Improving schools – it’s just like building a plane while in-flight

When leading change in schools, the timing and pace of the change process is all important as well as the amount of change placed on the table. Given that school’s work in distinct academic years, it can appear easier to bring in changes at the beginning of the school year, as the changes can be communicated to staff prior to things getting underway, plus any professional development days that are scheduled before school starts can be used to support the process.

If only it were that simple. In fact, many change initiatives fail because on-going support is often lacking. A lack of checking to see how the change effort is proceeding may also lead to change failure; there is no review and evaluation of the change once it is underway in order for any adjustments to be made should issues be encountered.

In reality, there never seems to be the perfect time for change. In striving for school improvement, leaders are disruptive, they challenge the status quo, which leads to discomfort for some teachers. What seems good timing to bring about change for one teacher is not for another. When the school year is underway, introducing a change initiative part-way through can be viewed as “we’re all too busy to do that now.”

Leading change in schools is very much like building an aeroplane in flight. It is not always possible to start from scratch, things are already moving. This poses a real challenge for school leaders in trying to get change to stick. Staff need to be adequately supported and looked after; if stress levels become too much, then morale can suffer and the change effort may come unstuck. Of course, too many failed changes leads to cynicism and distrust, which needs to be avoided at all costs.

School leaders, therefore, need to carefully consider the following to support their staff with changes that seek to improve their schools:

  • Make sure that everyone understands the reason for change.
  • Provide a clear vision of the change and the steps to get there.
  • Give plenty of time for staff to get used to the idea of change and that it is coming.
  • Clarify exactly the support that teachers will have in making the change.
  • Predict pitfalls and issues that may be encountered, even suggesting how they may be dealt with.
  • Review, evaluate and make any necessary adjustments once the change effort is underway.

To open or close a meeting that introduces the change, the video at the beginning of this post may come in handy in helping everyone understand that we are all striving to improve our schools; schools are not perfect, far from it. One of the most enjoyable aspects about working in education and with students is that they challenge us to find ways to make schools better. Our planes have departed and it is our responsibility to work together positively to help each airline reach its destination.

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