Education Opinion

Successful Change Requires Leadership at all Levels

By Learning Forward — August 15, 2013 2 min read
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Jeff Ronneberg

Educators across the country are in the midst of implementing the Common Core. I wonder what the results of these efforts will be in three to five years. Will we see systemic changes in our schools?

Historically, we have learned that, no matter the industry, most change efforts are not effectively implemented, and there is often little success in transforming personal practices or systemic actions and results.

Why is change so hard?

According to Lee Colan and Julie Davis-Colan, “It’s not that our intentions are bad; quite the contrary. ... The problem is that most of us don’t stick with it long enough to permanently change our behavior and get the results we want.”

In a 2005 Fast Company article, Alan Deutschman emphasized the difficulty of change when he cited a study by Dr. Edward Miller at Johns Hopkins University. You would think an individual who has heart disease resulting in bypass surgery would change his or her eating habits and exercise. Yet, Dr. Miller found, “if you look at people after coronary artery bypass grafting two years later, 90% of them have not changed their lifestyle.”

The good news is that, despite the difficulty of change, there are schools across the country that have navigated their journeys successfully. Whether the change you are engaged with is the Common Core or another initiative, professional learning must be at the core. Ultimately, if the adults are not learning, the students will not learn.

I know that if the staff in our district are to effectively implement significant initiatives, it is my responsibility to create the systemic conditions that provide the time and resources necessary for teachers and staff to engage in learning. I need to model learning while creating a compelling case for change and improvement. I need to foster a culture of reflection that results in people seeing how their unconscious mindsets might influence their practice.

As a leader, I can’t do it alone. It takes leaders at all levels of the district. One example would be Westwood Middle School, which has taken strides in personalizing professional learning based on the unique needs of its students. While the school is part of a larger system, staff know they need to look carefully at where their students struggle to know what they need to learn. When I walk through the school, there are conversations happening at all levels — the 7th-grade math teachers examining data together, or the continuous improvement coaches talking one-on-one with teachers to help them improve specific lessons. At every level, these leaders are taking responsibility for aligning their learning — and their resources — to attain better results for students.

The school-based leaders and learners in my district have helped me understand that successful change requires leadership from all levels, continuously adapting our efforts to ever-changing influences, bringing coherence and alignment to our efforts.

This post also appears in the August issue of JSD.

Jeff Ronneberg
President, Learning Forward Board of Trustees

The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.