Professional Development Opinion

Can We Lead Change Without Changing How We Lead?

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — July 08, 2014 5 min read
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Summer is professional development time. The Fourth of July has past. Holiday picnics and fireworks are over. Some are in vacation mode and others are experiencing shortened summer work hours. Everyone lays back a bit. This is our deep breath time of year. But, there are still things on our minds and the never ending tug of what comes next. It is the space we need to make reflection more than just a moment. It is also a time to look ahead, to consider both our inner and outer landscapes.

We Have Change Issues to Address
Immediately, of course, the problems and challenges call out. They are used to getting our attention. School funding, diminishing resources, curriculum and standard shifts, the use of standardized testing, teacher and principal evaluation, teacher tenure, the length of the school day and year, the inclusion of technology into classrooms, and school safety are always there. Many of us are thinking about how to orient new school board members and others are thinking about new faculty. But, these are not the urgent daily issues that happen during the school year. The pace and the intensity are less now. So, we might be able to really examine the change that our systems are experiencing and the impact it is having our human resources and on each of us.

Change is the mantle of this century. Americans are impatient consumers, wanting the next model as soon as possible and seeking choices, abundantly so. Glaciers melt and even climate changes. Those things we thought we knew for sure fade away in the face of what’s new and next. Students don’t go to college; it comes to them. Where did 3_D printing come from? All of a sudden it bounds onto the stage and is commonplace. Schools are adding them like they added copiers decades ago. More importantly, these printers are already changing lives. Prosthetic body parts like noses, ears, skin, eyes, skulls, limbs and bones are being printed. Houses are being built.

Surely, our schools are in need of major overhauling. The thought that we knew or could predict the world for which we prepared students has, itself, become archaic. Now, we must prepare students to become part of change itself, those who envision what can be and make it real and those who navigate rapid change skillfully while never forgetting who they are. Limits are being pushed. Boundaries are vanishing. Drones fight wars for us. Children can write code. The social media that was yesterday’s vehicle for youngsters to communicate is now being used by schools and businesses. Facebook and Twitter are a standard, at least for today.

Preparation and Development for New Teachers and Leaders Must Be Reinvented
They must be ready to enter a workforce which enjoys less stability and where change is the norm. They need be prepared to bring new ways of teaching, learning and learning with them. Of course, this means the higher education system must create and sharpen the cutting edge, a new role for them as well. Most certification programs for school leaders have focused, as was necessary, on management. Budget, supervision techniques, law, scheduling, discipline, communication, curriculum and instruction were all taught as ‘how to’. In those management programs, we talked about the importance of vision so everybody had one and taught about strategy and stakeholders. We didn’t learn to be introspective, nor how to hold to who we are as everything swirls around us. Leading change, if present at all, was a topic, a course, and not the real life story we now require.

Leaders Already in the Field
For those already in the field, the question becomes, “Can we lead change without changing how we lead?” It takes courage to look in the mirror and ask if we can see and understand what needs to change and if we know how to lead others through the process. Rarely, do we ask ourselves the question. “Am I prepared and can I do this well?” There are most certainly standouts in the field who have either studied the practice, or were simply naturals at the process of leading successful change in our schools and districts. A recent guest post by James Lane and Peter Gretz might offer an example of those.

Change is More Than Replacing One Thing for Another
Too many leaders view change as an act of replacing one thing for another or an act to incorporate something new in an existing system. Changes have felt significant ...like we have chosen between whole language and phonetics. We have chosen between one-year programs and two. We have chosen between students’ learning computer technology in their academic classes, or as a separate class. We have chosen between pull-out remediation and included remediation. And so on. Few of the changes we have led have really struck at the heart of the system. Now they are.

Students Need a Different Kind of School
The students in our school buildings now, from their entry into Kindergarten to their walk across the graduation stage, if that still happens thirteen years from now, will have seen a proliferation in 3D printing, changes in the way surgeries are done, and diseases are cured, and wearable and more affordable technology. They will have grown up in a world in which wars seem not to be won or lost, but to be engaged. In order to prepare the youngsters to be able to live in a world that changes ever so quickly is there any question we have to change the way schools are designed? And if that is so, will we be able to change schools without changing the way we lead?

Can We Lead Change Without Changing the Way We Lead?
This is an individual question, a personal one. There are books that can bring insight like, Theory U by Otto Scharmer. There are experiences to be had, like the one that affected the leaders and then the district in Goochland County Public Schools. There are coaches who can walk beside us on our journey, with confidence and confidentiality. But in order for schools to be led through a shift and become reflective of the century in which we live right now, a personal journey is a vital asset. The question remains, “Can I lead change without changing the way I lead?” Or after all this, “Who am I?”

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