Crucial Conversations and Self Differentiation

An incredible amount of money has been invested in technology in our school district. Wireless access is a standard in every building. SMART boards are employed in every classroom, and software and peripherals are being purchased every day for teachers to use with their students. In our building alone, over 380 iPads have been made accessible, half of which are used in 1:1 classrooms at the Kindergarten and 1st-grade levels. There are also close to 200 laptops which are shared by 3rd-5th grade classrooms.  But a majority of these devices and tools are not used effectively because teachers are not provided with time to learn to use them. My plan is to change that.


It’s our goal, as educators, is to create a learning environment that inspires thinking, dreaming and doing.

It’s not enough to share my plan. The way I do that is extremely important. It’s the crucial conversations involving that change that influence its success. Crucial conversations take place in our lives every day. Something as simple as arguing with a teenage daughter about whether she can go to a party on Friday night, or where to take the next family vacation can be considered a crucial conversation. In either case, there will be opposing opinions, strong emotions and high stakes (Grenny, 2012).


To be an effective leader it’s important to know how to handle crucial conversations appropriately. I need to remain self-differentiated, meaning that I stand for what I believe in without getting emotional,  and without becoming negatively influenced by those who don’t agree with me (Camp, 2010). I will not be deterred by those who resist, or try to sabotage my plan. Instead, I will remain positive and focus on what is important to me.  I will be skilled in addressing tough issues and getting information out into the open, making the change process much more effective. I will focus on what I really want for myself and for my school. I will pay attention to signs that the conversation is becoming crucial, and then find a way to make it safe for everyone to communicate openly by clarifying any misunderstandings they may have. I will separate facts from stories, and state my path while exploring and accepting others’ paths as well. I will make decisions about how to move forward and involve my colleagues along the way. I will consider my process in making the crucial conversations effective as we pursue my goal.

Every classroom in our building will become a blended learning environment that makes effective use of technology and allows engaging activities in which students can learn more effectively on a daily basis during the 2017-2018 school year.

My strategies are based on three books I’ve recently read about making change, including Joseph Grenny and Kerry Patterson’s Influencer, and Crucial Conversations and Chris McChesney and Sean Covey’s The 4 Disciplines of Execution. These strategies address the heart, the crucial conversations and the vital behaviors and sources of influence involved in the change process. Used together effectively, they can ensure success.


Anxiety exists among those teachers who are expected to use technology devices in their classrooms, and don’t know how. They are aware that using technology in their classrooms can make learning more engaging and effective, but the fact that they don’t have time to learn how to use them creates a stressful situation; one that causes resentment and resistance to using new strategies in their classrooms.

The conversation that needs to be had is with not only the teachers in my school, but the administration in my district, who need to recognize how important release time is to these classroom teachers. In order to use their classroom tools effectively, they need time to figure out how. In these crucial conversations, whomever they are with, the stakes are high. A lot of money, time and training is invested in our technology. The pressures of district mandates create a lot of emotion and resentment among our teachers, who are dealing with a new curriculum, and oversized classes. Opposing opinions regarding traditional vs. blended learning strategies create yet another factor that needs to be dealt with strategically. No teacher wants to be told they’re ineffective. Suggesting that they should be teaching differently will surely be met with some strong opinions. Addressing these three characteristics of a crucial conversation effectively is a process.


I want to inspire my colleagues to think differently about how they engage their students in learning. I want my colleagues to think creatively about how they can create more effective learning strategies. I want the students in our building to learn, and enjoy the process of doing so.

Allowing students to take some responsibility for the learning process is how we create lifelong learners. Technology isn’t required to do this, but it certainly offers students access to more than what is available within the walls of their classroom. It also allows them to collaborate and create, which are skills they can apply to any concept. Blending the technology with other independent activities allows students to see concepts from different perspectives, making their own connections. It creates an understanding that is deeper than recalling information that a teacher has presented.


When introducing the idea of my push-in integration at a staff meeting, a number of teachers will have questions. Others will tune me out or find distraction with something else. I will pay special attention to notice who will need encouragement, and who will be my initial co-teachers.  Outside the meetings, my conversations will typically be with those teachers who are on the go. On a daily basis, I am talking with colleagues before or after school. It’s the only time we really have available, other than lunch, which varies from teacher to teacher. I arrive to school much earlier than our contract requires me to, sometimes before anyone else gets there. It’s that quiet time of day that teachers actually have time to focus and think about fresh ideas, and that’s my time to have a one on one with them.

On occasions that I get to co-plan during lunch, I’ll pay attention to those teachers who are listening to our conversation. They are the ones who will be most willing to work with me in their own rooms.


Teachers shouldn’t have to worry about loosening their grip on the learning process. In fact, it’s not a bad thing to learn with or even from the students every once in a while. It demonstrates a teacher’s love of learning when they welcome input from their students and don’t distribute the information to them. The same principle holds true with teachers working together. No one wants to be judged by their colleagues. They should all be on the same team, and feel safe sharing opinions and ideas. My goal in creating a blended learning environment is to make my colleagues feel safe by co-planning and co-teaching lessons in their classrooms, on a voluntary basis. I will let them know I’m available to push in to their classrooms, and am willing to help them use technology in any way they choose. Our purpose is mutual.


Teachers that I work with will experience creative learning activities that allow students a variety of perspectives of a unit of the curriculum. They will learn how to use these new tools as we co-teach a lesson over a period of days. My gradual release of the technology aspect will assure their ability to use the tools in the future. I will share these successful experiences with my administration. My colleagues will share their experiences with their PLC’s (grade-level teams), who will be more comfortable with trying the strategies in their own room. They may even choose to work with me on a unit in their own classrooms. Creating a scoreboard will also tell a story by communicating to my colleagues that teachers are successfully creating blended learning environments in their classrooms.


My collection of shared lesson plans and feedback from participating teachers will create the path. Allowing teachers to share their experiences during our regularly scheduled staff meetings will communicate that teachers in our building are created blended learning environments in their classrooms. Hearing their discussions will allow me to target issues that could negatively affect my innovation plan. If I’m paying attention to the triggers that create the negativity, I can focus my path in ways that address them.


Effective communication with my colleagues will result in a shared pool of information. This information can be used for us to work together to plan lessons that we can co-teach using tools that address our goals and objectives. It is this teamwork that influences the change toward blended learning.


We’ve all led change. It may have been in our personal lives. It may have been at work. It may have been an effort to convince others how to vote in our most recent election. Whatever the case may be, the way we deal with change plays a big role in how we influence it.


Camp, J. (2010, November 10). Friedman’s Theory of Differentiated Leadership Made Simple. [YouTubeVideo]. Retrieved from

Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2012). Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. Columbus, OH: McGraw Hill.



My 4DX Strategy/Plan

As I have developed my innovation plan, I have considered a number of philosophies, models of instruction, and theories of behavior change. My most recent work focuses on two methods that are used to successfully execute strategic priorities. The first is the Influencer Model, which focuses on six sources of influence that that make change in an organization inevitable (Grenny, 2013). The second is the Four Disciplines of Execution, which is a proven formula for producing the results we seek (McChesney, 2012). I have combined these two strategies to create what I believe to be a realistic and goal-oriented strategy that promotes a shift toward a blended learning environment throughout my school.

When installing the Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX), a team can expect to go through five stages of change. It is important to identify these stages, as they are significant contributors to my strategy where the four disciplines are concerned.

What I want to achieve:
Every classroom in our building will become a blended learning environment that makes effective use of technology and allows engaging activities in which students can learn more effectively on a daily basis during the 2017-2018 school year.

Stage 1: Clarity

Being clear about what is expected and how success will be measured when implementing the 4 Disciplines of Execution is key to a strategy’s success. Convincing the members who contribute to my innovation plan that the change will benefit everyone is what will make my plan successful. I’ve been preparing my co-workers by sharing suggestions and strategies for blended learning in a regularly published Tech Newsletter that has been distributed in my school. I have also prepared students for blended learning environments by using my computer lab time to teaching them how to tools that area available to them on iPads and laptops in their classrooms. I have also had many discussions with my principal, and other district technology instructors and administrators, who have played a role in helping me plan my strategy.

Stage 2: Launch

The start for my innovation plan will take place on a School Improvement Day (Thursday). My principal will introduce the Integration Program to my colleagues, encouraging willing participants to contact me so that we could plan and team teach lessons that would integrate technology and blended learning into their classrooms. We will put the plan into motion on the following Monday, when teachers have had time to consider ways in which I can help them.

Stage 3:  Adoption

My Tech Newsletter continues to encourage teachers to introduce new strategies in their classrooms, and teachers are already contacting me for assistance in their classrooms. As I work with teachers over lunch, other teachers overhear our discussions and are interested in what we’re doing. Personally, socially, and structurally, my experiences with willing teachers  is influencing the not so willing to rethink their own strategies.

Stage 4: Optimization

As teachers are experiencing success in their classrooms, they will share their experiences with grade level team members in weekly PLC meetings. By sharing educational strategies, they will be motivating one another to become models for a blended learning environment in their own classrooms.

Stage 5: Habits

If grade level teams continue to use the new skills they’ve learned, and if they share new experiences with one another, the movement toward a blended learning environment will take on a natural life of its own.

Stages of Change and the 4 Disciplines of Execution

 Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important (Getting Clear)

Taking into account the fact that the whirlwind is the biggest deterrent in making a change toward blended learning, I’m placing myself in the role of “co-teacher” and I’m working with my colleagues to introduce their traditional concepts in new ways. By taking some of the responsibility and risk out of their hands, they are more at ease with seeing how effective and engaging different strategies can be for their students.

In order for my plan to be successful, I have established a system of documentation that includes lead measures and a scoreboard that will communicate to all participants just how successful their participation is to the climate of our school.

Discipline 2: Act on the Lead Measure (Launch and Adoption)

Reaching our WIG will require the involvement of all of my colleagues, whether it’s by directly working with me, or through team collaboration where those with experience share with one another. Lead measures that I have created are predictive, influential, ongoing, measurable and worth measuring.
Before team teaching with each of my colleagues, we will sit together to complete a learning plan, which will document the experience. Together, we will determine the goals of the lesson, and how success will be measured. These documents will ultimately be shared as lesson strategies with other teachers in the building.

Discipline 3: Keeping a Compelling Scoreboard (Optimization)

In order to show my colleagues that change is being made successfully, I will create a scoreboard on which growth will be indicated. I plan to use a chart that shows each team as a series of building blocks (one per teacher). Those blocks will be colored in as teachers employ new blended strategies in their classrooms. The design of my chart will accomplish many things:

  • It will communicate to teachers that we (as a school) are moving toward a blended learning environment.
  • It will allow teachers to see which members of their teams could offer them support as they introduce new strategies.
  • It will be socially influential, as teachers will see that their colleagues are seeing success.
  • It will offer suggestions for tools that can be used in the classroom.

My scoreboard will be placed in the teacher’s lounge, where teachers will see it throughout the day. By updating it regularly, teachers will see that the plan is active and that change is constantly being made.


Discipline 4: Create a Cadence of Accountability (Habits)

To ensure that we are working toward the WIG, it’s important for us to hold ourselves accountable for attaining our smaller goals. Throughout this semester, I will be meeting with a technology administrator every two weeks to discuss my experiences and my own progress regarding my plan. In addition, I will be using a series of forms to document the process. Plans for integration will be organized in a form that has been designed for this program.  Feedback from the teachers will be collected in a second form. This will assure that teachers are involved in the change process just as much as I am. It will also help me to determine what is successful and what is not as I move ahead.

Influencer vs. 4DX

My innovation plan has been influenced by both the Influencer Model and the 4 Disciplines of Execution. These models are tools that work together to make me think logically about how to make change where it needs to be made.  The Influencer model helps to personalize the change process by considering the people involved and what influences them. The 4DX model is less personal and geared more toward logic and measure, targeting the whirlwind rather than the people. When used together effectively, they assure a more successful result when making significant change.


Grenny, J., Patterson, K., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2013). Influencer: The new science of leading change: 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

McChesney, C., Covey, S., & Huling, J. (2012). The 4 disciplines of execution: Achieving your wildly important goals. New York, NY: Free Press.

Influencer Strategy

My innovation plan aims to change the classrooms in my elementary school into blended learning environments that make effective use of technology and allow engaging activities in which students can learn more effectively.


Every classroom in our building will become a blended learning environment that makes effective use of technology and allows engaging activities in which students can learn more effectively on a daily basis during the 2017-2018 school year.

Using the Influencer Change Model as a guide, I’ve spent much time identifying the vital behaviors, organizational influencers, and six sources of influence that will help me to achieve my goal (Grenny, 2013). They are identified below, and will serve as crucial components in the success of my innovation plan.


The obvious: A majority of the teachers in my building use traditional learning strategies. They instruct from the front of the classroom, while requiring their students to sit quietly in their seats throughout the typical school day.

Crucial moments: The same students who are known for creating disciplinary problems continue to do so, because they are not engaged in the learning process. In addition, the teachers frequently interrupt their lessons to guide the distracted students back to instruction. This interruption in turn distracts additional students from the lesson, making learning less effective. In short, students are not engaged.

Learning from positive deviants: A few of the teachers in my building are much more comfortable with relinquishing control of the learning process, and have become facilitators. They welcome opportunities for students to learn independently or from one another, and are employing a variety of strategies, including technology, choice, and or collaboration in their classrooms on a regular basis.

Culture busters: One of the main problems that teachers in my building face is the expectation for them to follow the district mandated curriculum. While many are open to presenting concepts in more non-traditional ways, they are uncomfortable doing so. They do not have the time needed to prepare lessons that are more engaging than those they have used in the past. They also do not have time to observe the strategies of blended learning environments in their colleagues’ classrooms.


Our biggest influencers are in the district’s department of elementary technology teachers, who are officially piloting an integration program as of this month. The program aims at working with classroom teachers to create engaging and tech-friendly activities for learning in their classrooms. The idea is that we will coach the teachers as they introduce new strategies, and gradually release them to continue the strategies independently. Also influential in the process are the teachers who are comfortable with offering non-traditional (blended) strategies in their classrooms. Finding time for them to share their strategies and outcomes with other educators is a challenge, as the district mandates how our staff/district, and professional development time is spent. My innovation plan includes efforts to get district administration to provide release time for faculty members to share with one another.






Grenny, J., Patterson, K., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2013). Influencer: The                new science of leading change: 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.