Critical Issue: Leading and Managing Change and Improvement
Managing school change and improvement is one of the most complex tasks of school leadership. As Fullan (1993), Sparks (1993), and others point out, school leaders need to understand the change process in order to lead and manage change and improvement efforts effectively. They must learn to overcome barriers and cope with the chaos that naturally exists during the complex process of change (Fullan & Miles, 1992).
Principals and other key school leaders should help teachers and other stakeholders build effective teams by developing new organizational structures and creating a shared vision that focuses on authentic student learning (Newmann, 1993; Maeroff, 1993). Such inspired and informed leadership is critical to the success of schools.
Successful school improvement requires establishing a clear educational vision and a shared institutional mission, knowing how well the school is accomplishing that mission, identifying areas for improvement, developing plans to change educational activities and programs, and implementing those plans or new programs effectively.
It is essential that leaders of school improvement link to others in the school and district and connect the school's goals to the broader and deeper mission of providing high-quality learning for all students. Leaders also must consider equity issues when developing and implementing change initiatives - asking themselves, for example, whether a proposed program will improve access to higher-order learning tasks for marginalized students.
For school improvement efforts to be successful, teachers, parents, community and business partners, administrators, and students must share leadership functions. Likewise, the principal's role must change from that of a top-down supervisor to a facilitator, architect, steward, instructional leader, coach, and strategic teacher (Senge, 1990).
Leading successful change and improvement involves developing and managing six critical components of schooling: (1) a clear, strong, and collectively held educational vision and institutional mission; (2) a strong, committed professional community within the school; (3) learning environments that promote high standards for student achievement; (4) sustained professional development to improve learning; (5) successful partnerships with parents, health and human service agencies, businesses, universities, and other community organizations; and (6) a systematic planning and implementation process for instituting needed changes. Louis and Miles (1990), drawing on several case studies of urban high schools, emphasize the importance of planning: "Substantial change programs do not run themselves. They need active orchestration and coordination."
• School leaders encourage and support the development of a collaborative school culture, with clear educational missions and processes, structures, and resources that allow educational change to flourish.
• School leaders shape the school culture through their actions, words, and deeds; what they get excited about; and the plans and activities to which they devote their energy (Deal & Peterson, 1994).
• School leaders understand the dynamics of the change process. Successful schools have leaders in administration and the classroom who can overcome the obstacles and challenges that develop during the change process.
School leaders are committed to providing high-quality learning for all students, initiating, implementing, and integrating programs that improve access to engaged teaching and learning for all students. They are concerned with issues of equity and access to powerful learning, particularly for those students most at risk of academic failure
• School leaders appreciate the importance of working in teams and facilitate the development and work of teams that lead school improvement initiatives.
• School leaders use the resources and expertise of parents, businesses, and social service and community agencies to foster the academic, emotional, and social well-being of students.
• School leaders are able to understand and overcome resistance to change and build teachers' sense of efficacy.
School leaders recognize and foster the knowledge, will, and skill required for successful change.
• Before beginning the change process, become familiar with the school improvement cycle, the stages of the change process, and change models associated with each. Leaders must be able to distinguish between the school improvement cycle and the change process, determine where the school is located within the change process, and identify appropriate next steps.
• Learn more about the complexities of the change process by reading (see, for example, Sparks's (1993) "thirteen tips for managing change"), talking with expert practitioners, and attending seminars.
• Accept the change process as a positive experience to be understood and embraced, rather than a negative experience to be feared and avoided. See, for example, Fullan and Miles's (1992) "seven propositions for successful change."
• When you are ready to begin the school improvement process, bring in change experts and facilitators to build the capacity of school staff to lead change efforts. It is important to draw upon the expertise and skills of university faculty, central office personnel, external consultants, professional staff developers, and others.
• Lead discussions about the school's "history of change" in order to understand how and why past change efforts have succeeded or failed.
• Fullan (1993) favors simply beginning the change process - without necessarily planning every step in advance. However, it is important to manage, guide, document, and learn from the change process.
• Learn about the roles that principals, teachers, central office staff, parents, board members, and others involved in serving children and youth play in the school improvement process, and use this knowledge to form effective school improvement teams. School leaders should understand and cultivate their roles and the roles that others play within improvement initiatives.
• To build a more collaborative school culture, institute faculty study groups and cross-grade or department teams and provide time for collegial work.
• Build commitment and a collaborative culture to support the change process by being a "leader of leaders," having and communicating high expectations, and demonstrating confidence in school staff and the surrounding community.
• Form partnerships with parents, businesses, and social service and community agencies to consolidate resources and meet the entire range of student needs - emotional, social, and academic - in order to improve student learning.
• Create high-achieving learning environments by selecting and integrating a variety of programs to improve teaching and learning.
• Establish and follow a set of guidelines for implementing new approaches to student learning.
• Reflect on your leadership practices using leadership style inventories, surveys, and/or checklists.
• Use a variety of methods to celebrate success; for example, some schools have used the following activities to celebrate success:
1. Planning teams have meals together at the end of the year to review progress and celebrate success.
2. Principals send out congratulations and notes that celebrate success.
3. Schools hold assemblies to recognize not only the success of students but of their teams.
4. The principal passes out coffee cups with the school logo to recognize teachers and teams that have been particularly successful. A text transcript is available.
• The school improvement process takes place in three stages: initiation, implementation, and institutionalization (Louis & Miles, 1990). Knowing about the challenges and problems as well as the success factors associated with each stage of the change process can increase the likelihood of success (Fullan, 1993).
Initially, some members of the school community - including school staff - may be reluctant to change. School leaders, through their actions and words, can overcome such reluctance by rewarding risk-taking and encouraging school community members to offer new ideas and strategies.
• If reforms are to improve learning for all students, leaders must find and implement meaningful curriculum and effective instructional programs for an increasingly diverse student population. To ensure that reforms do not overlook entire groups of students, leaders must understand the culture and needs of diverse students.
• Without a focused effort to align and integrate school improvement initiatives, the probable result will be fragmented, uncoordinated programs and activities that may have conflicting objectives. It is up to school leaders to create a shared vision and mission for school improvement, to coordinate various change efforts so that they work together toward similar objectives rather than against one another, and to ensure that these efforts reach for the common goal of improved learning for all students.
• Leaders of improvement efforts need to address the problems of resources (time, money, and support), the need to train and retain knowledgeable and motivated personnel, and the challenge posed by the shifting goals of the central office, the state, and the local community.
• Leaders should be wary of mismanaged agreement. Everyone in a group agrees to a decision - even though no one in the group supports the decision - because they are unwilling or unable to communicate their reservations; it also refers to a situation in which everyone in the group agrees about a problem that must be solved, but no one actively pursues strategies or actions to deal with the problem. Therefore, leaders must nurture teams that are able to communicate and solve problems openly. (See, for example, Harvey (1988) and CRM films (1984).)
DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW: Fullan (1993) points out that the change process can be chaotic and that leaders should not expect always to be systematic in their efforts. While planned change - including organized assessment and problem solving - can be useful, leaders often need to be able to cope with more informal, turbulent, and spontaneous change.
Some educators disagree about the degree to which change should be top-down versus bottom-up (see Fullan, 1993). Most agree that successful change requires both top-down and bottom-up efforts, but the best mixture of pressure and support is difficult to determine.
Still other educators point out that school cultures are extremely difficult to change, and therefore schools should change the curriculum and instruction first. Such changes could reshape the existing school culture.