DAILY INSIGHT: Learning the Language of School Transformation

By Rob Mancabelli, CIO Advisor

When we want people to change, sometimes we resemble novice travelers in foreign lands. We speak slowly in our own language (“emerging technologies, cloud computing, student 1:1, blah, blah, blah…”), and we look for their reaction. At first, the method seems to work. Our listeners smile. They nod. And then…they do nothing. It’s an approach that often leaves us shaking our heads in frustration and wondering why they don’t “get it.”

The painful truth is that change only begins we learn their language. Now, I’m not talking about just pitching our innovations in a different way. I mean truly thinking about what every stakeholder values and asking ourselves why this change would be meaningful to them. It often means altering our proposals so they better fit people’s needs. Once we’ve done that, we’re ready to have a two-way conversation in terms that our listeners will understand.

For a start, every school change agent should become fluent in these three languages.

The Language of Learning: When communicating with teachers, discuss the impact on student learning. Replace “You could use Skype in Spanish class,” with “Here’s a tool that could increase student engagement, practice time and skill building.” Share information about teachers who have already initiated these changes, being frank about successes, failures and student benefits. Teachers will need to hear that there are significant, genuine learning payoffs for students if you expect them to invest the time to transform their classrooms.

The Language of Vision: When communicating with parents or your community, describe how your proposed change fulfills their goals for their sons and daughters. Give them a context for the change by painting a vision of life and work in the 21st century, focusing on their dreams for their children in this evolving world. Talk with them about how changes in the educational system better guarantee success and happiness for their child.

The Language of Measurement: Many of your stakeholders, such as senior administrators and the board, speak the language of measurable outcomes. Every conversation with them should include how you will assess the impact of the changes. What assessments will you use? What evidence do you have so far from pilot programs and other initiatives? They need to hear that you can measure the results.

To save time, get some “translators.” These are team members or stakeholders that speak the language better than you. Sometimes the best translator is on the web. A three-minute video or short article in your audience’s target language will often have more impact than anything you could say.

Finally, don’t worry about being perfect. I find that similar to traveling in foreign land, even if you just learn a little of the language (a few key phrases here and there), stakeholders are grateful for the effort, and then they want to learn your language too. That’s where the real payoff begins because it launches a meaningful two-way conversation. When you are both fluent in each other’s language, that’s when you can describe a shared vision for the school of the future.

Rob Mancabelli is the co-author of Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education. Let him know if you liked this post by going to www.mancabelli.com/category/blog/.