One person at a time

There is a lot of writing about “change” and how to make it happen and become the new normal.  Digital Technology has certainly become the prime mover of change in our modern age.  It causes significant disruption to what we know, what we are hope ave and change waycomfortable with, with the status quo – it often makes us uncomfortable.  Change can make us think that what we’re doing now isn’t good enough.  It’s difficult…

In my role leading the technology portfolio in our School District, I have the opportunity to envision and test the potential of a change in technology, to create the change, and to help people join in with the change.  My last post, Why?, talks about being more purposeful in how I spend my time.  I would extend that to being more purposeful in what changes to pursue and accept – there are too many possibilities to consider and we need to be strategic in what we choose.

I responded to a tweet by Chris Kennedy last fall asking about how we make change happen.  My response was

”One student, one teacher, one parent, one school at a time”

curious lamb in springOften people need to see how the change can benefit them before they are willing to embrace it.  People are curious about new things and ways.  It may seem to be slow and expensive to bring change one person at a time but what happens after a slow beginning is that an accepted change will go viral as “believers” in the change tell two friends and so on and so on…  Most people are really good followers once they see their friends going in a particular direction.

I had the privilege last week Thursday of facilitating a imageTwitter workshop for District managers.  We covered a variety of pieces to this but I think answering the questions "why twitter and what it’s for or not for” is a key first step:

  • To connect with like minded or different minded people around the world
  • It is not a replacement for texting, emailing, or phoning, it is additional to it
  • To share quotes, ideas with your network
  • To ask questions of your network
  • To share websites you find interesting or useful
  • If you blog, to promote your blog posts
  • To learn about and discover interesting / useful websites and blog posts
  • To learn from interesting people around the world

I also helped the group with the mechanics of setting it up, following each other, finding others to follow, how to decide who to follow, etc. in a safe hands-on experience.  You can follow them too…

Also, last Friday I had the privilege of leading a blogging workshop for some school principals that are on a learning team I’m iStock_000008508482XSmallfacilitating.  We spent some time answering the question “why blog”.  Then, I had the group work independently on writing a short description of what their blog will be about, derive some possible blog names from that, and write their public bio.  This was a fairly difficult piece of work but so important for them to really connect with what blogging for them will be all about.  Not all of these principals were ready for blogging yet.  Readiness is key for a change to take root.

People will be ready for a change at different paces.  I think it truly is one person at a time.  One more person I helped last week with blogging was Tom Grant, our Superintendent.  He’s been blogging about leadership using our District’s staff portal.  I encouraged him last fall to think about taking his blog outside the District to share his thinking with “the world” and with our District.  Last week Thursday he went live with a new blog site, Thinking about Leadership.  Drop by his blog and join him in helpful leadership conversations.

I have read recently that perhaps we should refer to change as growth.  Change then is really the difference between here and there, between the current state and a future state.  It is the growth one experiences along the way.  Growth might resonate better then “change”.  It’s exciting for me to see people grow while embracing change.  Upon reflection, the change often doesn’t seem to be as difficult as originally suspected...


  1. Brian,

    I agree with you on this and I have done a lot of work with many educators to help them move along the continuum. Playing devil's advocate, how long do we wait for educators to move along when their lack of "readiness" and ability to embrace the changing world of education adversely affects our students? If there was a doctor that was doing certain surgeries the "old fashioned" way while others were doing it the "better" way, eventually people would avoid the reluctant doctor. In education, this doesn't happen because our customers don't work that way, and it seems that we may be taking advantage of it. I have seen educators not embrace any new proven methods, but they still have a class put in front of them. Is that right? Do we wait for them until they are ready even though their students are losing out?

    I agree people need to go at their own pace, but there at least has to be movement.

  2. -George: I think we don't wait but we need to be sensitive to what motivates different people in different ways to embrace change. We do use larger events to excite people, we use pro-d days to create opportunities to learn, present at large structured meetings, show people new ways at committee meetings, and teachers choose action research through learning teams. Some people need to be shown the way, some nudged, some given no option at some point.

    In our portal, employee functions are rapidly moving online as the only way to do certain things, to receive communications, to gain access to key information. And the same tools are used in schools for similar functions for staff, for teaching, for learning. Familiarity of environment has helped move people forward.

    Providing newer tools helps move people past the frustration of older tools. Newer tools are easier to use, faster, more capable - people are more willing to try new methods.

    It is tricky in education in general, to affect change. Historically, educators have had a lot of autonomy. A teacher friend of mine once said the most powerful sound is the closing of a classroom door. But, I don`t know about you but I sense a growing `movement` and interest in adapting and growing educational methods to better fit our `21st century` world. Certainly, there is a buzz in British Columbia.

    Thanks for playing devil`s advocate here. You`re quite right that we can`t wait forever for educators to embrace the current and new reality - our students would be disadvantaged otherwise...

  3. Brian, George, I joined Twitter about 3 months ago at the invitation by @terryainge. Since then I have experienced how powerful it has been for me to create a PLN. Over the past 2 months we have been encouraging our staff to join Twitter. I admit it hasn't been easy and in some cases it has taken a number of followup conversations. Simon Sinek speaks of the importance of the innovators and early adopters when it comes to inspiring action. He says that convincing the first 15-18% of people is critical to inspiring the early and late majority. Simon explains that people don't buy 'what' we do, but rather 'why' we do it. Here is a link to his TED talk.
    @terryainge and I now have approximately 10% of our staff who have joined us on Twitter and gradually we are seeing signs that others are opening up to the idea. As I continue to encourage others on staff to join Twitter I plan to emphasize why they would want to create a PLN and only then will I get to how they can do it through Twitter.

    Like anything else, if we believe strongly enough in the benefits of creating a PLN through Twitter, we need to continue encouraging and inspiring others. Joining late is better than not at all...


  4. I wrote this in my post about POD's- a presentation that I quoted you in:-)
    I think it is relevant to what you are saying here:

    "So what is the story that needs to be heard? How do we move from ‘One teacher at a time’ to a full-throttle shift on the educational highway?

    I believe that metaphors and stories are compelling teachers and that we need a good story to shift education. “We need to change” is not a story, it is a warning. Warnings and foreshadowing are important within a story, but they are not the story. I think the story is about Responsibility while the current model seems stuck on Accountability. This isn’t my idea, it comes from Andy Hargreaves. I said in a previous post on Hargreave’s 4th Way, “The key here it to recognize that there is a coexistence between the two and that this isn’t a dichotomy, but rather a priority: “Responsibility before Accountability”. This is where schools and school districts have the greatest opportunity to change.” This is actually an easy story to tell because it puts students and teachers first… it recognizes the professionalism of educators and makes change a moral imperative. This is a story we need to adopt and tell well, otherwise the fear that Accountability promotes will prevail.

    Both of my presentations at BLC spent time focusing on overcoming FEAR. I think the big difference between a ‘shifted’ educator, and one that sits in neutral letting the digital world speed by, is that technology does not scare the shifted."


  5. -Aaron: you and @terryainge are change, er growth, agents! 10% is pretty good uptake for staff embracing twitter. Personally, twitter took a few years for me, it was the early days when responding to "what are you doing?" seemed pretty strange... Thanks for sharing the video - I'll be sure to watch that - gotta love TED videos! Thanks for sharing.

  6. -Dave: yes you've been thinking and writing about this topic for some time now hey. I agree with Responsibility first but I wonder... not all people, professionals included, want it. Some people just do their work and don't want it to change. How do we reach them and help them embrace responsibility for their growth?

    Fear... yes, this we all face regardless of where we are at in our careers. Fear of the unknown, of being found out that we don't know as much as we should, aren't able to figure out the next steps... technology can exasperate this for folks. We need to adapt to what motivates individuals, kind-a like a personalized approach to change or growth. Like Aaron said in his comment, some are innovators and early adoptors, others take more convincing! Thanks for joining in.

  7. This is a very important post, Brian. I agree with many of the comments above, and what I wrestle with mentally each day is the balance between nurturing/encouraging and flat out pushing. I have used the doctor analogy on numerous occasions with our staff and district administration. The knowing-doing gap is something that really haunts me, especially when my daughters will be going through the school system in the next few years. However, you are very correct in saying that we need to appeal to people on a variety of levels, and find those differentiated entry points for people who might be more reluctant to move towards technology.

    As a side note, I am finding it harder to communicate with people who are not electronically connected. I will see a link to something on Twitter and want to retweet it, but only a few of our staff members would be following. At that point, I must open up my email, cut and paste the link, and then send it out to those few people who that link might be relevant to. What is sad is that I am finding this to become more of a hassle. As a result, I am thinking that I would like to be able to have each of my 14 coordinators (dept. heads) on Twitter so that they can help me with the dissemination of information. Too many people are missing out on too many things that truly could make their lives easier.

    The balancing act between encourage and push will continue!

    Thanks for your thoughts on this.

  8. -Cale: yes, I think we all have those cases where we default to "push"... but, the adoption curve has 20% in the tale end of a change that will never adopt and advice given is to not worry about that 20% but focus on the middle. Perhaps a pull (convince, compel) / push dynamic is best there. Kind-a like when your car gets stuck in the snow: fwd/rev to break free and move forward.

    Your next observation is interesting, I run into that same challenge. Also, there's that large body of lurkers on twitter that listen but don't participate. How to not only get people into that venue but to actually use it to support themselves and others...

    I'm kind-a back to one person at a time... :-)
    Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  9. Brian, again today I used the one person at a time strategy to encourage two more teachers to join Twitter. It's important to note that these were not one time conversations. Over the course of the last few weeks, Twitter is something I have mentioned to them a few times. Because I share close working relations with these teachers, when I mentioned the reasons why Twitter is such a powerful tool for learning, they trust Twitter will help them rather than create more work for them. Mobilizing the early adopters does take some time and effort but they are open to trying. As @terryainge and I gradually move towards the early majority, we are hopeful that the growing number of school-based members of our PLN will be able to point out the benefits.

    It all takes time and requires consistent nudging. We can't be disappointed if some people reject our invitation initially. We know the benefits and sometimes we have to let people gradually come around to embracing new ideas.


  10. Hi Brian,
    Thanks for another insightful and timely post. All that I'll add is some credit. At our site, key to "one person at a time" has been building relationships. @aakune is able to encourage colleagues to give Twitter a try because he has established high levels of trust and credibility. He walks the talk himself and is most willing to share his learning. Once people see the quality of the discourse that is available (like this post and the comments), I think Twitter/PLN then sells itself.

  11. -Aaron: That's awesome. And just wait, those two teachers may influence one more each, and so on... the change can go viral :-) You are showing the way, modeling the purpose / practice, and building capacity in people - good work! You mentioned "consistent nudging", there's an interesting book called "Nudge" by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein - a bit heavy but talks about using nudges in all sorts of interesting ways.

    -Terry: Building relationships and trust... for sure, that is key to getting people to come along with you. Thanks for that reminder!

    Thanks Aaron and Terry for carving out precious time to add to this conversation.

  12. Brian,

    I think we also need to be honest with people getting into social media that to develop a "PLN" or a "network" or a "community" takes time. You and I began in the Twitter world four years ago, and only now do I feel I have got to the point of being part of a community. As people get into blogging, for others to engage, they need to engage - it is not just about writing - it is also about reading, reflecting and commenting.

    I am so imporssed with people like Terry Ainge, Aaron Akune, Cale Birks (and about a dozen others) who have really shortened the curve that I have had with Twitter and blogging. So why is it for every Terry Ainge (sorry Terry to use you as an example) we have another really good educator who dabbles but abandons the community before really being part of the community.

    I come here everyday for the learning and the relationships - but it takes time.

    I am all for "everyone blogging" but it is not simple or easy - I guess it is one at a time :)

  13. Chris,

    Very good point about it taking time to develop a PLN. Much like myself, I expect most of our early adopters to participate passively for a while before they begin tweeting and hopefully blogging. It's only once one becomes an active participant that his/her PLN will grow.

    As Brian mentioned, Twitter can become viral in a short period of time. We are far from being at the viral stage yet, but what I already notice is that because we have been frequently promoting the benefits of Twitter, more and more people are opening up to our invitations. I find that taking the time to assist others in getting started is crucial factor in their joining.

    I agree with Cale that it is much more convenient to retweet important links to staff. For a while I was emailing links also, but recently I have been telling some staff members that I tweeted a great resource and if they chose to sign up they would be able to tap into some great pro-d. This is my way of gently nudging and pushing!

    I appreciate all of the ongoing conversations I am able to participate in. Communicating with others globally has broadened my perspective on different topics and issues. But I particularly enjoy bringing the conversation back to a local level since we share a more common context. Thanks to all of you for continuing to challenge and contribute to my thinking!


  14. -Chris: Great point, one I make often. I remember the first time I stared at "What's happening?" and wondered why any one would care. People "get it" once their participation increases (as you say) and/or they really see the purpose. This is true of most change I think.

    It is interesting to see some people fast tracking twitter, blogging. Perhaps it's because we're into a mid-late majority stage with these tools. Many more people to connect and share with = more purpose in doing so!

    Thanks for adding to this.

    -Aaron: Great to have you back here again :-) I think what you're starting to see is due to "the mass" being in a mid-late majority, your own network moves in faster. I like your subtle nudge, nice :-) Thanks for once again adding to the learning here.

  15. Dale Jarvis (@vicdale)January 14, 2011 at 8:33 PM

    This conversation inspired me to actively search for people in my school district (Sooke) who were on twitter or interested in joining. I sent out an email to all principals and vice-principals and shared a link to @justintarte’s great post: 10 Steps for Educators New to Twitter. I found one person, and who knows… maybe someone else is out there exploring. Thanks for the push!

  16. -Dale: It's really quite rewarding when people do join in with you isn't it. It takes time to show the way but one by one, people start to see purpose and value in twitter for them or whatever else you're modeling for them. Change and growth is a hard thing - we get comfortable with where we're at and can become stuck! I'm glad this conversation has helped! Thanks for sharing your story here.


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