School & District Management Opinion

Leadership Response to the Demand for Change

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — June 14, 2016 5 min read
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If there is a single word other than leaders and leadership appearing most often in our blogs, it is certainly change. Why? Is it because we are lovers of change? No. Is it because we are disrespectful of education in this country’s past? Certainly not. Is it that our minds get stimulated by thinking of possibilities? Maybe yes. Is it because we believe that no living thing can ever stop growing and growth involves change? Most certainly, yes. And do we resist complacency? Absolutely. And do we believe that leaders must constantly be scanning the horizon? Yes, indeed. So, the change voice will always be a thread in our blog.

Two Kinds of Change
But, we recognize that in both our personal and professional lives there are two kinds of change....those we want and even cause and those that happen to us and cause us distress. A very real example of the second kind can be found in the common core and the accompanying standardized testing which caused nothing less than angst in the guts of many educators. Adopting and then accompanying them with standardized tests, and then using those measures to make decisions about students and teachers and principals has caused a groundswell of opposition. After adopting the standards, either planning new curriculum or copying examples of models, teachers changed what, and sometimes how, they were teaching in order to meet the new expectations. Now that change recedes but we can anticipate something else will emerge over the horizon. So we have become accustomed to the rhythm of change. Listen to how many say it will come and go...whatever this “thing of the moment” might be.

You’ve Got to Believe
Change is difficult enough when we are the ones choosing to make the change. Accepting new ways of doing things is easier when we believe in them and have identified what we need to let go of and are willing to do so. It is the letting go of a thought or a habit or a practice that opens the path for the new to enter. The new will bring its full energy, though, only when embrace by the people who will make it part of a new culture and learning environment. Their resistance will defeat any potential the new can offer.

Commitment to exemplary practice means practicing at the edge of teaching, by staying abreast of new developments, researching one’s practice, trying out new approaches, and so on. In a sense, it means accepting responsibility for one’s own professional development. Moving toward “valued social ends” means placing oneself in service to students and parents and to the school and its purposes. The heart of professionalism in teaching may be a commitment to the caring ethic... requires far more than bringing state-of-the-art technical knowledge to bear on one’s practice; this results too often in students’ being treated antiseptically as clients or cases (Sergiovanni p. 53).

Lead With Vision and Values
In some places, leaders are able to transcend the inevitable resistance, they are able to see beyond compliance and make even mandated change a part of the vision and values of the school. They work closely with the board of education, community, and faculty. Professional development and support are provided so that maximum benefit can be attained and be visible.They encourage the connections between best practices and any changes that are coming. They create the safe environment necessary for questions to be asked, fears to be exposed, and solutions to be local.

There are those who have stepped up and out to object from the practitioner’s place. But the leadership role also includes leading within. It appears that Sergiovanni had it right twenty-three years ago. We best listen. Many schools have yet to take the lead. Those who have led their schools and districts forward, have yet to find a loud enough voice to be heard over the drone of the objections. Educational leaders should have the perspective, the vision, and the will to lead the changes required especially of this century.

If the twentieth century was about creating a sense of stability to buttress against change and then trying to adapt to it, then the twenty-first century is about embracing change, not fighting it. Embracing change means looking forward to what will come next. It means viewing the future as a set of new possibilities, rather than something that forces us to adjust. It means making the most of living in a world of motion (Thomas, D. &Brown, J.S. p. 43).

And, we add, it also means teaching others how to make sense of and live in a world where change is a speedy constant. It is a challenging journey for those who become comfortable with the status quo and rely on security rather than risk. Leading that person to embrace change, and bring others along with them, requires the leader’s every day effort. It is an even more challenging task to do that while shifting the manner in which teaching and learning takes place so that the students, also, will become more facile in understanding and accepting change as a norm.

Leaders in this century must be leaders of change. In their discernment role, they must also determine the change to embrace and the one to resist. It is that careful process that builds their skill at leading change and those around them believe and a trust in them because they can observe the discernment and its results. Then leaders can make informed decisions about steps to be taken as a strategic plan is developed. How we raise standards for students and assess their progress, how we envision schools for this century ought to come from the voices of today’s school leaders. The issue of common-core standards and the accompanying tests may be at a slow down moment, giving school leaders a moment to reflect and frame the voice they want to raise. Inevitably, there is more change coming....always.

©Thomas, D. & Brown J.S. (2011) A New Culture of Learning
Sergiovanni, T.J. (1992). Moral Leadership: Getting to the Heart of School Improvement. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

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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.