Tony Gurr

“Herding Cats” and Change 3.0 (Part 2)

In Educational Leadership, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, The Paradigm Debate on 07/11/2011 at 9:17 pm

I sat down this morning and began to think about how I would begin Part Two of the little mini-series I began yesterday. It was tough…and three cups of coffee later, I still had no idea of how to start.

True – I had mapped out a diatribe (of sorts) yesterday morning (but realised I’d have to use over 5k of lexis to get it all “on screen” – so decided to split it up). The problem was that last night I got a couple of “notes” that made me thunkone was quite funny. It accused me of a form of “digital penis-envy” and suggested that I had invented the phrase “Change 3.0” just to play catch up with all the techies and their Web 3.0’sfunny, because it was kinda true!

A couple of people got me some quotes – one I had never seen before was from the comic strip “Over the hedge” (penned by Michael Fry and Tom Lewis):

The more things change, the more they remain… insane.

Could there be more than a grain of truth in such tongue-in-cheek one-liners?

My perspective on “change” has always been a bit more “hopeful“, more “optimistic” – like that of Margaret Mead:

As I said yesterday, I like to believe that I “eat change for breakfast” and do not always “get” why so many people cringe when the “word” is mentioned  or why they run for the hills when its big brother – TRANSFORMATION – is placed on the table.

I tried running over these notes and comments (and my scribbles from yesterday) – desperate for inspiration – and up popped a tweet… @TeachersJourney to the rescue:

You can’t put students “first” if you put teachers “last”.

Those 54 characters (and how the hell most normal human beings are supposed to convey a decent idea in 140 characters is still beyond me) captured the paradox that is so often hard-wired into Change 1.0 and Change 2.0 initiatives…

And, taking my lead from @TeachersJourney – I started to think about a couple more questions:

Do we really put students “first” – really, really?

If we do, do we have to put teachers “last” – or can both come “first”?


The problem is I cannot really answer these questions with the self-imposed word limit I try to keep for each post – this one will have to go to a Part 3…but here goes!

I said yesterday that the main issues with Change 1.0 were:

  • the focus on change-as-an-event
  • the preference for command-and-control approaches to improvement
  • putting the organization before the people who “live” in it and those it is designed to “serve”

Change 2.0 did address these issues and sought to:

  • acknowledge that organisational change is, in fact, a “process” of “changing people”
  • recognise that these people need to be “motivated” to change
  • pay greater attention to best practices, planning and management

Surely, this type of conceptualisation is enough – process, people, planning! Loading the dice in this way has gotta work…


Sorry, but I think it’s time to burst that little “bubble”…

  • We cannot “change” peopleand anyone who has this as her “goal” is just plain “dumb”
  • We cannot “motivate” anyoneand the sooner we drop this “myth about carrots and bloody sticks” the better
  • The truth is…..and I need some images (and a few words) to convey this:


Number 1

I’ve talked a fair bit about “best practice” in earlier posts. Looking to best practices is not a bad thing in itself; we can learn a great deal from them and they can help along institutions wishing to reinvent themselves.

The problem is that many best practices are “old news – and “old news” developed to help solve someone else’s problems. If best practices are uncritically adopted and grafted (or should I say cut n’ pasted) onto another organisational culture – we can end up with an even bigger headache than we started with.

This is why perhaps so many, like Bill Monro, view imitation as the “sincerest form of collective stupidity” – and remind us that “looking back” is hardly the best way to create “next practice” that is both fit-for-purpose and useful


Number 2

OK – who can disagree with a maxim that tells us “Failing to plan is planning to fail” (and we do not even need our 140 characters to get that idea out there)?

Of course, we need to “plan” – but there’s other stuff we all know to be true; the best-laid plans of mice and men, life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans and something about Zeus getting a bit of a kick out of pissing all over the plans of “mortal men” (and women, too).

This is actually where Change 1.0 (and Change 2.0) really falls flat on its face – sure we can draw up a “wish-list” of our 12-step action plan for change but “hit shappens”. Even if we stand on the shoulders of giants like John Kotter and follow his advice to the letter, not going with the flow of unanticipated outcomes or failing to fully exploit emerging practices or evolving capabilities can mean “failure”, too – and a bigger failure than just not being able to tick off items on the “change checklist”.

On-going improvisation” can sometimes be a change agent’s best friend – a kanka, even! More people need to recognise this…


Number 3

Now, this is the one that gets me in so much trouble – even though many educational “managers” do not have anywhere near enough “management training”, they do love the idea of “management processes”. It’s something about the way those words collocate so smoothly with words like order, efficiency, and mission.

I like my processes, too – but (and to quote Covey) “Management works in the system; Leadership works on the system”. “Management” works just fine when the “system” works just fine…


Change is about working on somethingto make it better – and that’s why we need more “leaders” (both formal and informal). However, not “leaders” that prize their “seats” (and systems) more than they do the people that keep them in these seats.

As Tom Peters reminds us “Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing”. This is the crux of the matter allthingschange in education.

Now, you see why I needed that 5k of lexis!


But, before I elaborate on this – I guess I have to jump back a space or two. As I noted yesterday, what often ruffles my feathers is the fact that many educational leaders (and, even moreso – politicians) still keep on talking about “herding” and asking the question:

  • How do we motivate our people to change?

And, by “people” – they frequently mean “them” or “those buggars“. Guess what – teachers “know” this and are not easily conned by a carrot or two


Let’s be very clear – this question is very much one created in the back rooms of a “managerial mindset”; an approach to change that focusses on “arranging”, “telling” and “herding”.

Management is not enough – especially if that management that fails to walk-its-talk or is based on tradition and folklore.

Tolstoy had it right when he said “…everyone wants to change the world, but no one thinks of changing himself”. His words prompt another question – could it be that many of the difficulties we still face with “change in education” are actually “caused” by those who see themselves as being “charged with managing change”?

Could it be that the core questions they ask – are just “wrong”?

But, I’ve just realised I have gone over my word limit – time to “plan” for Part 3… thinks.

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