Sunday, June 1, 2008


Over the past year and half that I have been in this position, it seems to me that the overwhelming theme that winds it way through my daily life is change. I have always welcomed change - if it has been on my own initiative. I'm not so good at accepting it if it's been thrust upon me. Saying that, I have to say that most of the changes that I go through are usually of my own initiative. I'm always looking for new and better ways to do things.

Recently, I connected to a blog entry by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach who wrote about educational change and the 9 principles for implementing change. This blog entry is worth a read, especially for those who are responsible for bringing about change in their schools. Her 9 Principles for Implementing Change are listed below in italics:

1. People Before Things

Any significant educational transformation creates “people issues.” Teachers will be asked to challenge the status quo, engage in mutual accountability, changed job descriptions, development of new skills and capabilities, and in general school staff will be unsettled and resistant to these changes. A shared approach for managing the change through learning communities — beginning with the leadership team and then engaging key stakeholders and teacher leaders — should be developed early, and utilized often as the change moves through the school or district.

2. Start at the Top

Because change is inherently unsettling for people at all levels of any organization and especially schools, when rumors of change begin to surface, all eyes will turn to the principal and other members of the school's leadership team for strength, support, and direction. Which means- the leaders must do more than talk a good game.

3. Everyone is a Player in the Change Game

Transformational change in a school needs to include everyone. That means all staff, from the custodian to the secretary and even the lunch room staff.

4. Garner Buy-in
Teachers are inherently rational and reasonable folk and will question to what extent the change is needed, whether the principal is headed in the right direction, and whether they want to commit personally to making change happen. The articulation of a formal case for change and the creation of a modified, shared vision statement are invaluable opportunities to create or compel buy-in.

5. Can't Give Away What You Do Not Own
To truly be successful at implementat[ing]... change there must be ownership by those willing to accept responsibility for making change happen in all their areas of influence. Ownership is often best created by involving people in identifying potential problems and crafting solutions- which happens naturally in a community of practice.

6. Communicate and Often
Too often, those involved in the change make the mistake of believing that others understand the issues, feel the need to change, and see the new direction as clearly as they do. The best change programs reinforce core messages through regular, timely advice that is both inspirational and practical.

7. Know Your Culture and Predict Possible Impact

Educational leaders often make the mistake of assessing culture either too late or not at all. Ask yourself, do you know your school's readiness factor in terms of accepting change? Does your school already have strategies in place for how to bring major problems to the surface, identify conflicts, and negotiate outcomes? Do learning teams, and ultimately your learning community know how to identify the core values, beliefs, behaviors, and perceptions that must be taken into account for successful change to occur?

8. Expect the Unexpected
21st Century change is by design emergent and organic in nature. Implementation [...] never goes completely according to plan. People react in unexpected ways; areas of anticipated resistance fall away; and the external environment shifts etc. To manage the needed shifts in your school, the community will need to continually reassess. This is why ownership is so important.

9. As the Individual Grows so Will the Collective Wisdom of the Community

Change is both an institutional journey and a very personal one. Educators spend many hours each week at school; many think of their colleagues as a second family- and as their community away from home. Individuals (or teams of individuals) yearn to know how their work will change, what is expected of them during and after the change, how they will be measured, and what success or failure will mean for them and those around them.

Currently, professional learning communities are becoming more widespread in my district and introducing PLCs into secondary schools is one of the responsibilities of the implementation team of which I am a part. Some of our elementary schools are in their 3rd year of learning communities and as other schools see these schools using a collaborative approach to manage change they are asking for resources to establish PLCs in their schools. So we are setting the stage for supporting change by introducing teachers in secondary to collaborative professional learning teams. We are asking schools to change the way they operate so that all students can achieve.
Shared leadership is an essential component - why? Because one person can't possibly do everything. However, as Doug Johnson says in a recent post about educational change:
"Major cultural shifts are about transfers in power, and nobody gives up power without a fight." In addition, Johnson says that the only way that cultural change will happen is if it is mandated through government policy.

These 2 blog entries got me thinking about the shifts that are needed in education - shifts from isolation to collaboration, from content-focused to process-focused, from regurgitation to creation. I think about how some secondary classrooms operate, and think about the shifts that need to take place to meet the needs of all students. And I think of how we need to prepare students to be part of an unknown future and I know that the way we have been doing it will no longer work.

I think of how our secondary PLCs can be supported and look to Nussbaum-Beach's principles of supporting change. But I also remember what what Doug Johnson says about cultural shifts - that "... schools will not change through internal motivation".

It is an exciting time in education when one can see the potential of and the need for cultural shift and when one is involved in supporting that shift. And after reading about the 9 principals for implementing change, I recognize there are reasons for some of the reactions that we get from teachers as we support this shift. However, it does seem a daunting task when one reads what Johnson has to say about change.

Image: "Change, we fear it...", apesara's photostream. <>


pc said...

Hi Sharon,
Excellent post. You include a pertinent link and thoughtful application about the desire for positive change and growth one wants to see happen in all our schools to enhance learning.

The process is an intricate juggling act,not a fast ball strike.

I look forward to your weekly posts.

Sharon Seslija said...

Thanks pc. I appreciate your comments and your analogy - it is a juggling act - trying to say the right thing at the right time to keep the change process going. Not easy, but rewarding.