You have a great idea to put a project in place, such as curriculum mapping. It’s a win for teachers, a win for administration and a win for students. But no matter how great that idea is, or how many people stand to benefit, you’ll still encounter the same challenge: getting that idea implemented. It’s becoming a change management project.

It’s no secret. We get set in our ways. Once we figure out how to do things, we create a path – and anything off-road? Well… we’d rather stick to what we know.

Change is the big unknown.

So when you announce that you’re starting a curriculum mapping initiative, you’re not just giving people new tasks to do or overhauling a process. You’re also dealing with an emotional response and cultural shift that spreads throughout the school – and potentially the district. No wonder it seems so hard to do.

But, it turns out, tried-and-true change management practices can help us turn anxious hand-wringing into eager applause when we roll out new initiatives. We just need to change the way we approach those initiatives.

Change management 101

When we talk about change within an organization, we’re talking largely about initiatives that disrupt the way people do their day-to-day jobs.

There are many schools of thought when it comes to managing that kind of change, but they generally boil down to the same idea: giving it a defined structure and process to reach a specific outcome.

Organizational change management exists as a specialized practice and discipline because change is risky, often meets resistance and is not easy to define. The good news? Experts have thoroughly studied ways of identifying and mitigating risks and overcoming apprehension to launch successful projects, whether it’s an organizational restructure, an acquisition, a new core technology or even crises like Y2K.

Great for business. But what does that have to do with your school and your curriculum?

Education doesn’t stand still. Slide rules give way to calculators, which give way to mobile phones and tablets. Lunch menus include healthy options like salads alongside chicken nuggets, while allergens are tightly controlled in the classroom. Cursive writing? Not part of the Common Core (even if some districts and states require it). Library books and textbooks are available on tablets and laptop computers. Class discussions continue online after hours. Instruction and assessments can now be personalized to each student. If we don’t make an effort to change, we’ll stagnate. If we’re going to keep moving forward, we need to embrace the fact that change is inevitable.

Like a company introducing a new process, curriculum mapping means asking teachers and administrators to do things differently. There’s a learning curve to get started. There’s an investment in time and resources. There are many stakeholders involved, each with their own agenda. The project will shift and grow over time. In short: it’s just as complex. And jumping straight into the deep end just won’t work.

So how do you ease everyone into the pool?

4 Lessons we learned from change managers

Once you’ve decided that you’re ready to start the change management project of curriculum mapping, your next step is putting a plan in place – one that doesn’t just outline what those new tasks are, but also helps make a cultural and emotional shift. Think of it in four phases:

1. ENGAGE

Define your vision

The most critical part of change management is defining a rationale and setting a goal. Why are you doing this in the first place? What will the end result look like? That rationale will help sell the idea to the rest of the team, and that goal will give you something against which you can measure success.

Find sponsorship

Your sponsor is the figurehead at the bow of the ship, leading the way. Usually it’s someone senior in an organization, so it might be a principal at your school or a leader in your district (hey, maybe that’s you!). This person understands the need for change, is comfortable communicating about the project openly and honestly, and coordinates the resources needed to make it all happen.

Build a team

Don’t leave that sponsor high and dry. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a team to make sure this project grows happy and healthy. You’ll need a mix of project managers and coordinators who oversee the day-to-day planning and implementation, along with champions from your stakeholder groups who can help ease anxieties and build support.

2. PLAN

Identify your stakeholders

Speaking of stakeholders, you’ll need to figure out who this project will impact, their “what’s in it for me?”, and what any barriers in their way. Teachers, for example, may care about giving their students a good education through a good curriculum but are constrained by time. So when approaching them, you’ll get more buy-in if you emphasize how curriculum mapping improves student outcomes along with a plan to set aside one block of time a month to get it done.

Ask for input

No one wants to feel like they’re being forced against their will to make a change. When your team has a chance to contribute and take ownership, your project is no longer just another command from on high. Going through and considering all the input may add some time to the schedule, but it’ll balance out with increased support.

Listen

If someone’s still putting up a fight, don’t dismiss them – sit down with them, empathize with their position and try to understand what they’re anxious about. Or, if they’re more comfortable speaking with a peer, find a champion who’s willing to do the same. Your skeptics are a blessing and will help you deal with potential issues before they become big problems.  

Identify risks

What other initiatives are happening at your school that could take time and resources away from your curriculum mapping implementation? Are you making any assumptions about the time things will take, the tasks involved or the resources you have? Now’s the time to think about possible roadblocks and contingencies to get around them.

Build a plan

For curriculum mapping to work, you need teachers to sit down and look at what they teach, both individually and as groups. Chances are, for a full rollout, this will be years in the making. Keep everyone informed, focused and moving toward your end goal over that time by identifying your milestones, setting transparent and reasonable expectations, identifying the resources you need along the way and tracking your progress with the whole team.

3. ROLLOUT

Start with a pilot

Like with any new initiative, you’ll probably have a small group of early adopters who are champing at the bit to take the leap. Let them. Map the curriculum for one content area like math as a pilot project. Starting small gives you a chance to test out the process, collect data about how things went, make changes to improve things for next time and build believers along the way.

Factor in training

Before you go school- or district-wide with your new curriculum mapping plan, you’ll want to make sure all staff members have the right knowledge and skills to make it work. Through your pilot, you should have learned some valuable lessons about what’s really involved in a rollout – and now you can pinpoint what others need to master based on what your pilot group struggled with most. Add that to your next PD agenda.

Spread the practice

You don’t need to eat the whole elephant at once. As they say, go one leg at a time. So if you started mapping with math, and ran a successful pilot, now you can bring in teachers from other related subjects like science or computer science. This gets the ball rolling on vertical alignment within your school, too – you might be surprised at how much subjects and grades overlap, or how many gaps there are where no one’s addressing key knowledge and skills.

4. REINFORCE

Never stop changing

Curriculum mapping is a reflective, iterative process. The first time you do it, it won’t be perfect. It might not even be good. That’s okay, because the second time? It’ll get better based on the lessons you learned. And the third time, it’ll be better still. That’s why it’s important to step back at the end of each year and talk as a group about what worked well and what you can improve for next year.

Change is for the long-term.

The only constant in life is change. It was true in 500 BC for the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who coined that phrase, and it’s true for your school.

The technology we use is changing. The instruction methods we use are changing. The way we assess students is changing. Even the students who come through our doors are changing. It’s scary to change, we know. But we do it anyway – because what’s difficult to master today promises to pay off in dividends tomorrow when students are better prepared to succeed.