Tuesday 1 July 2014

Why does so much CPD lead to so little change?

In my penultimate post before the summer break I will focus on the linkage between CPD and habit change.  In doing so, I will be drawing upon the work of Kegan and Lahey (2009) on how to overcome both individuals' and organisations' immunity to change.

Kegan and Lahey refer to a recent study which showed that when doctors tell heart patients that they will die if they do not change their habits, as few as one in seven will be able to change their lifestyle habits and change successfully.   Even when the stakes are a matter of life and death the power of the status quo can be incredibly attractive.  If this is the case, and given that CPD if often about bringing about much lower stakes change in habits and behaviours we should not be surprised if CPD is more often than not ineffective in bringing about sustained and meaningful change.

Kegan and Lahey argue that both individual collective beliefs provide a powerful antidote to change. This mechanism is illustrated in the following table which looks at the immunity to change, using as an example the integration of digital technology into day to day delivery of the curriculum.

Doing/not doing instead
Hidden competing commitment
Big assumption
We are publicly committed to integrating digital technology into day to day deliver
We continue not to integrate digital technology into schemes of work and teaching.
We value traditional teaching methods over and above the use of digital technology.
We assume that if we do integrate digital technology  it may reveal our own individual weaknesses in the use of digital technology.

This model of how an individual or group may thinks gives a profound insight into why many seemingly well supported CPD initiatives fail, i.e there maybe a commitment to the change but other things are more important and overpower that commitment.  Given the seeming power of this model to explain the immunity to effective CPD and resultant change, what can be done to try and overcome the thought processes which inhibit change

In a short blog post it is not possible to do full justice to Kegan and Lahey's insights into the process, nevertheless, they identify three ingredients' which increase the probability of change.
  1. Gut - the individual/organisation must really want to achieve the first column goal, it's never enough to have an objective which seems reasonable and rational, the commitment must come from a real sense of desire.
  2. Head and heart - both thinking and feeling must be engaged at the same time 
  3. Behaviour and mindset -it's not enough to think differently, success comes from taking specific steps which are inconsistent with our immunity to change and in doing so, challenges our thinking.
So what does this mean for the leadership and management of schools and colleges, well for me, three things stand out.

  1. Leading and managing effective CPD is hard, sophisticated work and requires time, skill and resources.
  2. An individual's CPD objectives need to fully engage with both the head and the heart. Top down models of setting individual' objectives which are mechanistically created from the top-level organisational objectives are unlikely to do so.
  3. The pace of change is likely to be erratic, this is messy stuff and individuals need to have safe places to try out behaviours which are not consistent with their belief systems.  

In my next post, I will be looking at the work of Philippa Lally and habit formation.


Kegan, R and Lahey, L, l. (2009) Immunity to Change : How to overcome it and unlock the potential in yourself and your organisation, Harvard Business Press, Boston.


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