What does leadership become when compliance rules the day? Is the conversation how to get the job done and make people feel good about it? There is new curriculum, a teacher evaluation process, new standardized tests, new assessments, more data and new technology. None come with new resources to support the work. All purportedly are intended to improve teacher performance and student achievement. The messages come fast and furious through administration, through teachers, and land on the students. It is not the intended outcome; compliance is. But compliance, only, is short sighted and has unintended negative consequences unless the leader is able to infuse a bigger picture that gives meaningfulness to the work.
Authorities can promote policies that are beneficial in theory - create small high schools or require high-stakes testing, for instance. But in practice, EFFECTIVE EDUCATION IS CONTEXTUAL. - Michael McGill
Here is an example of a memo that reflects the respectful intent to be compliant. It is an example from higher ed, but is a good example of how missteps can alienate rather than galvanize.
The administration has directed me to move our program’s delivery system to a hybrid/online model. This means that beginning in fall, 2016, each course will be scheduled as either fully online or as a hybrid (i.e., partially online). We already have this model in place for several courses. To be eligible to serve in this program, you will have to become “certified” to provide “Online/Hybrid Instruction. You need to submit an activity (or activities) with an online component. Include your syllabus with the submission. A committee will assess the activity and, if acceptable, it will recommend you for “certification.”
Behind the words “The administration has directed me” is a message (intended or not) that the messenger, in this case a department head, is not doing something he/she believes in but is passing on the marching orders. An alternative, which is an alternative each superintendent, central office administrator, and principal has, is to process the “direction” until they can rework the message through sense making and redesign to make it valuable. The leader’s responsibility is not to simply pass on marching orders, but to contextualize how it will benefit the work being done in the school. In that regard, the message should welcome people into a process that will make a meaningful difference in the work being done. In the case of the example given here, questions to guide the leader are:
- What is the vision driving the change to a hybrid/online model?
- How can it benefit faculty, students and add to the learning experience of those in the program?
- What is the professional value of certification? What is the process?
- How will we address the value of face to face interaction or assess the impact of the lack of it?
- How will this contribute to the quality of the program?
- What is the readiness of the faculty and which courses are my strongest points of entry for this change?
There are stumbling blocks to watch for when carrying out new mandates or policies. First, as we have noted, simply passing it on without having made sense of how it will play out in the immediate environment fails to engender the interest or the engagement of those being asked to change. That will always result in a weak implementation.
Secondly, there are those being affected by the change. In the example we’ve shared, not only are the professors being asked to change, the manner in which the students will be learning will be changed. The support of the students is not a guarantee but it does contribute to fuel the engagement professors, at least early on. It is the responsibility of those asking and those being asked to change to monitor the quality of the education being offered as the delivery vehicle is changing.
In this example, the change involves leaving things behind and the excitement and trials of new learning. Risks are taken when starting anew, when shifting professional practice. Learning takes place when reflecting on successes as well as missteps. The leader not only has to have made sense of the “marching orders”, but has to secure a safe enough environment, built on respect and integrity, so that those being asked to take the risk of being first, can be fearless in their attempts, receive positive and encouraging feedback, and receive acknowledgment for the small successes along the way. It isn’t simply a frame of mind, it is a skill set that is coupled with an encouraging attitude, confidence and clarity. The invitation into the change invites the community (the department, school or district) aided by developing the leadership of others, building capacity.
...communities steer the learning of individual participants and the community as a whole toward developing understandings, skills, strategies, and processes to support or facilitate the learning of other adults inside the school, district, or other education organization. In these communities, participants see their learning as instrumental to the common need of leading...(Martin-Kniep p. 22)
Change is challenging. Leading change is also challenging. Inviting and empowering others to join you in the change, to lead along with you, bringing purpose into the work being done, with understanding about the direction and the reasons, is far more energizing to the organization than “we’ve got to do it because we’ve been told to.”
Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. - Thomas Edison
Martin-Kniep, G.O. (2008). Communities that Learn, Lead, and Last. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons
McGill, M. (February 2016 School Administrator). Reconnecting Practioner and Policymaker (pp.11-12)
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.