But why would we want school faculty to commit
to implementing something they don’t agree is
the best direction to go? Quite simply, we want to
fuel the school’s ability to make data-based decisions. For every initiative we select, we are to an
extent guessing that a research-based or promising
practice will have a positive impact on our school.
In reality, this is an empirical question that can only
be answered after we implement the initiative and
examine our data. There is, however, one certainty:
If there is mutiny and the initiative is carried out
only halfheartedly or with resentment, it will likely
fail—and not necessarily because it was a bad idea.
By establishing a culture of disagree and commit,
we create opportunities to test initiatives in our
schools and to have honest discussions about what
the data reveals after implementation. We can use
that data to inform subsequent decisions. But to
be able to prove or disprove our hypotheses about
a new practice, we must have implemented it
with fidelity. Real buy-in happens when teachers
integrate a change and then see the positive effects
Grading reform, to take one example, is an
excellent opportunity to use disagree and commit.
Subgroups of families or teachers often believe
that traditional ways of grading are fairer, easier
to use, and—as a result—better left alone. There
may also be groups who feel the specific language
being proposed for report cards or in policies to
guide classroom assessment isn’t quite right. In
some schools, this debate goes on for years before
any change is put into place. In other schools,
however, decisions are made with purposeful
input from stakeholders, new grading practices are
implemented, and the school collects data.
I recently worked as a consultant with a school
in which the leadership brought a representative
team of teachers together to make initial decisions
about grading policy and the documentation used to
report students’ learning. There was disagreement
even in this small group. Two teachers felt that,
for the language arts reporting categories, reading
nonfiction and fiction should be reported separately.
Others felt that the skills were transferable and
that they didn’t need to report those as distinctly
In the end, although disagreement remained,
Five Initiative-Saving Steps
the team chose to keep the categories separate
and revisit the question the next year. From their
data and reflections, they will be able to make
decisions on how to revise or finalize their proce-
dures. But debating for years would have left the
school with no new information on which to base
their decisions, and would have delayed or derailed
implementation of grading reforms.
What can school leaders do to get staff members to
disagree and commit to implement an initiative? Try
these five steps.
1 Establish the protocol of school change.
Describe the disagree-and-commit model and the
rationale behind it to the faculty. Impress on them
the need for full commitment to implementation
of ideas that are going forward, even when there
isn’t universal agreement about the practices, so
the school can learn from data and grow. Invite
disagreement and honest, open communication in
public forums—while discouraging private mutiny,
for the health of the school.
2 Involve families early on.
Families are often informed about a significant
school change after that change has been made.
Understandably, schools sometimes don’t want to
ruffle parents’ feathers until all the kinks in a new
initiative are ironed out. Many times, however,
leaders can avoid massive turmoil by involving
families earlier in the process. We can provide
information on why we are considering a change
and create opportunities for parents to voice their
opinions on some of the negotiable aspects of the
initiative. Most parents aren’t experts in education,
but they care deeply about the outcomes of their
children’s schooling. Many want to have an understanding of bigger school changes. Intentionally
inviting families into conversations can be a wise
investment in an initiative’s success.
3 Be clear where the choices are—and aren’t.
When presenting a new idea or practice to faculty
members, it’s important to be clear on what’s fixed
and what’s flexed. That is, be honest about what has
already been decided and what aspects you’re still
seeking input on. There is nothing more frustrating
than being asked for input after a decision has
already been made. That’s not a good use of time,
and it burns serious social capital with your faculty.
Instead, as you present the initiative, describe the
nonnegotiables (what’s already been decided) and
open up the floor for discussion on the components
for which you’re still seeking input.