Change is HARD! Impossible, if not planned for!
When we created our company of Don’t Ever Stop! in 2007, our initial interest was to write a book about the difference leaders make in a school. We had a working title of the Principal Difference, modeled after the Presidential Difference work by Professor Emeritus Fred Greenstein of Princeton. He identified a set of leadership characteristics and evaluated our Founding Fathers and our most recent Presidents up through Obama through these criteria. These included: public communication, organizational capacity, political skill, vision, cognitive style, and emotional intelligence. We researched and visited Dr. Greenstein in Princeton, however DES shifted its focus to the systemic change needed in our educational system which resulted in our two books, Reawakening the Learner.
As we continue our work with school principals, we realize supporting and training leaders to lead this work has become even more relevant. Even with the right intellectual framework, a supportive Superintendent and Board, early adopting teachers and eager students, if the principal does not have the skills to support the change and insist upon its implementation, the change will not be sustained.
Leading the Change
What ARE the skills principals need to lead a change in their school? First, the principal needs to create the need for change in his/her school by presenting data to show that the status quo is not good enough. Principals will have to support teachers through being adaptable, flexible, and persistent. Recently, staff are discussing a growth mindset for students to continue their learning through barriers, but also a principal needs to create an environment for a growth mindset to flourish for the adults.
In order for a school staff to change, the principal and school leaders will need to inspire staff to accept their own personal change, share a common moral purpose, trust and support each other, and believe that the change will make a difference. DES believes these four things must be in place in order for a change such as Personalized Competency to flourish. Currently we are seeing a struggle between empowered staff having the autonomy to do what they think is right for their community and yet feeling like they need to wait for permission. It’s important that leaders define the components (design criteria) of a change that are necessary for the proposed change and what autonomy leaders and their staff have to make it their own. Staff are hesitant to be creative because they have been asked to do implement change and curriculum “with fidelity” which meant everyone had to implement in an identical manner (for example scripted texts).
Principals should research and understand the change process through the following research: 1) McRel: Leaders need to assess the impact of the change on their staff. If it’s first order change, teachers have the skills and knowledge to enact the change. Leaders will need to be supportive and positively reinforce teacher efforts as they begin the change process. If a teacher perceives the change as second order, then the principal will need to provide the teacher will professional development for the new skill and knowledge they will need to implement the change. The leader may need to find a colleague to help and support a peer in second order change so as not to feel insecure during the beginning implementation phase.
2) Bridges 3 phases of change: Ending of old practice, Neutral zone, and Beginning of new practice. During the Ending phase, principals should be able to identify what is being lost and acknowledge those losses openly. Stakeholder may go through a grieving process and must be able to communicate by defining what is gone and what is not gone. Principals need to connect the ending with the vision of the common moral purpose and why the ending was necessary.
The neutral zone is the period between the ending and the new reality. There are several dangers in the neutral zone: rising anxiety, absenteeism, weaknesses become worse, people lose confidence, polarization between those who want to go back to the past and those who want to move forward, and the school is vulnerable to attack. The principal should create an awareness of these factors and support each individual through these dangers. Innovation and experimentation should be encouraged and temporary systems created. This is a productive time and should not be rushed.
The new Beginning is a time when the school expresses a new identity. The principal must be able to explain the basic premise of the the change, share the plan to implement the change, and give each person an part to play in the new beginning. During this time the principal must be consistent, ensure and celebrate success, and symbolize the new identity.
3) Kotter: He has 8 Steps to implementing successful change. They are: creating a sense of urgency, creating a guiding coalition, developing a vision and strategy, communicating the change, empowering broad-based action, generating short-term wins, consolidating gains and produce more change, and anchoring new approaches in the culture.
Leaders need to be the keepers of the moral purpose and the change. The leaders of the school must supply the pressure and support (feedback loop) to align policies and procedures to the change and provide resources (time, financial and human) to accomplish the expected change.
It is vital for school principals and administrators to understand the change process and the implications on the adults who will be the focus of the change. Without understanding these steps, resistance will occur and folks will want to return to the old way. Even with the best of intentions for increasing student learning, everybody wants change, but no one wants to change.