School & District Management Opinion

4 Steps to Leading Successful Change

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — July 14, 2016 5 min read
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It is important to know how to do something. Direction are contained with purchases. Readers are always interested in pieces that are titled ‘4 Steps To A Solution’ or ‘5 Things To Remember When Planning For A Meeting’ or ‘4 Steps to Leading Successful Change’. Answers in a complex world are seldom as easy as a number of steps or skills but whenever someone can condense or reduce our lives into that simplicity the appeal is overwhelming. We understand it. These guides can be helpful with quick lessons and reminders about how to do something. Publishers of books, blogs, and articles make these lessons available in abundance.

The exposure to new information is mind opening, certainly. But going wide, instead of deep, can be stress producing. Learning, in and of itself, is a stressful activity. It begins with feeling or believing one doesn’t know something OR it begins with cognitive dissonance or curiosity. It can feel uncomfortable as the journey to truly understanding or learn something begins. We can have sympathy with our students. In the business of leading schools, why create a learning frenzy on top of the daily stress of the jobs of leading and teaching? But, how can change be led without introducing new ideas and practices to the staff?

Consider this list of only some of the possibilities of what may have or will cross your desk in the form of articles or books:

  • engaging all students
  • improving student achievement
  • introducing a STEM initiative
  • increasing the community’s value of the arts
  • integrating technology
  • applying visible learning
  • new graduation requirements

It is not unusual to find an article or book that resonates and, with the best of intentions, it turns into something that seems good for the school. Sharing the idea with staff, sending out the article or recommending the book are good professional practices but be wary of the eye rolling and the quiet whispering of “where is he/she taking us now”?

No change can take place without new learning. No change can take place without making room and that requires targeted letting go. No successful change can take place in an organization without system-wide understanding and support. Leaders cannot do this alone. Being convinced of something that will benefit the school and bringing others along are two different processes.

1) Goals Matter
Determine the long-term goal and this year’s indicator(s) for success. If you call it a goal for this year, be sure to nest it into the larger, long-term goal. This all assumes that the goal setting was done with the inclusion and collaboration of all stakeholders. Be sure the objectives and goals are understood by all. This guides the budget development and allocation of resources. These are very important pre-requisites and help with creating focus for the leader and the rest of the organization.

2) Read Differently
Many find that a visual representation of goals and indicators help focus work. Some develop a wall that places all the initiatives, indicators, and progress to reveal not only whether too much is being asked and enough is being done. Referring to the illustration while going through the mail, magazines, blogs, and books that arrive can be of help in keeping focused. Skimming the pile will certainly inform about what is new and happening. It is the sorting that matters first. You want to keep abreast of new and interesting ideas. New learning is valuable. What is shared and brought forward though, should be obvious to all as a support of the objectives and goals. New ideas and information can broaden the scope of awareness, but be sure they aren’t looked at as a warning of changes to come. Trust builds when everyone is sure they are included in change decisions. Even if the decision to change has somehow been made without them, inclusion in the discussion of ‘why’ and ‘how’ it will be done is important.

3) Keep Listening
Even leaders with the best of intentions for improving student success can lose sight of the weight a change process becomes for themselves and their teachers. Opposition is an important informer. So creating and maintaining an environment in which objections are not done ‘under one’s breath’ allows for course corrections. Open listening environments allow those with concerns to speak freely and gift the leader with the realities as they are perceived and experienced by those being asked to carry out the change. Maybe host a monthly open door hour for those who want to express opinions. Offer coffee. Listening to the opposition does not mean changing the goal, but it may mean getting more people on board. The more who are brought along in the journey for change, the more momentum the change gathers. You need to break the hold of the status quo for this to happen.

4) Choose Wisely
The wisest leaders target one or two new skills for the faculty to learn in service of the goal. The faculty sees the connection and can make sense of the purpose. The faculty supports the intention for improvement and remains part of the growth process. In some places, a committee that includes faculty does this. The leader who takes responsibility for communicating with the entire faculty in some form is the one who has the best chance of establishing the tipping point at which the learning is adopted and welcomed.

Coherence can lead the way. If this resonates with you, we recommend Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems, by Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn. In it, they describe what they call “The Coherence Framework”. It requires leaders focus the direction, cultivate collaborative cultures, deepen learning, and secure accountability (p. ix). The book is aimed at putting an end to “overload and fragmentation”. Exactly what we are talking about. Yes, it is another book to read, but it here’s a quote to whet your appetite.

Coherence making is a forever job because people come and go, and the situational dynamics are always in flux. Leaders actively develop lateral and vertical connections so that the collaborative culture is deepened and drives deepened learning and reinforces the focused direction (p. 128).

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Fullan, M. & Quinn J. (2016). Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin

Photo by Jacek Dudzinski courtesy of 123rf

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.