Navigating School Change One Small Step at a Time

Out of the Box April 19 / Special / April 12, 2019

–Terra Graves–

This is the fourth installment of my “journey as a new administrator” series. To get the whole story, read the first three installments here:

As an administrator, I am now one step removed from practicing Flipped Learning. But the wider perspective of an administrator allows me to address the “small changes” part of the theme of this month’s FLR in a fairly unique way. What resonates about this for me is how I approach leadership. I am the “OG” of our department, but I only just became the big cheese. In some ways, it’s been an easy transition (since I acted like I was the boss already). In all honesty, I was viewed as the “second-in-command” for quite a while. I was a little concerned about the changing dynamics of the strong friendships I have with people in my department once I became their evaluator.

So far it’s been fairly comfortable, but I have had to deal with a conflict between two people, which was an ongoing issue that wasn’t ever intensely dealt with. When I became the boss, I knew I wanted to deal with it more than I felt my predecessor had in the past. Given the strength of our team regarding the work we have done and continue to do, I felt I could focus more of my leadership efforts on fine-tuning the social-emotional needs of my staff. We really are like a family, and as such, little “tiffs” can and do arise. I was tired of the status quo of just “dealing” with how people are. I wanted to improve the working relationships so that everyone felt they had a voice, that they were emotionally safe, and that they knew what my expectations were for how we all communicated and worked with one another.


Small Steps

This small change of focusing on social-emotional needs and interactions has led to some difficult, but necessary conversations. Trying to maintain individual support for everyone involved (especially when you have strong feelings or judgments) is not easy. It’s like when you have two children fighting about something, and you want to make sure they know you love them very much, even though one of them is definitely wrong.  

Another small change that I have implemented with my staff is giving them a flipped assignment before every staff meeting. Most of the activities I have them do center around self-expression or self-awareness. In the staff meetings, people are welcome to share (if they feel comfortable). I see this having a positive, team-building effect.

A major part of my job is the big project involving digital curriculum and a district-wide rollout of Microsoft Teams and integrated tools for digital learning and collaboration. This requires BIG CHANGES to many long-standing systems in our district. So as I considered the theme of this month’s issue of FLR, small but meaningful changes that can begin or improve your Flipped Learning practice, I wondered…

Is it possible to make small changes in a project that has the potential to change everything?


Big Change

Here are some examples of BIG changes that are happening because of this project:  


Present state Change agent Future state
Departments and schools use a wide array of digital tools for productivity, digital learning, communication, and collaboration.  

(Office 365, G Suite, etc.)

All district departments and schools will use a common digital portal (Microsoft Teams) for collaboration, communication, shared files, etc.

Streamlined communication and collaboration across the district.  

A robust digital learning environment for all students to have equitable access to high-quality instruction.

Students have inconsistent levels of technology access across the district. (Haves/Have Nots)

Schools purchase technology through a variety of grants without a plan for sustainability.

We are opening three new schools in fall 2019 as 1:1 programs (a device for every student that they can use 24/7).  

Funded through property taxes.

All schools in Washoe County School District become 1:1 schools, where all teachers practice FL, active learning is the norm, all the unicorns and rainbows.
Curriculum materials and supplemental resources are shared on the district website, OneDrive folders, textbook portals, etc. All non-proprietary curriculum materials will be repackaged into OneNote Notebooks for easy access and utilization for teachers. Teachers gain back hours of time typically spent on lesson planning. Everyone knows where everything is and can easily curate, manipulate or customize the curriculum.  
Essential strategies/instructional supports are in various places on the district website, in analog format (paper) to teachers taking professional learning courses (if any are offered), strategies or support programs are not always implemented according to the program expectations due to teachers having an incomplete understanding of how something might fit in their instruction. Essential strategies/instructional supports such as Social-Emotional Learning, Gifted and Talented, English Language Development, Special Education, 21st- Century Learning, etc. will be integrated directly into unit and lesson plans so that teachers have all possible strategies at their fingertips.

Teachers will deliver well-rounded lessons which provide necessary supports for all learners without having to do the heavy lifting to make the connections in their instruction.  

Essential strategies programs will reach more classrooms than professional learning alone can provide.  

New teachers to the district will have an amazing jumping off point for delivering high-quality instruction.


Unpacking Change

Each of these changes depends on everyone agreeing with the plan, sharing in the workflow, and taking on extra work in order to meet our deadline. I think the key to accomplishing big changes is to start with small ones. When we think about the outcomes we are working toward, all of the tasks that need to be accomplished seem very overwhelming and causes stress. Once people had some technical training under their belt and began to build their first notebook, they were able to understand the process better and visualize what the expectations are. Change is hard when you’re the one initiating the change. It’s even harder when someone else is imposing it on you.

In his article for, “Navigating Change In Deeply Rooted Organizations,Chris Cancialosi writes some tips for (business) organizations trying to find their way through change. I believe that they relate to the type of large-scale changes we are implementing.

These points, in particular, are good advice for me to incorporate into my collaboration with our Curriculum and Instruction people and the other district departments:

Honor the past. In organizations that have deeply rooted cultures and subcultures, people have often done things a certain way for extended periods. Asking people to change the way they work, regardless of the obviously visible business reasons, can unintentionally send a message that what was done in the past was wrong. To minimize the unintentional slighting of the work people have done to this point, creating opportunities to honor the past in both word and deed can be extremely beneficial.

Acknowledge that disruptive change is a process. It won’t happen overnight but it may need to happen more quickly than people are ready to adapt to it. Be patient and provide continuous feedback. As employees and leaders are practicing new skills and behaviors, find ways to provide ongoing and timely feedback will help increase their confidence and begin to provide a sense of stability. It will also help you identify those who may be unwilling or unable to adapt successfully.

As this project moves forward in ways that challenge “TITWWADI” (This is the way we’ve always done it), it’s important for me to support those involved as we navigate this new system we are creating together. These disruptive changes are blazing a trail for our students’ future. There is no better motivation.

Terra Graves
Terra Graves
Terra has been an educator for over twenty years. She is the Project Coordinator/Administrator for the 21st Century Learning Department in Washoe County School District, NV. Prior to this position, she taught elementary and middle school, supported novice teachers as a full-time mentor, served as an Ed Tech Specialist, and a Program Specialist in the 21st Century Learning Department. Terra is Flipped Learning 3.0 Level-II Certified and a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty.

Previous Post

Why We Love, Hate, Need Recognition in Flipped Education

Next Post

Have Students Take Small Steps Toward Owning Their Learning

0 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *