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How 1% Change Adds Up to a Big Impact for Schools and Districts

By: Dana Britt on October 16th, 2019

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How 1% Change Adds Up to a Big Impact for Schools and Districts

Teams & Culture

I was on a phone call with two principals earlier this week who shared a concern I hear often in working with school districts through large change management initiatives. Three years into their personalized learning journey, there are still at least a few teachers in their building who are resistant to the instructional shifts necessary to make learning personalized for each child. If you are a leader facing a similar situation, here are four key strategies for moving forward.

Return to the “Why”

Your number one go-to before any of the other tips below should be to remind your staff of their “why,” or why they want to make instructional shifts in the first place. Is it to help students become more self-directed? Is it because more than half a million students are enrolling in college unprepared for college-level work? Is it because the skills most employers look for are not often practiced in our classrooms? 

Encourage your teachers to shadow a student throughout the day or to ask students to create two “stories,” one describing how they experience school today and one describing how they’d like school to look different in the future. I once asked a group of kindergarten students if they had a magic wand how they would change their school. I thought I’d hear “more pizza at lunch” and “all day recess” but what I actually heard was “I could go at my own pace.”

Related Resource: A New Way to Think About Innovative School and District Leadership

Be clear about your expectations

Often, teachers are unclear about what exactly the instructional shifts you’re hoping to see look like. Be sure to have a set of common commitments or a rubric of what “dipping your toes in” the water looks like versus being in the “deep end.” 

Understand the root cause of the resistance to change

The best research about resistance to change is from Harvard Business School’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter. If your school has a culture of openness, have teachers read this article about the ten reasons people resist change and have a conversation about which two or three reasons feel most relevant in this case. 

Keep an eye out for The NEW Team Habits releasing this fall! Co-authored by Anthony Kim, Keara Mascareñaz, and Kawai Lai, The NEW Team Habits is the follow-up guide to the best-selling The NEW School Rules, created to help leadership teams transform the habits that keep them from success.

Pre-order Now

Help identify the 1% change

Education Elements co-founder Anthony Kim encourages finding an action that is “safe enough to try” (for more, check out his book, The NEW School Rules) and in finding the “1% change.” Robert Maurer, in his book, The Kaizen Way: One Small Step Can Change Your Life , and James Clear, in Atomic Habits, both write about the compounding effect of 1% gains. It doesn’t have to be 100% or nothing. The two principals I was working with shared that teachers in their buildings were keeping students in the same differentiated groupings for the entire year because it was too much to commit to changing them all the time. Instead of 0%, start with 1%. Ask yourself:

  • What’s one group of students who could use an intervention?
  • What’s one part of my lesson that I could make differentiated?
  • What’s one choice I could give students today?
  • Who’s one student who could benefit from a 1-1 conference today?

Watch as the 1% changes compound over time and completely transform your work. In order to create consistent change, making changes needs to become a habit. Though there is a lot of focus on shifting individual habits, team habits have a large impact on how we work, and the success of our initiatives. Join us at the Team Habits Leadership Institute next month to learn how to break bad habits and create good ones - as a team.


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About Dana Britt

Dana Britt is an Associate Partner focused on leading innovation in the state of New York. Prior to joining Education Elements in 2015, she worked in the District of Columbia Public Schools for six years, first as a high school English teacher, then in the district office as the manager of educational technology. In that role, she supported the district-level rollout of blended learning across 111 schools and built up a particular expertise in designing district-wide professional development and selecting, purchasing, and adopting new digital content and tools. At Education Elements, Dana has supported schools over 100 schools in 16 states. She has led the implementations of Fulton County Schools (GA), Syracuse City School District (NY), Marion Central School District (NY), and Waterloo Central School District (NY). Dana holds a B.A. in English from Wellesley College and an Ed.M. in Technology, Innovation and Education from Harvard University. When not thinking about personalized learning, Dana enjoys rock climbing and training for her next marathon in Washington, DC.

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