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Share the Wheel for a Smoother Journey

Jeff Ronneberg
Jeff Ronneberg

When something changes in my life, it isn't always something I embrace with open arms. In fact, if I have not chosen that change for myself, I may struggle with it significantly.

Jeffrey Cufaude, a strategy consultant from Illinois, described this experience in his blog:

"When you're the driver, you've got control of the wheel and know not only where we're going, but each decision you're making along the way.

"In the passenger seat, things feel different. I don't have the same sense of control and comfort with our speed, direction, degree of the turns, etc. I can't prepare for your sudden veer left or rapid acceleration because I don't know they are coming. ... What's true in the car is also true for a change initiative. ... Just because people might be hesitant about a change doesn't mean they are ultimately resistant to it. Be careful you don't confuse the two."

Most of us have times when we are in the driver's seat as well as times when we feel like we are in the passenger seat. For most of us, the driver's seat provides a much smoother, more comfortable ride. However, a willingness to share the wheel, especially when facing a significant trip, may result in reaching your destination more easily.

How does this analogy relate to our work in schools? I have yet to find a school or organization that isn't trying to initiate some type of change. I also have yet to find a system that successfully initiates and sustains change without effectively distributing leadership through all levels.

Change happens one person and conversation at a time. The effective leader develops the capacity of formal and informal leaders to provide support, as well as a necessary push at times, so colleagues are able to navigate the highs and lows they will experience through learning and change.

In the Spring Lake Park (Minn.) Schools, we smooth the way through ongoing communication and involving the "passenger" as a partner in planning. Yet, despite our best efforts, we never design the perfect road map for professional learning and change.

Thus, we need to continually see the system from the varying perspectives of leaders from all levels: classroom teachers, informal leaders, new and experienced staff, instructional coaches, learning technology coaches, curriculum leads, and principals. Each provides a unique view, offering real-time guidance so we can adjust our path as necessary to provide the support and learning staff members need to persist through difficulties.

Ultimately, school and district leadership is about aligning the work of adults around ensuring that each student has a learning experience that results in their feeling valued, inspired, and seeing no limits to their future. This responsibility requires a willingness to not only listen to others' ideas and experiences, but also develop the capacities of leaders at all levels, allowing them to share the driver's seat to navigate change successfully.

This post also appears in the December issue of JSD

Jeff Ronneberg 
President, Learning Forward Board of Trustees  
@JRonneberg

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