A challenging part of leading change is overcoming inertia and resistance that may prevent the change from going anywhere and a retaining of the status quo. Sometimes change agents are surprised when tension develops and people do not wish to go with the desired flow or direction. It takes an investment of time from the leader(s) in planning a change effort but, more importantly, in listening to the people who need to implement the change. If we, as leaders, do not take the time to listen to those we lead, then the changes that we wish to see in our schools may not eventuate.

It can be a difficult task tying to ensure all voices are heard, so that one can truly understand how people feel about a particular change. A ‘Hopes and Fears’ activity, however, is one way that we can achieve this without a significant investment of effort and time. The fact that getting meaningful feedback takes time is the reason why leaders, sometimes, do not seek the response of the people affected by change efforts. Ignoring the opportunity to get feedback about change can lead to disastrous results.

The aim of a ‘Hopes and Fears’ activity is to gain feedback from people who are going to be affected by a new initiative or process. It is usually carried out once there is a clear vision of what the new initiative looks like and enough details are presented, so that worthwhile feedback can be gathered and acted upon, where necessary in terms of establishing the next steps of the change.

In carrying out a Hopes and fears activity, participants in a meeting are given two blank cards. The meeting facilitator asks participants to write down two of their ‘Hopes’ concerning the new initiative. Once completed, the facilitator collects the cards in. The participants are then asked to write down two ‘Fears’ that they may have about the initiative. Again, the facilitator collects these in. The cards can then be shuffled and one card distributed to each participant to read out to the group – participants do not read out their own cards. The ‘Hopes’ cards are read aloud first with the participants attentively listening with no comments or questions allowed. There is no need either to question who wrote each ‘Hope’. The same process is followed for sharing the ‘Fears’. At the end the facilitator can ask they participants what they thought about the ‘Hopes’ and the ‘Fears’ and what impact they had on them. This step is not essential if there is a shortage of time. However, what must happen at the end is that the leaders of the initiative must take the cards away and reflect upon them in their planning of the initiative in terms of any changes to be made and additional support to be given, if appropriate.

What is great about this activity is that everyone can have a voice in airing their feelings about a particular change or initiative. The leadership team have the opportunity to respond, especially to the ‘Fears’ and are then able to demonstrate how they are going to be addressed, so that there is greater support for the change / initiative and its implementation. It is well worth giving this feedback activity a go with your teaching team; my experience is that it helps build trust and gives a greater chance of changes succeeding.