My View

Practicing Patience When Overnight Change Doesn’t Exist
By Scot Graden/School Administrator, April 2020

ONE OF MY MENTORS once told me that public organizations take seven years to make sustainable changes. I was young and naive, and I told him he was wrong. 

We discussed the need for schools to adapt to the changes occurring in modern society, so I was disappointed to hear him say it would take that long. I wanted to move quickly and felt that others in the organization did as well. The evidence of the need for systemic change was (and is) everywhere.

He told me, “A new system that meets the needs of students and is supported by staff and community is not something you can go buy from an education resource company like Houghton Mifflin. Building anything worthwhile in life takes time. First, it takes time to understand the current issues within a school system. Second, you must wait for the right opportunity. Third, you need to do the necessary work to bring others along with you.”

The bottom line was this: I needed to develop patience. Meaningful change requires patience.

Anxiety Causing

As I reflect on the last decade-plus as superintendent of a 5,200-student district just outside Ann Arbor, Mich., I can recognize the times I moved quickly on large-scale change.

Several years ago, knowing that many of our students would be faced with online and blended classes in college and beyond, I saw the need to provide similar experiences. I worked with a few eager teachers and pushed for the programs to be implemented quickly.

Students and parents began to take advantage of new courses, but not at the pace I assumed they would. In the end, the organization resisted it. Relevant details and development of a shared understanding got overlooked. Processing time got crunched down and caused anxiety among the staff members who were managing the change.

I needed to learn the value of exhibiting patience. By valuing the process and seeing it as progress to a sustainable goal, even an impatient person can find meaning in slowing down. I had to learn to trust the process of leading sustainable change and not to fret about the pace.

More recently, we implemented a learner profile that articulates our vision for the skills and attributes we want our students to possess as they graduate. Moving a high-performing organization to embrace nontraditional learning targets was not easy. However, this time we had learned to take our time.

We sought feedback and incorporated it into our plan. We pivoted and added time to the process when we saw new opportunities that aligned with our ideas. We demonstrated the patience necessary to allow our staff and community to embrace these new ideas.

Personal Ambitions

When one is trying to achieve personal goals and improve opportunities for students, there are moments when the temptation to hit the fast-forward button is real. Time seems to stand still. I remain impatient at times. I had to learn the difference between a desire to achieve outcomes and impatience. The former helps; the latter can harm.

Sustainable overnight change does not exist. I have had to remind myself of that whenever I feel impatient. When ambition and personal pride overshadow the intended outcome, sustainable change cannot happen. It has taken me a while to learn that sustained innovation requires patience.

SCOT GRADEN is superintendent of the Saline Area Public Schools in Saline, Mich. Twitter: @SuperScot. This column is adapted from the author’s blog, Scot Graden’s Blog.