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Managing Change in Schools

"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change’" 

Wayne  Dyer


Working as a governor I have come to accept that just about the only thing that seems to be constant in this day and age is change. There are so many changes that seem to occur weekly that at times it can be almost overwhelming. There are changes to statutory polices, changes in accountability, changes to processes and changes in personnel to name but a few. What I have come to realise is that we sometimes don’t spend enough time thinking about how to manage change. Here are some things to have in mind before undertaking any significant change within a school environment.

Firstly, you must manage the perception.

Many people see change as something that just happens, something that’s “done to them” without their consent and outside their control. This loss of control or perception of loss of control is what leads to conflict. Sometimes this is true, but within a school environment, teachers, support staff and administrators have some autonomy as to how change occurs. The more opportunity and encouragement people are given to have some input, the more control they will feel and the more “buy in” will occur. Research shows pretty clearly that a greater sense of ownership is more likely to lead to successful change implementation within an organisation.

For schools where change is usually met with negativity, I found that starting with small but visible changes that make a positive difference is the key. As these small “wins” accumulate, staff members become more open to trying out new things. If something that’s undertaken doesn’t work, or has unintended consequences, don’t hide it, failure is also a learning experience.

Dealing effectively with setbacks is critical if change is going to be an accepted part of a school’s culture. But jumping in with both feet, trying to “impose” significant change on staff before its members are comfortable with new ideas and processes will usually scupper the project before it’s even started. When someone questioned me about a proposed change the first reaction I displayed was frustration or even anger. But on reflection I now know that is was good to have sceptics in the mix; they asked the tough questions.

If someone poses a reasonable question for which we can’t provide a reasonable answer then we need to rethink something that’s being proposed. It’s great to be optimistic about new initiatives, but the sceptics are the ones that kept me grounded in reality.

It is also important to realise that when change occurs staff grieve for the ‘old ways’ and will need support to understand the reason for a change. This takes time and effort from those responsible for initiating the change. Eventually change is accepted and sometimes welcomed, although this is not always the case. A consistent approach to managing change always needed

Here is a recognised list of ways in which to support change within a school environment.

1.    Create Urgency: There needs to be a compelling case for change, and it’s up to the senior leaders and this includes governors, to explain that reason clearly, so staff understand and are inspired to change. Change for the sake of change always meets with conflict.

2.    Form a Powerful Coalition: One person cannot shoulder the change themselves, it requires a team (the enablers) so it’s important to recognise the key people to help enable that change.

3.    Create a Vision for the Change: Make it short, clear, relevant and easy to understand by the staff who are going to be affected by the change.

4.    Communicate the Vision: Communicate the change, but also don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk of the change and have it reflected throughout actions.

5.    Remove Obstacles: As you work towards implementing change, you will hit both physical and emotional obstacles, so you and the change team need to help staff overcome these blocks by listening to their concerns and seeking their feedback.

6.    Create Short-Term Wins: By demonstrating the benefits of the change early in the process you’re more likely to get buy-in.

7.    Build on the Change: Repeat the above steps for a while and let the change settle in.

8.    Anchor the Change: Finally, make sure the change sticks by embedding it in your school organisational procedures, operating models and day-to-day work.

These change management tips are the bedrock of change management.

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