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As educators across the nation prepare for the beginning of a new school year, many district and school administrators are setting new goals for staff professional learning.  Whether STEAM, Project Based Learning, Disciplinary Literacy, or some other instructional focus, every school has a learning focus for the year and teachers return to workshops and meetings describing the new strategies and processes to be implemented THIS year. 

Before you jump into implementing a school-wide (or district-wide) instructional change, I encourage you to pause and consider your school’s readiness for change.  Many well-thought out plans have failed due to overlooking the characteristics within the school that might form barriers to making the plan a reality.  Don’t be next! 

How adaptable is your school to change?  What is the school culture?
For instructional innovations to take root, the school culture must support a growth mindset.  Educators within the school must believe that failure and struggles are learning opportunities, and they must understand that it takes multiple tries to make a new instructional strategy work well in their classrooms.
A second part of school culture to consider is the level of trust in the building.  How well do teachers trust one another? The administration? Students? Parents? Trusting relationships must be the core of the school culture before any change can gain momentum.

Surveys can be an effective way to measure components of a school’s culture as you plan the change initiative. If your school or district does not administer a climate survey, check out the ones at Analyze results as a school community and collaboratively address issues that are revealed.   

How much change can your school handle? 
Every change has cost.  The cost may be time in the form of recreating lesson plans that are well-established, or it may be in the form of learning new habits of mind related to our teaching.  Whatever the cost for your proposed change, any rewards must be greater than the losses.  The gain from implementing the change must be adequate compensation for the physical, intellectual, or emotional price the staff perceives they must pay to implement the change. 

What are some residual effects of past changes that might need to be considered?
Negative experiences from prior change efforts can cripple future ones.  For example:
  • an attitude of “this too shall pass” can spread if there has been a history of initiatives being abandoned before they had an opportunity to have a positive impact.
  • feelings of being overwhelmed by too many initiatives competing for staff attention can cause burn out.
  • lack of understanding that change is about learning and learning involves mistakes.If people have not been given the freedom to make mistakes while learning to implement past instructional initiatives, they may be hesitant to try new techniques.
Educators must be confident that leadership has addressed these concerns and that staff will have the support, knowledge and skills necessary to make the change successful.

Once you decide to move forward with a new initiative, how can you make sure your staff continue to embrace the challenge of change? Here are a few tips:
  1. Involve staff members at all levels in the planning.
  2. Make sure the purpose of the change is compelling and clear to everyone.
  3. Provide on-going communication regarding the change.
  4. Identify a group to pilot the change before whole group implementation and structure opportunities for the pilot group to model new practices and support the larger group.
  5. Use data to assess progress continuously through each phase, pausing to celebrate incremental successes and tweak approaches as needed.
Change will not happen overnight, it is a process.  To help guide you through the process, check out the STEM Innovation Configuration Maps.   These maps were originally designed to guide the implementation of STEM in schools, but we are finding that they are effective in starting and sustaining any new practice.  Be patient and persistent giving your school community a real chance to not only survive, but thrive as a result of the change.

Visit our S²TEM Centers SC team!  They will be at the following conference offering sessions.

100k in 10 Grand Challenges: South Carolina as a Model for Other States

Participants will explore the root causes and possible actions to address the critical shortage of STEM teachers nation-wide.   This topic is just one of many learning pathways offered to STEM education professionals during the conference.

Free Downloadable Math & Science Lessons

A collection of professionally developed K-8 lessons, aligned with the latest SC standards.




Copyright © 2018 South Carolina's Coalition for Mathematics & Science at Clemson University, All rights reserved.

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