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Are You Comfortable with Change?: Understanding What it Takes to Make Change Happen

| Jim Moulton

I am just back from a conference in Mitchell, South Dakota, where I was sharing some of what we have learned in Maine as well as things learned from working with other one-to-one laptop efforts across the country. Because South Dakota is, like Maine, largely rural, the 350 or so educators attending the conference were receptive to my message.

In one of the luncheon keynote speeches, Rick Melmer, South Dakota's state secretary of education, gave a wonderful talk on the need for his state to move toward ubiquitous-computing environments, citing everything from increasing student engagement by providing the kinds of tools today's students see everywhere else in their lives to breaking the isolation inherent in rural settings by providing access to unlimited and diverse curriculum materials. He acknowledged the challenging nature of the change the educators of South Dakota will face but maintained a clear insistence on meeting those challenges full on. The change, he insisted, must happen.

Now, I already get the importance of the one-to-one-laptop thing, so I have to be honest here and tell you my own story of South Dakota change, and my oh-so-very-human resistance to it. It may be worth reading, as those of us who work as agents of change reflect on how much changing we are asking practitioners to do.

I got my driver's license in 1972, and ever since then, driving a car has for me had four basic steps: 1. Get in the car and use the key to start it. 2. Drive somewhere. 3. Park the car and use the key to turn it off. 4. Put the key in your pocket as soon as you exit the vehicle to assure its availability the next time. (The inclusion of step 4 in this list as a fundamental component is based on the importance of the key in step #1 above.)

Well, when I arrived at the airport in Sioux Falls last Saturday, it was time for a little change! The fellow at the rental-car counter informed me that I was getting a brand-new Nissan Altima, and that it had no key. "Hmmm," I thought. "Cool. A chance to try something new!" I was told that the keyless fob simply needed to be inside the car in order to allow me to step on the brake and push a button to either turn the car on or turn it off.

And off I drove. But as soon as I parked and got ready to leave the car for the first time, I became aware of a subtle disquiet. You see, because I did not have to turn the key to turn the car off, I got out of the car and found myself nervously searching pockets to find the fob before I locked any doors or secured the trunk, for fear I might be locking myself out.

Now, the car and its keyless system are probably designed not to allow such silliness, but my discomfort was very real. Yes, it lessened as I experienced six days of driving the car, largely because I got used to dropping the fob into my front shirt pocket, but I never completely got over it. I always found myself unwilling to close the door or latch the trunk until I held the fob in my hand.

So, I'm thinking that starting and shutting down an automobile either by using, or without requiring, a key is a fairly simply exercise. I should have been able to get over this one pretty easily. But it stuck with me, and in so doing caused me to reflect, once again, on the degree of change we ask educators and students to make in their practices when laptops come to school.

How about you? Are you able to change some things easily, and not others? Is it easier when you just have to change because there is no choice? I'm thinking that if car keys just became a thing of the past, we would all move beyond them pretty easily. Perhaps part of my challenge was that I was continually comparing my current driving situation to the normal way of doing things back home. Please share your similar experiences, and let's try to better understand just what it takes to make change happen.

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Comments (36)

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It's a great blog!!

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Jim S. (not verified)

Always changing

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For me, change is extremely difficult. From the time I first started teaching 15 years ago, I find it unbelievable how much change has occurred. I often talk about how different the student population overall is, as well as how different the individual students are. Students react completely different now to the same techniques that I used to find effective, which has forced me to change as a teacher in order to reach students today. I suppose having to change my teaching strategies has not been a bad thing, as it has definitely now allowed me to become stagnant. It has, however, been a challenge in always re-learning how to relate to students.

Now that I feel more experienced in the classroom, I sometimes wish I could rewind to the students I taught 10 years ago. In retrospect, I think about how much easier they were to teach! And, not every student had cell phones then. Aargh...

Marni (not verified)

Change is a difficult concept

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It is hard to admit that I have difficulty with change when I try to teach my students that change is good. I constantly change their seats and our schedule, but when something changes that affects my teaching I get an uneasy feeling. I am a special education teacher and I have thirteen students, I started out with ten and my class grew, I had the routine down with ten students. I was outwardly accomidating about getting new students, but inside I was very nervous on how this would work. I think that change is hard but it is important to be flexible because you never know what life with throw at you at work and in your personal life.

Andrea (not verified)

Change is good

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The teaching profession is all about change. When you become a teacher you have to know that change will happen. Our students are always changing and there are always new trends and technology in teaching. I must say change is always difficult but I do like the variety and challenge it brings. I would not grow as an educator if I would not be willing to change. I have only taught three years and each year it has been a different grade. If I was not displaced from fifth grade I would have stayed in that grade and not have found that I loved teaching 3rd grade. Change is good.

Brook (not verified)

Does anyone like to change

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Does anyone like to change from something that they are comfortable with? I know I don't... As educators I believe we have to keep the best interests of our students in mind. If changing something in my classroom will help them, then I feel I must at least give it a try.

Patrick Birkeland (not verified)

Change is a good thing

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I think challenging our students and taking them out of their comfort zones in order to help them realize their potential is fundamental to being a good educator. If this is the case shouldn't we (as educators) be willing to do the same? Of course this takes extra effort, as repetition breeds efficiency, but its something we should embrace. In doing so hopefully this can help educators keep their passion for learning and teaching.

Andrew (not verified)

I agree, change is a

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I agree, change is a difficult thing. Although difficult, change is also necessary. Our world is an ever changing world. Technology is the biggest part of the change today. In schools, testing and technology seem to be taking over. I have only taught for five years, and I look back and see the changes we have made since I started. I am a physical education teacher, and there are so many more opportunities for technology in PE. We have pedometers, interactive video games, heart rate monitors, instruments to measure body fat, and the list could go on and on. With the changes come the good and the bad. Sometimes teachers that have taught for many years are not very receptive to the thought of change. The students are continuing to change, and therefore, so are their ways of learning. We as educators need to do our best to keep up with the times. Although we might not always enjoy the change, there is usually a good reason behind it.

Melanie (not verified)

I agree. I also find change

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I agree. I also find change is difficult. I am beginning to understand that experiencing change teaches us something (whether we like it or not) and helps us to grow as educators.

Walden student(Coret G.) (not verified)

My reply to change is great!

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Hi,I am current Walden student, in the Teacher Leadership master's program. I agree with you 100%! I don't see anything wrong with changing or modifying curriculum or our teaching style to fit the way a child learns. During my student teaching, I noticed how many children learned by different means. Some were visual learners, while some were more hands on learners. Furthemore, some were ESL students. I had to change the style of my teaching to educate children from these diverse backgrounds. I also needed to learn what was essential to each child, and what sparks their learning. In order to do this, I had to be willing to learn the personality of each child, along with their backgrounds. I could not just teach by traditional means. Although, change may be scary, it is very important to the education of each child.

Jennifer (not verified)

Change Takes Practice

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From my experience of change in education, I find change to be daunting and invigorating all in one. Although the initial learning curve is steep, with practice it becomes more natural.

We recently adopted a new math series - "Everyday Mathmatics" - in our district. It has a strong commitment to a spiral curriculum, hands-on/group learning and playing games to apply concepts. At first, I was thinking, "Why do we need to spend all this money on something new, when if people would just use the old stuff the way it was intended it would work fine." Well, it was a district mandate to use the series, which did make it easier to decide to change. But accepting change came from practice. Little did I know what I would have been missing.

I guess it reminds me to not get too comfortable in what methods and resources I use and to keep an open mind. I'm not sure it is ever "easy" though.

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Jim Moulton Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant