Greg ParryFirst of all I want to say that I am passionate about change management and the need to understand the impact of change on personnel, culture and the outcomes we are trying to achieve. I know that rapid change can have significant implications and global leaders in this field such as Michael Fullan (Education), Dr John Kotter (Business) and many others through their writings and workshops are key mentors of mine. I want to present an alternative perspective however, especially in the context of education, given that our company‘s core business is to set up, manage schools and also improve school management.

Lets put some context around change management in an educational setting:

Parent: My child is in grade 8 and I am very concerned about the quality of teaching that is happening and will likely occur over the next 1-2 years. How can you ensure my child will be well-prepared for grade 10 and beyond? My child has 8 teachers and I am only confident in the ability of one or two of them. What can be done?

Administrator: I would love to turn this around quickly; however, I must be concerned about change management. I ask you to be patient about the quality of teaching your child receives from their teachers. It may take me some time to turn this around.

Yes, I am exaggerating to make a point but sometimes time is of the essence. When a child’s education is in your hands, turn-around requires urgent action.

When I was first appointed as Principal, I took over from a colleague who had been at that school for 26 years. It was no secret that the school required change and that I would face some resistance from a school culture that was very resistant to change. The standard textbook approach would say that there should be little change initially and that we should be patient and measured.

I could not accept that though.

It was not that I was not patient or that I did not understand the benefits of effective change management. It is that children’s education is too important to take the “steady as we go” approach while we wait for people to adapt.

What did I do?

Make it clear that there will be changes.

The facts were clear. I was a new Principal taking over from a longstanding principal. To deny or pretend that there would not be significant change was just fanciful. That does not deny that many things in place were not already good. Staff need to know that you are authentic, trustworthy and honest. Being clear up front sets the tone. In any organisation, there are staff members who want change and staff who do not. It makes sense to find out who will rally support and block.

Frame all change in the perspective of what is best for students and staff

It is very tough to argue against change that benefits all stakeholders. If it is principled and framed by undeniable values, resistance will look futile. It is appreciated when you demonstrate that you genuinely care for students and staff. I am not suggesting a con job either. I am suggesting a genuine commitment to improving things for everyone.

Create opportunities for staff to buy into the changes.

Committees, interest groups and key leaders who were important change agents must be involved. Not only will they ensure the changes have buy-in and ownership, but these key people will also have a powerful influence over school culture. It is often easier to get buy-in when staff know that the change will occur anyway. Professional people prefer to be involved rather than victims of poor choices. Leaders must understand that genuine buy-in means listening to people who know things you don’t. Their knowledge about the issues is invaluable to you and to making the changes successful.

Focus change more directly on standards and outcomes rather than the process.

I believe I have a right to set the standards and outcomes but that staff could, and should, determine the best way. It is a leader’s responsibility to set high standards and lead change towards that, but it is naive to think that leaders know the only way. There are many paths to achieving success and local knowledge, including politics within the stakeholders, can be an obstacle if not harnessed for a positive purpose. Be clear about what you want to achieve then ask others how they think it is best achieved.

Be a good person

Stay true to your core values and beliefs. Empathise, be thoughtful and care about everyone. Making change should not be about power or achievement. Your passion and motivation should be grounded in a belief that what you are doing is important and in everyone’s interests. Authoritarian or autocratic leaders make changes to satisfy their own needs. “Because I want to make change” is not the reason, and it is not the way. Authenticity can’t be faked. Be sincere and follow through with your promises.

Bend, don’t break relationships.

I have often shared the analogy of a green branch as a metaphor for professional relationships.. In our professional lives, as leaders, we might sometimes need to bend, influence and persuade but we must never break the relationship. A mentor of mine once backed down amidst a conflict that I felt was on his side. I was surprised at his decision to step away and not hold ground on an important matter. He explained that when things go wrong, our influence over a broken relationship is almost zero. Be aware of the implications or consequences of an important relationship in your organisation. Some influence is better than none. A person in your circle might move their position over time. Your relationships, in all forms, are sacred. Sometimes you might need to step back from a point of no return. Understand the consequences of pushing too far.

Again, I want to stress that I completely believe and am committed to effective change management within all organisations, but let’s not confuse this philosophy with complacency. Schools need great leaders. They need strong and courageous people to stand up and make a difference.

There is a way to change things fast.

Do not be afraid of big ideas and passion to make a difference!

Check out Greg’s video on this topic!

Greg Parry

CEO and Education Expert
Greg Parry

Global Services in Education set up and manage schools in all parts of the world. Governed by a philosophy of global citizenship, every member of the GSE team shares a passion to help shape international education and student achievement through inspiration and collaboration.
Our goal is to meet the highest objectives of every school, teacher, student and parent, with an unwavering dedication to quality education, shared ideals and intercultural perspectives.

“Schools Led by Educators” is our mantra. We know how to deliver the highest quality standards.

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