School Change Generates Controversy

One of the truly challenging parts of leading large-scale school change is how upset some people can be about the change (School Change Truth 2 reminds us that people seem to abhor change). Some parents worry their children won’t do as well as they do now. Some teachers worry about the work and adjustments they’ll have to make with the change, or fear they’ll fail at the initiative or that it’s another initiative they’re expected to implement well without adequate training or support. Some just think that the initiative doesn’t look “like school,” so you’re clearly doing it wrong! 

Parents will resist and fight back against the change. Teachers will resist and fight back against the change. Community members will resist and fight back against the change. Some directly: telling you –or your superintendent or the school committee–exactly what they don’t like about the initiative or what their worries and concerns are. Others are less direct, telling you what they think will make you stop or change your mind, rather than telling what they really fear, or that they don’t want to put the effort into the change. And if your initiative is the kind that few others have implemented to date, and you have no examples to point to, then your stakeholder group has only their imagination, good and bad. And some of those stakeholders will rail against the worst their imaginations can come up with! Without counter-examples, you have no proof they are wrong.

When Auburn Schools ventured to be the first district to have a district-wide 1-to-1 kindergarten iPad initiative, there were no other kindergarten iPad initiatives to point to. We had educators and partners who were excited about the opportunity. Our imaginations told us about all the good that was possible from such an effort. But we also had some angry community members who came to testify at school committee meetings about all the worst things their imaginations could conjure:

  • We would reduce the number of teachers and just teach students through online learning
  • Students would spend all their time on the tablets and would no longer play outside, draw with crayons, sculpt with clay, sing songs, or sift through sand
  • Predators would get to the children through the cameras on the devices
  • The kindergarteners would spend all their time playing games they downloaded or going through Facebook instead of doing the learning activities
  • Students eyes would go bad using the tablet screens, and they would all need glasses
  • The children would never learn to write with pencil and paper 

Many years later, none of these predictions came to fruition. But that didn’t stop them from being hot topics in the beginning. (In fact, back then I blogged, “Rumor of our Locking Students in Closets with iPads Are Greatly Exaggerated!“)

Large-scale school change, especially paradigm shifting change, invariably generates controversy. The question is how to deal with it. Understandably, many of us don’t like confrontation and would rather not deal with it or hope that it will simply go away. 

This series will help address how to deal with the controversy your initiative generates.

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