*For more insights from education leaders on accelerating school improvement, head over to the Edthena blog.
Watch this #PLtogether Lounge Talk with Doug Reeves about the myth of teacher buy-in and what actually supports teachers in trying school wide initiatives.
– Welcome back to this PLtogether “Lounge Talk”. If you’re just joining us I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena, where we build video and AI-powered tools for teacher professional learning. Today, we’re talking with the bestselling education leadership author Doug Reeves. Doug, thanks for being with us.
– My pleasure.
– Well, Doug, before we go I wanna switch topics. And you know, I guess… I know you’ve written a book and you’ve written articles, but I think the topic area here is the myth of buy-in. And really it’s about not waiting to have everyone buy in before you start to take action. So, I guess make sure that we know what that myth is. But tell us, you know, how can a leader accelerate their change initiatives in their schools by knowing about this myth and how it might be a blocker for them?
– Well, let’s be honest about what doesn’t work. The foundation of a lot of professional development for the last several decades has been, well, you can’t change people’s actions until you change what they know. So you bring in the inspirational speaker and you have tons of seminars and workshops, and now that they know better what the 28-year veteran is supposed to do is say, “Of course, now I realize what I’ve been doing is all wrong and I’ll change.” That’s just been baloney, and… And I think we have to acknowledge that. It is 70% of change efforts fail completely, McKenzie says. Fewer than 10% implemented his plan. This’s true not only in education but in nonprofit and other organizations. So change leadership has been a giant failure. So the old model is beg and plead for buy-in, pretend like you’ve got it. Then ever so tentatively do some implementation, then maybe someday we’ll have evidence. It doesn’t work. Here’s the model that I propose. You do it. Now, and let’s take really sensitive issues like grading reform. People hate grading reform. So I’m not asking for buy-in, I’m asking you to say, “Could we try for one semester to not use the average?” That’s it, I’m not looking for a 20-page policy not a 450-page book on grading. I’m asking for one thing. What would happen if we didn’t use the average and evaluate students on how they finished the race, not how they started. Now, I know you don’t buy in, I’m just asking for a fair experiment. Another example, I’m a math teacher. You ask Doug the math teacher to do writing just because there’s research that says that nonfiction writing helps math scores? I’m not gonna buy into that. I’m gonna say, “Are you kidding me? I’m not a writing teacher, I’m a math teacher. I’m a busy guy, I’ve got a full curriculum.” Doug, I’m not asking you for buy-in. I’m asking for a fair experiment. I’m asking you once a month to have students write about what a graph means, once a month write about why a wrong answer is wrong, once a month write your own story problem. That’s all I’m asking. And at the end of the year, let’s see if King is right when he says writing is thinking through the end of a pen, that if it’s worth thinking about it’s worth writing about. And then, if it really works, I’ll ask you for buy-in. I think that it’s a more respectful conversation with teachers to say, “I realize you don’t buy in. I’m asking for a fair experiment. Then let’s evaluate it, then let’s look at the data.” And that’s how change works. I can tell you, I have seen change happen when people do those science fair projects that I was talking about, where teachers will say, “Here was my challenge, here was my practice, here was my intervention.” And at the end of those they’ll say, “We didn’t need Doug Reeves, we did this ourselves.” Precisely the point, the way change happens is not with outside experts, it’s not with outside consultants, it’s not with the inspirational speakers. It’s with colleagues to colleagues showing we know what works here with our culture, with our agenda, with our students, with our families. You know, that’s what works. So I think it is just, if you wait for buy-in you’ll be having the same arguments 50 years from now. If we say instead, respectfully, “I know you don’t buy in, I’m asking for a fair experiment,” I think that’s way more respectful of teachers and ultimately is what leads to change.
– When I hear you talk about this fair experiment, you know, I know this’s in the context of, you called it the implementation science. But that fair experiment, for me, really calls to mind the idea of the improvement science methodologies that, you know, Carnegie Foundation and others are kind of trying to bring forward. And so I’m wondering if those are parallel, you know, in terms of what teachers should be doing.
– Yeah, that’s a really good insight. And, interestingly, science teachers and math teachers, who oughta be most interested in data-based and evidence-based decisions, I had one science teacher told me, “Doug, I didn’t believe you but I kept two sets of books. I kept my traditional grading system and then I kept one without grading homework, and without using the average. And then I was able to look backwards and see which one led to better student performance.” So I’m all in favor of locally-based, evidence-based decision making. Don’t rely on outside research alone. I can write a bunch of books, but that’s not what persuades teachers. They wanna see local evidence of impact. And by the way, the same is true of discipline the same is true of parent engagement, of lots of other things, not just scores on tests.
– Well, Doug, we need to take a short break. If you’re listening to this or watching this somewhere on the internet or on social media and want to find out what we talk about next, head to PLtogether.org for the rest of this conversation as well as many more.