School leaders receive many suggestions from other leaders, teachers and support staff for what can be improved in their school. In some instances, people are taking action themselves, often on their own, as they try to ‘fix’ things and make our schools ‘better’. Invariably, despite so many good ideas, intentions and initiatives, schools are oftentimes in a state of change fatigue.
Yes, it is easy to understand that change is the only constant and we have to keep working to improve. That said, too much change can create a lot of collateral damage and when that happens the leader(s) of the school are to blame and they may also be left picking up the pieces of failed change initiatives that they did not start. Of course, school leaders themselves can make life difficult too by requesting too many things change and all at once.
Over the years I have seen both school leaders, teachers and support staff refer to the time management matrix that appears in Stephen Covey’s 7 habits for highly effective people.
In meetings, large and small, our colleagues are telling us that we are spending too much time in the ‘urgent and important’ quadrant, yet ironically they cannot see that they place great urgency on their own requests for change. School leaders are, therefore, faced with a barrage of requests for change, many being presented as urgent. If the leader, draws a line and tells someone “No” or “Not now” to a request for change, then leaders can be seen to be stonewalling genuine good intentions to make things better.
The problem is that each individual making a request for change struggles to see a bigger picture in terms of what they are asking for. They do not see the multiple requests and the different tasks that have already been assigned. The school leader’s role is to balance the positive energy for change alongside what is reasonable to achieve without ‘losing’ teachers and support staff along the way to stress associated with workload issues.
It is a tough sell, saying no and trying to get people to see a bigger picture that needs to be one of sustainable improvement. Those wanting to push through their ideas are often being pushed a message of “pursue your goals and dreams” or, “if you want it badly enough, you will find a way to get it done.” Furthermore, we can all say that we should make this change and that change because “it is best for the students” and that “there is never a convenient time to change, so why not do it now?”
There’s a truth in this and we do need change in our schools but it does, to a certain extent, need to be carefully orchestrated. There need to be good systems in place when making change, so that we do not neglect the things we are already doing well and we do not lose good people along the way. To often, schools ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’, as a old colleague of mine once put it. Sometimes, you have to go slow to go fast, but that is just frustrating for some who crave instant reward and satisfaction. In the same vein that the slow tech movement is being promoted, we need to consider a ‘Slower Ed movement’.
This is the challenge for school leaders and it is not appreciated enough. Leadership teams in schools have to join together in striking a better balance. Move too fast, we can tip people over the edge and not recover. Move too slow, we may miss an opportunity. How we convey that message to those in our school community and have it understood by all requires a strength of leadership and resilience in getting our leaders, teachers and support staff to value and understand both sides of the equation. As we already know, if everything is considered urgent and a priority, then nothing really is.