Moving Staff & Communities Toward a Change Effort

Systemic change requires the interrelationships and interdependencies among the parts of the educational system be fully recognized. That is, as a leader, I must continually communicate to all stakeholders how our desired changes are being accompanied by changes in other parts of the system. However, recognizing the interrelationships and interdependences of the education system's parts alone will not bring about a successful change effort. All stakeholders involved must have active ownership over the change effort. The process I have always used in moving staff and communities toward a change effort is anchored on my clear and endless communication of what our shared vision for an ideal education is. This entails breaking out of older mind-sets and through a flattened decision making process, inspiring the development of a passion for that shared vision throughout the group.

My experience has taught me that simply requiring a change of mind-set is generally not sufficient. Leaders need to foster a break out from older mind-sets by clearly laying out the need for the change and the benefits of the new approach. Similarly, just sharing a vision with stakeholders does not mean that they will adopt it as their own. Building a shared vision requires that a safe environment be established and group-processing skills be reinforced so that a consensus of beliefs may be fostered. By establishing such a consensus, stakeholders become empowered and will develop a sense of ownership for the vision of the ideal.

Generally, I have used the following process for moving a community toward a change effort. First, I begin by establishing (or redefining) my relationship with the community. The willingness of a group to follow a leader is deeply dependent on trust and as such, it is imperative that a positive and trusting relationship be the foundation of the change effort. Next, I assess the community’s readiness for change as well as the school's (or district's) capacity for the change effort. If the entities involved are not ready for the proposed change effort, then the focus needs to be shifted toward providing the necessary constructs for readiness before the change effort is pursued.

Once the relationship with the group(s) is established or redefined and we determine that the group is ready to undertake the challenge of the change effort, I then assemble and prepare a core team and build their skills/knowledge base for the change effort. The core team then sets out to evaluate competing change efforts to ensure we're not biting off more than we can chew or identify potential synergies. As the initial team gets grounded and makes some progress, I then expand the core team by including respected innovators and creative thinkers who will devote time to designing the change effort and preparing it for deployment. Once the plan of action is created, I expand the core team even further to have broader representation of stakeholder groups as well as to lay the groundwork for consensus building. At this point, the now expanded team members coalesce into small implementation teams to carry forward the change effort based on the shared vision and common beliefs formed and within the parameters of the district’s values/belief framework.

The final steps for guiding a successful change effort includes the development of a system for evaluating the results of the change process. This is done in concert with the designing and implementation of an administrative governance system for the change effort. The system will provide methods for building and maintaining positive political supports, sustaining motivation, continuous building of trust, securing and allocating necessary resources, engaging in self-reflection processes, building and evolving the community of practice as well as organizational memory.

Of course each of these steps include a myriad of more nuanced actions and often lead to steps within steps. However, the process above coupled with clear communication of a vision for an idealized setting has proven successful for me in leadership positions I have held over the years.


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