What Are The Best Strategies For Managing Change In Schools?
contributed by Iain Lancaster
We’ve come to accept that just about the only thing that seems to be constant in this day and age is change.
But we sometimes don’t spend enough time thinking about how to manage change. Here are some things to have in mind before undertaking any significant change within a school environment.
1. Manage the perception.
Many people see change as something that just happens, something that’s ‘done to them’ without their consent and outside their control.
Sometimes this is true, but for most undertakings within a school environment teachers and administrators have some autonomy as to how (or even if) change is effected. The more opportunity and encouragement people are given to have some input, the more control they will feel, and the more ‘buy-in’ will occur with the staff. Research shows pretty clearly that a greater sense of ownership is more likely to lead to successful change implementation within an organization.
2. Make change a part of school culture.
Just as some people are more comfortable with change than others, some organizations are more comfortable with change.
For schools where change is anathema (and they do exist!) starting with small but visible changes that make a positive difference is the key. As these small ‘wins’ accumulate, staff members become more open to trying out new things. If something that’s undertaken doesn’t work or has unintended consequences don’t hide it, failure is also a learning experience.
Dealing effectively with setbacks is critical if change is going to be an accepted part of a school’s culture. But jumping in with both feet, trying to “impose” significant change on a staff before its members are comfortable with new ideas and processes will doom the project before it’s even started.
3. Appreciate the skeptics.
When someone is questioning a proposed change the first reaction can be to get frustrated or even angry.
Keep in mind though that it’s always good to have skeptics in the mix, they ask the tough questions. If someone poses a reasonable question for which we can’t provide a reasonable answer then we need to rethink something that’s being proposed. It’s great to be optimistic about new initiatives, but the skeptics are the ones that keep us grounded in reality
4. Know the history of change within the organization.
Before moving forward with new ideas always look to the past. What was the last significant initiative?
When was it undertaken?
What impacts has it had?
Organizations that undergo change too often (or perpetually) tend to become jaded about new ideas, and organizations that have had negative experiences with change will be much more reticent to try new things. There are no hard and fast rules, but as with many things in life, looking to the past can provide vital information regarding how things may (or may not) work moving forward.
5. Always be aware of preconceived notions.
There are many stakeholders in education, students of course, but also administrators, teachers, and parents.
All members of the latter three groups have been to school and most of them have some preconceived notions as to what school should be about. After all, the structures of school (both physical and metaphorical) have changed little over the past 200 years.
However, maintaining this status quo much longer is looking increasingly difficult, not to mention counterproductive. Change leaders must consider and respect individual notions of what school should look like, while at the same time convincing people that what they’re proposing will be better.
Not all preconceived ideas can be dispelled, after all, there are people that would rather not let common sense and reason get in the way of their opinion. But being aware of people’s preconceptions (and yes, prejudices) can help as we formulate strategies and frameworks for implementing something new, and hopefully better.
Image attribution flickr users usaceeuropedistrict and josekevo