When starting a new school year, every administrator thinks about how to bring about positive change. We hear a lot about making data-driven decisions, and yes, I’ll bet every school district waits for those all-important standardized test scores to arrive and begin to analyze what is going well and what needs to change. Schools, in general, seem to align themselves in terms of excellent, high performing schools, low performing schools and all the rest that fall somewhere in the middle.
One might think that a high performing school has no need to change and a low performing school should change everything from the curriculum to the lunch choices. In reality, no matter where your school falls on this achievement continuum, there is always room for change and there is always a need to change.
One might think that a high performing school has no need to change and a low performing school should change everything from the curriculum to the lunch choices. In reality, no matter where your school falls on this achievement continuum, there is always room for change and there is always a need to change. One of my favorite quotes by Horace Mann, often considered the Father of Education is, “It is not enough to be superior to others if you are inferior to your own potential.”
Unfortunately, it is human nature to resist change and education is no exception. It is just easier to rely on the status quo where you feel comfortable in your place. But the reality is that the world is changing faster than ever before, and if we don’t make changes we will most certainly be left behind in the dust. Technology is a perfect example of necessary change that requires many to go to their zone of discomfort. Again, the skillful leader must carry these individuals on his or her back and show them that they can “walk the talk.”
Although an ultimate goal is always higher achievement, educators must have a broader view of beginning a new year with relevant change. A fresh look at teaching and teacher empowerment is a lofty and necessary goal. I discuss a phenomena in my book, The Future Ready Challenge, that I refer to as the wash, rinse, dry, repeat cycle of learning. This refers to the classrooms in America that do the same thing in the same way year after year. This complacency rests on the back of the school leadership. It is up to us to make certain that our teachers are motivated to make meaningful changes in their classrooms. Teaching in every classroom should be filled with excitement and energy.
So how do we initiate change in our schools? Here are five “rules for change” you can do to structure positive change in your school:
- Make sure you are changing something that needs changed. Do not let the desire to change something become the driving force.
Sometimes change can be a force of power all its own, but you must ask, is this a change that is needed? Look at your mission and decide if this change will get you closer to that which you desire. Will the ultimate effect of this change result in higher achievement? Change just for the sake of change can result in confusion.
- Research what you are changing and why you are changing it.
John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future” There is plenty of research available to underline the need for change, but you research specifically that which you are contemplating changing. If you are thinking about the need for more student voice in making school decisions, be armed with a sufficient amount of research data to not only show a need, but also to show the results of such change.
- Make sure you can understand what the deficiency is that you are trying to improve and how the anticipated change is going to positively affect this deficiency.
This takes us back to my initial discussion on data-driven decision making. Find your organization’s deficiencies and then begin to develop a plan for change to happen. Another excellent means of diagnosing deficiencies is to have teachers, parents and even students complete survey questionnaires at the end of each year. This will give you a structure to look at how your stakeholders perceive the need for change.
- Have buy-in from your team prior to setting out the changes.
Give them ownership of the change. Let them be the driving force behind what gets changed, what it gets changed to and how to implement that change. They are going to be the ones working through the change. One of the biggest mistakes a school leader can make is to institute a change without empowering the teaching team to help develop the action plan. Catherine Powell, in her article, “How to get your Team’s buy-in to New Processes,” shares that the team that is involved in making change become evangelists: they enforce the change, they brag about the change and they seek to make it better.
- Make sure the changes are meaningful and sustainable.
Once again with teacher buy-in you are helping to guarantee the longevity of the changes. More often than not, many great changes go by the wayside when the leader is transferred or replaced. When changes are adopted for the right reasons and everyone understands those reasons, and most everyone — sometimes you just can’t get 100 percent — is on board, you are on your way to meaningful and sustainable change.
When you combine these “rules for change,” you will most certainly be able to structure positive change for the new year. I hope you all have a great school year and with the right amount of change in your classroom. I hope your year is better than the last.