Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Change Leadership

Wow! So many exciting things to write about! Back to the purpose of my blog. I have intended from the start to write about educational change management. I intend to share what I have learned from my experiences as a teacher and what I am learning from my reading about educational change. As a teacher of many years, I know how busy things can be in a school at the best of times, much less at the end of the year with report cards to do and camping trips to plan. It sometimes seems that the planning that takes place in a school is crisis driven or event driven. Indeed, staff meetings often reflect either crises or big upcoming events and seldom are predominantly focused on system and school instructional initiatives.

I have just finished reading "Change Leadership", by Lahey et. al. In their book, they claim that education as a whole tends to be crisis/event driven and not always directed towards improving instruction within it's classrooms. It is my belief that too many of today's teachers and school boards have not come to grips with their goals as to how their classrooms are going to look differently as we are fully into the 21st century. Specifically, how are we going to integrate
technology and the new competencies (collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, etc.) into the process of renewal, as the Saskatoon Board of Education has called it. If we cannot answer this question, we are indeed in a crisis situation and need to adapt quickly.

The authors coin the term adaptive challenge as,

"one where the necessary knowledge to solve the problem does not yet exist. It requires creating the knowledge and the tools to solve the problem in the act of working on it."

I believe many educators find themselves in a new age and don't really have the knowledge or the tools to adapt to the 21st century. We all need help with the process of renewal, with using technology effectively in the classroom and changing the way we do things to suit the skills of the future. Our boards need to help to chart the course for us by setting goals that we can understand, contribute and aspire to.

Among the most important of the ideas that the authors address is the fact that change doesn't happen without people in the organization believing in the need for change. In leading change,

"by far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change organizations is to plunge ahead without establishing a high enough sense or urgency".

I believe all school boards need to put a greater sense of urgency on the process of determining how we will evolve into 21st century schools. This is accomplished by setting goals for organisational growth and setting goals for personal growth. As I attend conferences and read blogs and books, I am very satisfied with a sense of personal growth. It seems to me, however that what is lacking is a stated organisational sense of urgency for all of us to pull together to bring our schools into the 21st century. Sometimes it seems futile to try so hard in my classroom (and fail everyday!) when it doesn't seem like what I am trying to do reflects the organisation's goals. I found a great quote in Change Leadership to support what I am feeling;

"A genuinely dual focus is not interested in personal reflection or personal disclosure for its own sake. However bravely undertaken, however personally illuminating the journey, personal learning among school professionals that is not tightly joined to the organizational changes designed to transform the quality of teaching and learning is not a dual focus; it is only a parallel focus. Improved teaching so that all students can develop the new skills required for them to succeed must be visibly connected to our individual learning agendas. The optimal example for the leader to share should clearly demonstrate a personal learning goal that, if not accomplished, will put at risk the collectively owned improvement priority, or the ability to carry out a publicly understood strategy for accomplishing that priority."

I feel from time to time like I have a parallel focus instead of the dual focus! At the same time, it is very rewarding to be pursuing what you feel to be the right change, on the right road. Indeed, part of the idea of 21st century learning is to develop personal learning networks and to impact organisations from the grass roots. As the authors say,

"when adults stop growing within an organization, so do the children."

I suppose I can be a change leader in my classroom, my school and my school system. Lahey et. al. speak at length of the importance of change leadership. They give some advice for change leaders:

  1. set an example
  2. embrace the fuller picture
  3. encourage others to take up their own personal work
  4. create organizations that increase personal capacities
  5. welcome contradictions
I will continue to be a change leader and will hope to have a dual focus. At times it will seem parallel and that I am going it alone. At times I will feel like I'm failing, at times I will know I am failing. At least I'm trying!


  1. Actually, failing sometimes and learning from it in public (rather than giving up) is a critical trait in a good leader, so in a sense the failing is succeeding.

  2. funny Wendy, this is a possible title of my upcoming book, "When Failure is a Success."