Managing Change: The Importance of Planning

If you're going to bring about real change in an organisation you have to have a plan. You need a vision, of course, and you have to engage people and get them excited about the vision. But if you don't have a plan then nothing much will come of it. As the old saying goes, failure to plan is planning to fail.

I feel embarrassed writing that: it ought to be a no-brainer. Yet I can't count the number of times I've sat in meetings and heard the team leader say, "OK, so by next month X will have happened. What's the next item on the agenda?", to which I've piped up: "Er, exactly how is it going to happen?".

Planning is essentialMuch as I'm slightly suspicious of targets and deadlines and milestones, the inevitable paraphernalia of rigorous planning, there is no doubt that they are necessary. (The reason I'm 'suspicious', by the way, is that it is all too easy for the targets to become ends in themselves, divorced from the context in which they were conceived, and therefore unrelated to the actual point of it all. A good example of this is how some police forces in Britain instruct their officers to return to the police station an hour before the end of their shift in order to complete a report about how much time they've spent, and who they've met, in the community.)

Good planning consists of the following elements:

  • Having SMART targets in place, ie targets that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-related.
  • Having deadlines in place for their achievement.
  • Where necessary, having 'milestones' in place, ie key events, with dates, by when things should be achieved in order to keep on track.
  • Knowing who is going to be responsible for what.
  • Having a mechanism whereby progress can easily be recorded and viewed. I think for a lot of purposes you don't need dedicated project-management software for this: a spreadsheet will do the job if used properly.
  • Above all, having regular and frequent review meetings to see if the work is still on course to be completed by the agreed dates, and if not, the reasons for that, and what might be done about rectifying the situation.

These are not the only considerations. In order for the plan to be effective, team members must have a large say in its construction. I hate using buzz words like 'ownership', but in this case it really is appropriate: if people feel they're just being 'done to' then it may be hard for them to feel fully committed.

There should also be a no-blame culture. If people feel they're going to have strips torn off them if they admit to not having achieved something, or if there's a shoot-the-messenger culture, most people will simply take the easy way out and say nothing. That merely stores up problems for the future.

Finally, I think that as far as any planning involving technology is concerned, the flexibility to change or reinterpret goals is vital. When I worked in a Local Authority, each team had a one year plan which was derived from a  three-year educational plan which was derived from a ten year community plan. Given that ten weeks is a long time in educational technology, feeling restricted by plans laid down ten years ago is madness. You may not be able to change the goal itself, but you may be able to change how its interpreted. For example, a goal like 'get parents more involved in their child's education by attending parents' evenings' might be interpreted in terms of checking their child's progress online and taking part in web-based discussions with their child's form tutor.

Certainly, spending plans should be revisited frequently. For example, a three year plan to equip every classroom with an interactive whiteboard may need to revised in the light of the entry of 3D projectors into the market.

The key thing in all of this is discussion, discussion, discussion. It may seem to slow the whole process down, but I think if you're hoping to achieve non-superficial changes that last, there really is no alternative.

Learning Platforms Revisited

In the article Learning Platform or Virtual Learning Environment?  I reported on my visit to Grays Infants School in Newhaven, Sussex, UK. There was a film crew in attendance, and the resulting video along with some commentary has been published on the Next Generation Website: 

Show and tell: Extending learning both within and beyond the classroom

Nina Howse of Shiny Red has kindly given permission for me to include the video here. Do take 10 minutes to look at it, as it is quite interesting to hear what various people have to say about what has made it work so well.

One of the things which this video, and the visit itself, emphasised for me, yet again, is the key importance of having a school leader who is both visionary and practical -- a rare combination!

Here is the video. Enjoy.

If you found this article useful, you may be interested in the extended article in the next edition of Computers in Classrooms. Jeff Smith, London Headteacher and member of Becta's Leading Leaders Network, describes the issues involved in transforming a school, and what he describes as a 'personal journey'. It's a great read, and very insightful.

Also, take a look at the new series on managing change.

Managing Change: The Importance of Vision

Back in the 17th century, if you were unfortunate enough to have had a vision, and stupid enough to admit to it, you'd likely be burnt at the stake or locked away on the grounds of insanity. But these days, having a vision is de rigeur if you are to bring about change in an organisation effectively.

There is a lot of research which shows that if you want to transform educational ICT in an organisation, you must have a set of guiding principles -- a vision -- in place. You have to know what it is you're striving to achieve, not in terms of the nuts and bolts of what technology will be used and how, but in terms of the educational experience of the students, teachers and parents.

Moreover, the research, and experience, tells us that the vision has to be shared by all, not just the lone ravings of a madman. Ideally, then, it should have been developed by all.

Three of the things I always check when I'm evaluating the ICT provision of a school, whether as an ICT Mark Assessor or an independent consultant brought in by the school or the Local Authority, are as follows:

One, does everyone, including parents and, of course, the youngsters, know what the vision is?

Two, did they have a hand in framing it?

Three, is the school achieving it?

Interestingly, I find that much of the time the parents and students know what the vision is if you ask a question like, "What do you think the school is trying to achieve?". If you ask them about visions, they give you a kind of sidelong glance that suggests that they think you're slightly unhinged. It's a salutary lesson: most of the world does not speak in corporate jargon.

If a vision is good to have, having two or more must be even better, right? Unfortunately, no. Researchers Peck and Sprenger, in their chapter on one-to-one educational computing in The International Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education (Springer, 2008), which I shall be reviewing, advise against falling into the traps of naive innovation. One of these is having too many disconnected initiatives.

Even Ofsted, the UK's school inspection body, said in a recent report on the impact of the National Strategies, that:

... the frequent introduction of new initiatives had led to overload and diminished their potential effectiveness.

Try telling that to the people and organisations who are continually coming up with new initiatives and projects to make educational ICT even "better". A couple of years ago, I worked out that there were forty educational initiatives, policies or projects that involved ICT in some way, that affected schools in England and Wales. There may have been more, but when I reached 40 I stopped counting.

Perhaps our 17th century ancestors weren't entirely wrong after all!

Managing Change: Engaging The Teachers

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to the management of change, as I am giving a couple of presentations on the subject next week. I've been looking in particular at how whole schools can be moved in a new direction, and have identified several key factors which are essential for success.

One of those factors, or conglomeration of factors to be more accurate, is teacher engagement. If teachers don't want to get involved, the change won't happen. Or it may happen in a way that ticks the boxes, but not much more than that. So how do you engage teachers?

I could write a book on that (and books have been written on it), but what it all comes down to is really quite simple: if the (proposed) change helps the teachers to achieve their aims better, they'll adopt it. As long as they can see that to be the case, of course.

Get smartOne way in which to achieve that is to make sure that the technology is used in a  relevant way, and not merely for its own sake. I saw some great examples of relevant use yesterday, when I visited Scargill Junior School in the London Borough of Havering. Interactive Whiteboards, Visualisers and a variety of handheld devices were being used in numeracy and literacy classes, and we also saw or were told about other inspiring examples in subjects like science and PE.

What especially impressed me (among many things which impressed me), was that much thought had gone into how each device and application might be used in a number of contexts, or act as a stimulus. For example, Nintendo Dogs led to a unit of work in which the children study the use of working dogs throughout history.

This kind of curriculum planning works. I saw it in every school I visited in the London Borough of Newham's multimedia project, involving seven schools, which I helped to set up.

Teachers are, on the whole, pragmatists, and dedicated to their work. Give them compelling reasons to adopt new technology and new approaches, and they will do so.

Thanks to Dave Smith of Havering for setting up the visit, and to Amanda (Headteacher) and Karen (ICT subject leader) for a most inspiring morning. Scargill was a winner at the 2008 Handheld Learning Conference: see this article for details.

For more information about how games and handheld learning devices are being used in education, see the forthcoming special edition of Computers in Classrooms, the free ezine.