What makes for change in educational institutions? What is a change agent?

I am in a unique position, as my entire adult life I have been teaching in the K-12 school setting, and while most of my background is within this setting, I have now changed positions and am working with college professors, staff, and students as a change agent. I hope to offer insight and  my personal experiences in the K-12 level to others in this blog. I feel much of what I experienced at the K-12 level will also have relevance to higher education.

What makes for change in educational institutions? What is a change agent?

A change agent is one who assesses the needs of his or her institution and develops an action plan that is achievable. Through the analysis of the institution, in my case a rural High School, one can capture the needs of the administration, faculty and staff, parents, and students. An change agent uses this needs assessment to develop a picture of the institutions shortfalls. By assessing the needs of these individuals, a change agent can provide professional development to narrow the gap. However, first the problem needs to be Identified.

In my previous school in 2013, a team of administrators and teacher met to explore the path of going 1:1 with devices in the K-12 settings. One of the greatest accomplishments of this team was to travel and to visit schools who were integrating technology well, and those who had adopted 1:1 programs and were struggling. I learned early on that it was critical to deploy the team of change agents within a system, or that program had no chance to succeed. I visited many schools who had assessed the needs of their teachers, staff, administration, and students well and developed the necessary skills and professional development to be successful. However, I also viewed schools who simply threw technology into the hands of their teachers and students with little assessment of skill or needs. Inevitably these program proved to be expensive and unsuccessful, not because of the technology, but because of lack of cultural shift that occurred within the building.

Change begins with high expectations, a support system, and professional development. Change agents create other agents. To be an agent of change as a technology coordinator, one has to embrace this cultural shift and find ways to provide support and continual PD to its users. I often hear during PD sessions that “teachers are the worst students.” However, I can identify with Stephen Victor’s Article “Adult Learning Theory and Training Design. To inspire change in teachers, especially veteran teachers, can be a difficult task. As a teacher who had fallen into a comfort zone, it was difficult for me to change. I kept wanting to push myself to a more student centered classroom, but had a difficult time stepping out of this comfort zone. Trying something new can be difficult, and these users need the instructional technologist support that many schools lack. In many cases, the school’s technology specialist are more concerned with infrastructure, software, and hardware, and have little to no understanding of how technology could change the culture of teaching and learning.

First, users have to see education as an institution not under lock and key, but open for sharing and collaboration.Victor’s article really exemplifies the shortcomings I have witness in professional development sessions.  As a change agent, these must be addressed. Many don’t see a relevance in what they are learning, nor do they see a direct classroom implementation for them. Successes many times are not celebrated or shared. Sessions must be designed so that the content is directly applicable to the adult learners content area and classroom practices. Change agents embrace adult learners own classroom experiences. Will change make them a better teachers, and will it make their life easier or more efficient? What is the incentive for making the change?

The tech change agent needs to understand that there will always be users at different comfort levels, just like a teacher needs to differentiate instruction to their students, a technology specialist needs to identify the needs of the users and support them accordingly. As noted in “From Faculty to Change Agent: Lessons Learned in the Development and Implementation of a Change Workshop,” educators must have the skills and practice before introducing new strategies in a high stakes situation. They need the support of technology specialist. Agents must understand the needs of all stakeholders. These agents seek out people who are well informed and can help them produce the desired change. Creating a culture and community of change is essential. Allowing student ownership in the cultural change. Unfortunately, in many cases, including my previous job in K-12, big changes are pushed in the first year with plenty of instructional support. However by year two and three, rightfully so the change agents are pushing for more. They must also understand the development of change is cyclical. There will always be users who need the foundation support.