“I have a great new program! Everyone will love it! It’s game changing! A best practice! The best thing since sliced bread! It will change the world!” … Aaaaaand the teachers show no interest. Can’t they see how amazing this idea is? Why aren’t they doing the new thing? Do I have to push and prod them? Am I not selling it right? Why can’t I get teacher buy-in? Is something wrong with my idea? Is there something wrong with me?
If teachers aren’t buying in to an initiative you are excited about, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to fail or that it’s not a great idea. However, when getting teacher buy-in is an enormous struggle, something about your idea or approach needs revising. Here are six questions to ask yourself if you are struggling to get teachers to get on board with a program, idea, or strategy you are excited about.
1. Did I ask teachers what they and their students need?
Teachers know what they need and what their students need. They work with these kids all day, every day. If you are not consulting them, your new magic pill may have no connection to the needs they are seeing, and they will probably feel as though their voice and experience does not matter. No one does well when they don’t feel listened to.
Before digging for new things, talk to your teachers about what students need and where they are struggling. And don’t just talk to core subject teachers or the teachers you feel comfortable with. Talk to the elective teachers and the special education teachers. Talk to the quiet teachers, the new teachers, the opinionated teachers, and the instructional assistants. Find the threads they share and use them to inspire the programs you look at. They may even have suggestions that blow your original idea out of the park.
2. Do I know what teachers are doing in their classrooms?
If not, they might already be doing the thing you are suggesting. It might be in a slightly different way, with a different name, but it’s probably happening. Telling them to change something that they are already doing, just to be in line with a new program, is frustrating and feels like a waste of time.
Visit classrooms more than once or twice a year. Know what teachers are doing. Be someone they feel safe coming to and can trust to support their new ideas and creative solutions. Being present and acknowledging the good things that are already going on will help you determine what’s next.
3. When was the last amazing new program implemented?
If it was last year, or last month, or last week, teachers are either overwhelmed or feel like there is no point in adopting something new when it will be gone and replaced in six months. Too many new programs kill teacher buy-in. Before investing in a program, make sure it can last long term. No one can see the future, so it’s impossible to know if a program will definitively last or not. However, teachers need to see that you give programs time to work before deciding they need to be replaced.
4. How much money is going into this? Could it be used better elsewhere?
Teachers spend a lot of their own money supplying their classrooms. Spending a bunch of money on a program that teachers feel is not necessary is going to be upsetting, even if that money comes from elsewhere. This is especially true if teachers see students coming to school hungry or without proper clothing.
Before spending money on a program, figure out how to get the most bang for your buck. Does everyone need the same training? Is there a way to inexpensively distribute the information? Do you need all the bells and whistles companies want to sell? Teachers want to feel that money is being spent wisely on their students. If they feel like you’re wasting money, good luck getting investment from teachers.
5. Am I suggesting that they are bad teachers who need a new program to get better?
Teachers work hard and want to do their jobs well. If you bring in a new program with an attitude that says that everyone in the room is deficient, you are going to insult hard-working, talented people.
If you have a cool opportunity, present it as such. Show how it can add to classrooms that are already great. Focus on specific teachers who may benefit more than others instead of applying blanket programs. Insults, even when unintentional, do not create teacher buy-in.
6. Is this really a good program, or did I just fall for a sales pitch?
Teachers have strong BS detectors. If a program sounds like it isn’t supported by research, doesn’t help your specific school community, or just seems too good to be true, they probably won’t trust it. Do your research. You should ensure that what you are presenting is supported by solid research and makes sense at your specific school and for your students’ specific needs.
Teachers often know what they need. It is one of the school leader’s most important jobs to listen and help fulfill those needs. If teachers feel listened to, know their time and experience are respected, and don’t feel as though they must change everything they are doing at once, teacher buy-in will happen, and you won’t be the only one excited about your new idea.
Plus check out this article: When Principals Don’t Trust Their Teachers.