Test the Assumptions!

imageOver the past 2 days in the Leadership: An Evolving Vision Course at the Harvard Gradate School of Education, I’ve met some amazing  educators who have the motivation, passion and desire to be the catalyst of change within their school for the improvement of student outcomes.

Day 1 was extremely challenging as over 200 educators from all around the world sat in the magnificent Longfellow Hall for almost 4 hours undertaking a workshop in change by Professor Robert Kegan. The session commenced with all the participants identifying a personal area that we would like to change in our school  and to set an improvement goal. We often associate change with other people and can easily become frustrated as to why change doesn’t happen. Kegan threw the issue back on our leadership style through a series of steps that looked at our inner immune system and conflicts, and what we value as the cause of what motivates and drives us to make change in a school.

After setting an improvement goal, the area that we truly wanted to make change in schools, Kegan asked us to write down why it was important and the consequences for not making the change. As I continued with the workshop, I came to the realisation  that what I valued as a school leader in my improvement goal for change also permeated into my commitments for not doing anything and maintaining the status quo. By mid afternoon on a beautiful Boston summer afternoon, I truly realised that I had an inner conflicting dilemma, and often strong values that co-existed for both making and not making change change.

Kegan in his gentle manner, continued to be provocative and challenged us to why we want to make a particular change, and whether our values were based on assumptions that have been tested. It is here that we often fail ourselves by  having personal underlying beliefs that if  we make a particular change in our school, then a negative consequence would occur on a personal level or some form of cataclysmic disaster would take place.

Throughout the whole workshop, Kegan indicated that we need to move from our values in our unconsciously immune system to our consciously immune, that underneath our subconscious concerns about change also drives our willingness and eventually our commitment to making the change happens. We have to recognise that competing values work within ourselves.

Kegan in his final step suggested that we establish SMART experiments to challenge our assumptions in making change: (Safe, Modest, Actionable, Research, Test). We need to test the assumptions in any transformational organisational change to see whether our underlying values we hold are realistic. We need to set actionable plans that keep on testing our values and assumptions in order for change to occur.

By late Sunday afternoon, I felt emotionally drained and it was only day 1 of Harvard. However, working through Kegan’s process, I could now understand why change is so difficult in a school due to my own values and beliefs. It time for me to test even more assumptions.



3 thoughts on “Test the Assumptions!

  1. Great blog John… And so good to be challenged and stretched. Like opening the door to Dr Who’s tardis, it is a great experience to open the door and to step into a world that is unfathomable from the outside. I have just returned from a similar experience on the west coast (wondering what our equivalents are in Australia??) and I learn more and more that leadership requires increasing reflection, self-awareness, and courage to move out of our personal comfort zones.

  2. Loved the work of Prof Robert Kegan myself his book Immunity to Change is most interesting. So glad you liked it. I actually did his course at HGSE. Can’t wait to talk to you more about it when you get back :-))

  3. I understand this inner conflict well. Your frank sharing is appreciated, John. I think I need another ‘fix’ of your hospitality at MEPS it’s been a while! 🙂 Denyse

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