Stop Going Through the Motions: Change a Culture Together

We are all different. It is a beautiful kind of thing.  Culture is the formation of beliefs, values, goals, management style and the practices of an organization. One of the most difficult tasks as a leader is to change a culture. No matter how strong a person is by nature she or he will be opposed to change of any kind. Because change is unknown and it is uncomfortable. Many questions occupy a person’s mind.

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Am I going to keep my position? Will I have the same power? Will I stay in the same team? Is my employment secure? What is wrong with the good same old same old? Why do we need to change anything, we have been doing a great job already. Culture of the organization determines its success and sustainability. Without change, while everything is evolving around us, it is impossible for an organization to survive and to continue to be a top performer.

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You need to take it slow and gentle. If you do not want to lose people on the way that is. There are a few steps in changing a culture.

  • Observe, analyze and find the root of the problem. What is causing the issue? Staff, policies, inconsistency, lack of accountability, lack of trust, lack of transparency, lack of recognition? Surveys are a good place to start. Ask for people’s input and see what they think. If it is done anonymously you can get more reliable feedback. In addition, meet with a few staff and leaders and ask their opinion and experiences.
  • Get your team to understand why change is necessary and what happens to the organization if it is not done. There is a shift in education. The traditional way of teaching children is proved to be ineffective. Didactic teaching, teacher centered and teacher directed methods are detrimental to creativity and critical thinking skill development. If you have teachers with many years of experience but closed to improvement and new practices that are proven to increase learning, that is a change that needs to happen. Last week, there was an article on WTOP talking about a teacher who decided not to give students homework. She explained how children need to spend family time and continue to form their bonds with families. This teacher preferred students to study hard at school, spend a lot of time on teaching, learning and wanted them to rest, play and have quality family time. This is exactly what happens in Finland. Research shows that this education style increases student capacity and success.
  • Using the term Leadership as opposed to Management is also a progressive approach. People who lead the organization, school or another business, need to be on board with the culture change. Staff respects leaders who listen and take their concerns and feedback into account. They get encouraged with training opportunities and career advancement. Always look into current staff to see if you can promote within to fill a position. After all, a leader cannot do the work without her or his workforce.
  • Plan ways to increase quality of the workforce and retention. Change the staff lounge to make it calmer, prettier and more relaxing and fun to be in. Everyone deserves a break and doing so in a comfortable environment makes it even better. Promote collaboration by forming teams or groups.
  • The answer to the question “what is in it for me?” is an important one to think about. Have a positive attitude and express your appreciation as appropriate and as needed. Try to balance when so that it has a value. Ask for input as often as possible.

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Easier Said Than Done

While talking with a good friend of mine she mentioned how a lot of the advice on our blog is “Easier said than done”. It couldn’t be truer. She said that most often she is yelling and losing her mind with her children. Children have so much energy and they test limits often.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a mom, work and keep your sanity. This saying got me thinking even more deeply. A lot of issues and solutions to problems centering around children, families and education are easier said than done. For instance, the mere idea of childhood readiness.

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1989. I watched a Task force on Childhood Readiness. When some of us were 3 and 4 years old, others were fighting for our education. A Real Education. Leaders from the ECE field agreed that the need to articulate goals would lead to a trap of focusing in on testing…leading to putting more academics and pressure on children which is the wrong way to go. We know this is the wrong way to go. The focus does not need to be on school readiness or bureaucracy needs but needs of children and families. The point is to improve children’s success in school NOT SCHOOL READINESS. This idea to be ready is counterproductive. Schools should be ready for children not the other way around. We are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking “Are children ready?” We need to be asking, “Are we ready for them?” Empower families to ask their children’s new teachers’ their approach and encourage families to write letters to their new teachers about who and how their child(ren) learn.

Please watch the task force from 1989 here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?10241-1%2Fchildhood-readiness

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But it is easier said than done. We are now in the year 2016. We are still talking about school readiness. The term makes me uncomfortable especially after studying Early Ed  more closely. Most importantly, after seeing how play, hands on learning and using developmentally appropriate practice work and help children learn. Making learning meaningful coupled by connecting it to children’s real lives is what Early Ed is about.

I would love to see real early education be a model for all learning. Differentiation, lifelong learning, play, joy for learning, reading favorite books, based on interests, connecting with families, community and individualized learning is key. Focusing only on academics is selling our children, families and ourselves short. We know better. There is so much experience coupled with research.

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Tripled by all of the ECE leaders who came before us leading and paving the way of what a real education looks, sounds and feels like. It includes a focus and light on the whole child and family, learning through play, going outside, connecting with families and community, reading and re-reading books, making up stories, invented spelling, drawing, painting, sculpting and molding, creative arts, building, music, singing, sensory experiences, toys and games (invented ones too not only store bought), collections, being in the moment, cooking, science and discovery, dramatic play (acting, taking on roles) and so much more.   It’s keeping the lights on and magic of curiosity and learning alive for children.

We learn how to treat each other and we make promises of being safe, being kind, taking care of each other, our environment and having fun! We talk about our feelings and how to express them.

When families ask, “Why isn’t Jenny spelling her name?” We reassure them that children grow in various ways and give a gentle reminder to not compare Jenny to her friends. Jenny can plan and build three-dimensional buildings and draws her plan out. She also solves problems and helps others. She is kind and caring. She draws a lot. She asks us to write her name for her. Before you know it she will want to write her name all on her own. Right now she is processing, building and molding it all.  This is the foundation.

The positive outcomes of partnering and collaborating are endless. Through collaboration, strong relationships and engagement with families and children, we learn, grow, connect and empower one another by being a part of something much, much bigger than ourselves.

There were many before us and we owe it to them to keep on fighting the fight and being voices for children and families. For ourselves! We can’t give in or give up. We are here to serve as a reminder. When people ask what is happening, we need to help wake them up, inform and empower them and enable them to think and fight for their children.

Be the kind of a grown up you needed by your side as a child.