40 comments on “Change agents – young, old or dead?

  1. Interesting thought as ever, Jeremy. It is refreshing to remember that even those we look up to and respect in the profession have their own role models or people who inspire them.

    I’m not sure a change agent has to be another person. In reflective practice, people are encouraged to look at themselves and decide what they are doing well and what needs to be improved. So can we be our own change agents? I think so, though I also recognise that this requires a certain amount of focus and the ability to be critical of oneself, as well as dedication to strive to be better.

    In fact, I don’t think a change agent needs to be an actual person.
    ‘Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important’ (Steve Jobs).
    Just by facing the prospect of death, realising that time is so limited, could be catalyst enough for some to strive to be and do better.

    • Thanks Mike for coming along – and for reminding us (me) that actually we have the potential for change in our own hands. That if we just think and think enough we can change our world!

      Jeremy

  2. Excellent post. So much to think about here. I was wondering how many people quit their jobs, left their wives, bought airplane tickets, after watching the Steve Jobs video. I’m sure many thought about doing it, but did they? It’s a fantastic video, and I actually shared it with a twitter friend the day before Jobs died when I heard she was down in the dumps. I think death can be a change agent for a short time, but is it long-lasting? I agree with Mike. It doesn’t need to be a person. Sometimes a quote does it for me. But again, is it long-lasting?

    • Hi Tara-the-writer!

      thanks for coming along and yes…it can be a song, a thought, a conversation…just something that lifts you out of your socks for a moment or two. And we FEEL as if we have changed, are capable of change. But how much do we really change I wonder?

      Jeremy

  3. Interesting question, and it is one that has kept me wondering for years, both on a personal level (to what extent can we change ((or does our past largely determine our future)) and on a social level as well— how does change occur and how do quantitative and qualitative issues affect this.

    A change agent would always be somehow who sees very clearly what is, and also sees very clearly what is not, which is closely linked to what could be. I think there is a tendency for those that pass the 30-ish age hump to seek stability with what is and be less concerned with playing that line of what “could be”. Then again, the wonderful thing about tendencies is they tend to have all kinds of wonderful exceptions. Thanks for the post, Jeremy.

    • Oh Brad … as someone who’s well over the 30ish hump I think I have to disagree😉
      Kids can crave and seek stability – people can be engaged in the “could be” at any age. Sometimes the older you are, the more imperative the need for change – you want it now – you don’t want to have to wait for it in a future you may not see. But then I’m falling into the ageist trap too – and I really don’t think it’s an age thing.

      Maybe we don’t have to take the idea of death so literally … maybe death is the stagnant, the unthinking, the unfeeling, the unquestioning – all the things that hinder change – so maybe if we can sweep this “death” out of the way, then we can make space for “life”, for change agents, whatever their age.

      • I’ve replied more globally below, but I’m now seemingly disagreeing with myself as the topic gets more specific . While I still think that the general population is more likely to have solidified world perspectives as they age, I think that those who are “agents of change” are thus regardless of their age… it’s a certain kind of person who is driven to such a degree that they continually look or think beyond what others might. Voilà, voilà.

    • Hi Brad,

      the 30s hump! Boy I wish I could remember that!

      But actually I am sure Ceri, below, is right. The older you get the more necessary it is to be open to change – because otherwise you just (well I would) atrophy. And it would be so easy just to relax and give up, but actually listening to people who challenge and change me keeps me 30 (well or 40, 50….etc)

      Jeremy

      • @Ceri, Jeremy and Ceci— I’m always in for a discussion ! (AND may it be over Red in Paris sometime soon!)

        RE: what creates an agent of change

        I agree that age is not the primary indicator for an agent of change, but openness, creativity, and that special fire. For me, these are the qualities that create “agents of change”.

        We can observe certain trends regarding age in a cold statistical way and they can provide a abstract though interesting picture. At the same time, a 10 year-old can be “older” in their mind than an 87-year old, and in the end, it is our state-of-mind that determines this truth the most.

        That being said, I would still argue that our openness to change typically does decrease as we age. I don’t think Ceri, Ceci or Jeremy are good examples of that (nor do I think I am), but I would think that statistically-speaking 18-30 year-old bracket is more open to change and inciting change than their 30+ year-old counterparts. It’s my background in sociology and statistics that drives this mode of thought, just as it brings me to these questions (based on the prior assumption):

        Would having a family tend to bring more focus inwards, and put greater value on stability ? Could this be associated with a certain time in life ? What other patterns and cycles could be attributed to change and stability ?

        I’m afraid we’ve attached a positive quality to “agent of change” (which I think is just one more part to a functioning society, just as the “denier of change” is), and hence “the 30s hump” can be seen as a negative judgement. Au contraire, to each thing it’s time and place.

        A healthy society would require as much stability as it would change, openness, and adaptation, would it not ? Isn’t diversity and the push and pull of different forces what holds it all together?

        I think this would be best continued over a bottle of red as proposed by Ceri on twitter, as well as a more dynamic environment for exchange. Funny thing is I think we’d probably all end up pretty close to the same place… I look forward to that !

  4. For some reason I react negatively to the term “change agent.” It always sounds a bit pretentious. Then, thinking vocabularily, I wonder, if a change agent helps you to change, and a travel agent helps you to travel, what does a secret agent do? But I suppose change agent suggests a person (because it is usually a person, right?) who has a significant impact on the way things are done.

    I think for instance, in the U.S., of Judy Gilbert, whose text Clear Speech, played a significant role in helping pronunciation teachers grasp the importance of suprasegmentals. But how much change needs to be inspired in order for an individual reach the threshold of “change agent” status? I think, for instance, of John Fanslowe, whose teacher training inspired many and who wrote some very innovative and highly-regarded books—but perhaps didn’t have as wide an impact on the field as some others. But he certainly had an impact on his students.

    In the end, I think it is probably enough that someone inspires us to change even a little. I recall once when I was despairing of small amounts of change making a significant difference, a friend said, well, think of an ocean liner leaving Southampton for New York. A difference of only one or two degrees in the angle of the rudder would have quite an effect by the time the ship made landfall!

    • Hi Joe,

      I love your ocean liner analogy. The smallest change can have the biggest consequences! I just wonder if/when I THINK I am changing whether it is just a nice excited ‘feeling’ rather than the real thing. I guess that’s what Tara was talking about above…

      Jeremy

  5. What a wonderful, thought-provoking post, Jeremy. Self-reflection provoking.

    I guess change agents can takes all shapes and sizes, ages and functions… Change itself can develop into yet another change agent. But more than anything, I believe what we call a change agent is most times a feeling of dissatisfaction within ourselves that is triggered by this something. This something that can be a person, a talk, music that makes you feel, an image. Having been through quite a few major changes recently, I see such an array of agents. Impressively enough, the first one was the name of a store where I had to buy something. Then the change it provoked me to make – quite a drastic one – became the trigger to an even bigger change.

    I’d have to disagree with Brad though, about a tendency for those that pass the 30-ish age hump to seek stability and not play the line of “what could be”. For me, it was that passing that acted a bit as a catalyst for change itself. I think getting to that age-marker actually makes a lot of people assess their lives and where they are, what they are, think of the “could be” even more intensely.

    Change agents can be all of the things you mentioned, Jeremy. And the ones Mike, Tara and Brad mentioned. Sometimes they are that for many – Steve Jobs’ speech seems to fit that category; sometimes they only work for one. As simple as it may sound, a simple conversation about art, traveling and music became a change agent for me once. Who knows where we’ll find one? Those things have a way of sneaking up on us – if we’re open to them.

    Thank you for the post. And for the reflection.

    • Hi Cecilia,

      I am interested in the idea that change agents may be minute snatches of song, a film, a glancing encounter! But it would be great to know if there were any relationship between the ‘size’ of the agent and the change effect it has…

      Jeremy

      • And I’d be delighted to tell you, my dear Jeremy, that size does not matter😉 The ‘size’ of the agent has no influence/effect the change it triggers. Most huge changes I’ve been through (personally and professionally) had no relation to the ‘size’ of the agent. The mere name of a store made me undergo major surgery that changed my life – physically and emotionally. An apparent, meaningless conversation on the gardens of a school, made me change my life and my professional take.

        It all depends on what’s inside, Jeremy, waiting to be pushed. Don’t you think?

  6. Very sad news about Donn Byrne, Jeremy, someone whose writing I have huge respect for and which, even now, after all these years, reads fresh and practical and down to earth to any foreign language teacher.

    I was fortunate enough to meet him many years ago, when my local TESOL brought him in and he was just as great a presenter,

    About Change

    To be an agent of change is in the brief of every teacher and since every human is a teacher of someone else, be it maths, a foreign language, or macrame, we are all of us its agents, aren’t we?

    It’s such a pity that so many educators don’t understand what a profound effect they may have on their learners just by being who they are and valuing what they value,

    We do need great change agents but we do also need lots of little ones who bring about positive changes – whatever they may be – to other people’s lives.

    I fear I may have missed the whole point of your reflections post Steve Jobs, but I am still somewhat upset about Donn Byrne’s passing away, so do forgive me.

    Marisa

    • Hello Marisa,

      you didn’t miss/haven’t missed the point at all! And I am so pleased that you met Donn Byrne and have happy memories of him. He was amazing back then and one of the stars of our profession (and more than that, as I have suggested, he was good writer).

      When people move on we just forget them, mourn them? Or perhaps we carry a little bit of them in us – just as (I am SURE you are right here) our students take us with them as they leave our classrooms and go out into the world!

      Jeremy

  7. Thanks for the mellow and reflective post, Jeremy. I never met him, but I’m saddened by Donn Byrne’s death – not least because now I’ll never be able to ask him, personally, if he coined the term PPP. I’m the proud owner of both the books you showcase (one of them I bought for a euro on Amazon!) and try as I might I can’t find a direct reference to PPP in either of them. Nevertheless, it seems to be generally accepted that he was the inventor of the terminology, if not of the methodology itself. In that sense, he was definitely influential and, I suspect, a change agent for a generation of teachers. RIP PPP.

    • Hi Scott,

      ah yes, the PPP thing – who INVENTED it? Well all we can say about Donn Byrne’s book is that he suggested re-ordering the PPP framework (I have quoted that in books before), but I never got to ask him where HE got the PPP thing from!!

      His methodology books ARE great, aren’t they. I hope that people will feel the same about us some day (though I don’t hold with the death part of that hope, obviously!!)

      Jeremy

      • Sorry to get caught up in probably the least interesting aspect of your blog, but as it happens I’ve set a couple of my 3rd year students the task of giving a presentation on Situational Language Teaching/the Oral Approach and they’ve come back to me saying where can we read more about it?(other than Ricahards and Rodgers, our core text). Anyway, it’s this methodology that’s credited with coming up with the model, if not the name isn’t it? My searches are getting abit circular. Looking for more info on PPP I come up with people who quote YOU as their authority, Jeremy. I think it’s your duty to find out who used this term first!

      • Hello Jenny,

        I am sorry it took me so long to reply to this.

        Yes it IS up to me to find out who first coined the term PPP. At the moment Donn Byrne is a good candidate I suppose.

        I have always thought that PPP emerged from structural/situational teaching, but who first called it that…? Who knows!

        Jeremy

  8. Thanks, Jeremy, for this post and for the link to the Steve Jobs’ talk. I really enjoyed that and I particularly like when he says, “believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path, and that will make a difference.”

    Like Cecilia, I believe that change can happen at any age. I don’t think it’s that the over 30s seek more stability but they do perhaps have more people to consider in any changes they make to their lives.

    Anyone, at any age, can ask why? Why do we do it this way? Why do I live here? Why are they treated that way? Why is that how we’ve always done it? Why don’t we try this? Anyone can be agents of change.

    Thinking about change and age reminded me of this news story I saw recently which gave me hope, and reminded me that you’re never too old🙂 http://bit.ly/omlX5I (Hope the link works!)

    Carol

    • Hey Carol,

      thank you thank you for the 101-year-old marathon runner!!

      I guess the answer is just (like Boxer in Animal Farm) to ‘try harder’! We HAVE to do that!

      Jeremy

  9. Wow! You have certainly triggered reflection, Jeremy!

    I do believe change can come at any time, but when you are younger you feel you have more time to play with… 30ish is an age when you wonder if this is the life you want and are ready to make serious changes, as Ceci and others said.

    I don`t think death is a necessary participant. Professionally, I have had a few inspiring people around who have mentored and helped me to make a desired change. We should never underestimate the influence we have on other people as change agents as many times we are simply not aware of it.

    Loved reading you all,
    Vicky

    • Hi Vicky,

      it is quite scary, isn’t it, to think that we (US) might actually be change agents! But seriously, I think that if we talk and communicate with passion – if we tell people what we believe in) then we just might affect other people. The only hope is that our influence is for the good!

      Jeremy

  10. Hello Jeremy, hy everyone,

    I believe change agents possess two different, antagonist and paradoxical natures: those we can control and those which control us.
    Death is one of these agents which tend to control us. We never give proper thinking or consideration to it. When She arrives, we are always taken aback whether we have prepared ourselves for it or not.
    Secondly those other agents push us forward due to a series of happenings in our lives which although we cannot predict, we can control whatever the outcomes are.
    Death, life, happiness, sadness, a song, a smile, a kiss, a no, a yes and a perhaps are some of the many true change agents. The question is what we do with them.
    Congrats on the post and thanks for allowing me this reflection.

  11. brad5patterson :

    @Ceri, Jeremy and Ceci— I’m always in for a discussion ! (AND may it be over Red in Paris sometime soon!)

    RE: what creates an agent of change

    I agree that age is not the primary indicator for an agent of change, but openness, creativity, and that special fire. For me, these are the qualities that create “agents of change”.

    We can observe certain trends regarding age in a cold statistical way and they can provide a abstract though interesting picture. At the same time, a 10 year-old can be “older” in their mind than an 87-year old, and in the end, it is our state-of-mind that determines this truth the most.

    That being said, I would still argue that our openness to change typically does decrease as we age. I don’t think Ceri, Ceci or Jeremy are good examples of that (nor do I think I am), but I would think that statistically-speaking 18-30 year-old bracket is more open to change and inciting change than their 30+ year-old counterparts. It’s my background in sociology and statistics that drives this mode of thought, just as it brings me to these questions (based on the prior assumption):

    Would having a family tend to bring more focus inwards, and put greater value on stability ? Could this be associated with a certain time in life ? What other patterns and cycles could be attributed to change and stability ?

    I’m afraid we’ve attached a positive quality to “agent of change” (which I think is just one more part to a functioning society, just as the “denier of change” is), and hence “the 30s hump” can be seen as a negative judgement. Au contraire, to each thing it’s time and place.

    A healthy society would require as much stability as it would change, openness, and adaptation, would it not ? Isn’t diversity and the push and pull of different forces what holds it all together?

    I think this would be best continued over a bottle of red as proposed by Ceri on twitter, as well as a more dynamic environment for exchange. Funny thing is I think we’d probably all end up pretty close to the same place… I look forward to that !

    Brad, I have always been somewhat haunted by the generally accepted truth that most successful people do their ‘best’ work in their forties. I heard that somewhere and it stuck with me. I guess the reason is that people DO ‘settle down’ and get comfortable. I’ve quoted the old Christian hymn before ‘change and decay in all around I see/Oh thou who changest not abide with me’ – where NOT changing is seen as the deity’s chief asset and a damn good thing!

    So I reckon the great temptation (and maybe the most comfortable thing) is to get ‘established’ and consolidate your position. But that’s a really scary concept to me. I don’t want to be a shark, but they do have to keep swimming if they are to continue living, and I reckon it’s the same with us!

    Jeremy

    • You’re far from a shark, Jeremy. As Ken says below, you fit into the group of folks who’ve seen a lot, contributed a lot, and yet still listen. I think that’s what most marked me about your presentation in Paris a few weeks ago. You were really present with the audience, and playing with the “now” of the discussion just as much as you were bringing your previous realizations to the table.

      Merci for the interesting banter, and hope to catch you around the block sometime soon.

  12. Cecilia Lemos :

    And I’d be delighted to tell you, my dear Jeremy, that size does not matter ;-) The ‘size’ of the agent has no influence/effect the change it triggers. Most huge changes I’ve been through (personally and professionally) had no relation to the ‘size’ of the agent. The mere name of a store made me undergo major surgery that changed my life – physically and emotionally. An apparent, meaningless conversation on the gardens of a school, made me change my life and my professional take.

    It all depends on what’s inside, Jeremy, waiting to be pushed. Don’t you think?

    Ah, that’s interesting….if I understand you, then it doesn’t matter how ‘impressive’ or not a change agent is, he, she, it will have no effect unless someone is ready for it, ‘up’ for it. How many of those students listening to Steve Jobs in 2005 were actually affected by what he said, I wonder.

    Stores and gardens!

    Jeremy

  13. Jeremy,

    old Crusties like you and me are venerated basically for not having fallen off the perch yet, even though we both mimic Manuel and say ‘I know nothing!’ when anyone accuses of us being gurus etc.

    I think you can divide Crusties into two types – the ones who nod patronisingly and go ‘Yeah, yeah..’ when a younger person says something of value, and those that listen intently, think ‘My God, she’s got it’ and then go on to add what we’ve just heard to our fund of general wisdom. We all know people in this business who belong to the first group, but I hope you and I belong to the second.

    It’s glorious to work in a business where you are surrounded by people like Brad and Ceci, who say nice things about us but also add to our personal knowledge stash (PKS, just made that up – but you can use it if you want).

    But at the end of the day, as the graffiti said: “Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.”

    • Hi Ken,

      vending machines! A great line.

      I don’t know about veneration etc, but I DO think you are right that remaining open to the exciting developments of younger people is one of the pre-requisites, I think for staying alive – and older people that i admire are like that.

      I’m still not sure whether older people are themselves change agents, however – I mean usually – though I am impressed by Mike Harrison’s comments about being change agents for ourselves…

      Keep on tucking!

      Jeremy

  14. Dear Mr. Harmer.
    Those who have passed are remembered in a good and in a bad way.
    YOU are always remember and I would like to know if you and Pearson are ever planning for you to come to visit Curitiba.
    You would be so much welcome, and treated like the king of the king of ELT as you are and have been great since decades.

  15. Pingback: Going with the ebb and flow of change | Valéria´s Blog

  16. (change will come) “Over my dead body!”… I’d like to think Jobs was also using death as the end of life to underscore the metaphor of death as the end of creativity/change/. Until death, change is a constant, whether we are aware of it or not. We here are in the business of change, are by and large looking for change in the people we are charged with developing, and are aware that change occurs through repeated social … practice.

    If we can convince our charges to reflect on their practice (often by requiring reflective practice for a semester) then we are not only performing as change agents, we are also creating agents of their own change.

    Thank you for the rich Storytelling workshop earlier in Seoul today. I’m Tom, on your far right – and through the demos and discussions today I’ve evolved my approach to “input” and getting teachers to pay attention to making it comprehensible. So — what does that make you, Jeremy?🙂

  17. Hi Jeremy,

    How are you. I am glad to discover your blog through freeeslmaterials.com.

    I run englishteachingdaily.com, a portal that offers a summary of latest ELT blog posts from the blogosphere, event updates, articles and more.

    This site has been launched on October 7 and in the first 20 days of its launch it received 5500 views,

    We would like to reprint your articles on my site. We will give appropriate credit to you for your works and link to your profile and the website.

    Kindly have a look at my website at englishteachingdaily.com and let me know if we could work out together.

    Thanks,

    Tarun Patel

    email: tarunjpatel@gmail.com
    skype: tarunjpatel

  18. Hola Jeremy!

    What a beautiful post. Glad to have run into your blog. A year ago, when I had the fortune of meeting you at the ABLA conference in Cali, Colombia, I was definitely going through what, to put it in SLA terms, could be coined ‘the input and output flood of change agents. Quitting a good (and loved) job to move to another continent to be with my grandfather, embracing the uncertainty of the future, starting the MA in TESOL program, finally exploring photography… the heart has been my agent of change and I feel I am not alone here. I am at a time right now where those changes are slowing down, but I feel like this constant state of influx has definitely made life much richer.

    I’m mixing both personal and professional aspects when talking about change agents, but in my mind, change is what allows us to appreciate the world around us instead of living on auto-pilot. Change also brings self-reflection, something you mention in your last post. How can we reflect on our teaching practices if we are not willing to take a new route and try something different? how can we see beyond our immediate experiences if we’re unwilling to embrace the unexpected?

    Hope our paths cross sometime soon again!

    Saludos,

    Laura.

    • Hello Laura,

      I am SO sorry it’s taken me a bit of time to reply to your comments. It was great to meet you last year. I remember it well. I have been interested to hear how you were getting on.

      Your ‘change’ sounds exciting, challenging and exhilarating. And yes, trying out something new, stepping out of the comfort zone, that can be so amazing – and it sounds like you are living that right now.

      I too hope our paths cross again. It would be great.

      Jeremy

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