Change is constant, we know that, but it is something that all leaders struggle with at times, especially if you’re leading it.

A lot of change falls over. Nitin Nohria and Michael Beer write in their article, Cracking the Code of Change: “The brutal fact is that about 70% of all change initiatives fail.” This is in line with what Harvard Professor and leading expert on change management, John Kotter, says about transformation efforts. What is pertinent in Nohria and Beer’s article is how they begin to explain this statistic: “the reason for most of those failures is that in their [leaders] rush to change their organizations.”

Most of us have seen it, probably all of us, those rushed change efforts in our schools that eventually lead to staff going back to the same old ways of doing things – no shift from the status quo. I believe, this holds especially true when trying to change school culture.

School culture, in my opinion, is the toughest thing to change in a school. It is complex and it relies changing behaviour and habits. We know that habits are hard to break owing to the fact that they have been developed over several years. Leaders before us may have tried to change the culture in our schools and, if they were unsuccessful, the habits grow stronger and become more entrenched. If change efforts have consistently failed, then we are faced with large amounts of cynicism and distrust, which is difficult to overcome.

Of course, not all schools have problem with their culture that can be considered school-wide. Problems with school culture can pertain to a group of teachers, small or large, that may be a particular thorn in the side of making progress. Such groups have the traits of being negative, obstructive, subversive even. Most of all they are very much teacher-centered as opposed to student-centered and they look for recruits to join their group.

When faced with the challenge of changing school culture, we need to think carefully about those who will try to impede the change. Therefore, rushing into change all guns blazing will not help matters. Change needs to be carefully planned and incremental – small steps and one at a time, so that momentum can be gathered and then the train of change becomes more difficult to stop.

When thinking about change, the song written by Australian singers / songwriters Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody often to come into my head.

From Little Things Big Things Grow

I use this line all time to re-focus when leading change, whether it be when planning change or being the voice of reason in slowing down a change effort before it runs into problems and falls over.

I first heard the song on an Australian TV commercial but in writing this post I wanted to look into the song a bit more to uncover what was behind the lyrics. The story is quite remarkable and I wanted to share it with all the heroes leading our schools trying to change school culture for the better.
photo credit: Sprouting Tree via photopin (license)