper and explored the information available to us a little more, we may find that engagement or home-school partnerships are larger causal factors than teacher pedagogical content knowledge specifically in an area of literacy. Sometimes, we don’t really understand the underlying causes of the data we are seeing, and, therefore, put our intentional change efforts in the areas that will not give us the best ‘bang-for-buck.’
- A focus on comfort and happiness — change is often difficult and uncomfortable. If the index of success is the degree to which everyone is comfortable and happy, then change becomes impossible. Comfort and change are, at least to some degree, mutually exclusive. Understanding this (perhaps through models like Fullans’ Implementation Dip, or Nottingham’s Learning Pit) is a key element of beginning change processes and ensuring change and improvement are continuous and ongoing processes in a school.
- Planning and Checking — we often make changes without a clear set of measures for what ‘good’ or ‘effective’ looks like, or what we are expecting to see as outcomes of the initiative. We know we want things to be better than they are now, but without agreed measures how will we know if we are on track or have achieved them?
So we do know what some of the key influencers of change are. We know what works! We also do know what some of the highly effective processes are. We do know what highly effective practices and outcomes look like. So this begs the question — ‘Why are we not able to pull things together to achieve the package that makes the gains for students which we are all hoping for’?
Most of the things I see answering this provocation come down to people. How we work together; our mindframes around achievement; and more particularly our mindframes around change.
To simplify things a lot, people tend to sit somewhere on a continuum with respect to change: From the CAVE mentality to those with a high BIO quotient.
So my pondering becomes how to make the BIO mentality sticky and contagious. How to get people onboard with change. And conversely, how to get those who live in the CAVE out into the daylight and revelling in the excitement and challenge that highly effective school-change brings.
I would love to hear what people have found works well in your context! A big part of spreading a meme is enabling the contact and having the conversations. Let’s share our effectiveness ideas in the comments below.