Caution: Changes Ahead

The start of a new school year is an exciting time. It signals a fresh start with new students, new  staff, and new ideas, initiatives, questions, pursuits, and wonderings. It is also a challenging time as each adjusts to a myriad of changes- new schedules, rooms, teaching partners, grade levels, students, ideas, and new leaders. Change presents challenges, but also raises opportunities for growth and learning.

Summer is a period of rest, but also a period of learning and reflection. It affords opportunities to consider what is ahead and plan for action steps towards accomplishing that critical task. I am looking ahead to welcoming 12 new teachers onto our campus and bringing them into the school community. At the same time, I am cautious about the changes in group dynamic and want to make sure I am prepared to handle these changes positively and proactively.

According to Lippett (1987), positive changes occur when vision, skills, incentives, resources, and an action plan are all present. The absence of any one of these elements decreases the efficacy of these changes.

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Reflecting back on other periods of change and the chart above, I believe that False Starts are the most common occurrence in my context. We tend to have the right resources and skills at our disposal, but we become so eager to see change that a well-defined action plan gets forgotten and enthusiasm wanes after a brief period of excitement.

This year, I am most anxious about starting off with a healthy staff culture. I think Reeves (2006) has it right when he writes “If you believe that every job has value and there is no such thing as unimportant work in schools, then demonstrate that belief through your actions.” I find this wisdom encouraging because it means I have some degree of control in this situation. If I approach the new school year ready to help with any task, then these actions will foster the culture I hope to see. I can also cultivate a mindset which builds upon the strengths of others to “yes, and…” their ideas.

Reeves also recommends that leaders “use the right change tools for your school or district. Christensen, Marx, and Stevenson (2006) differentiate culture tools, such as rituals and traditions; power tools, such as threats and coercion; management tools, such as training, procedures, and measurement systems; and leadership tools, such as role modeling and vision.” Rituals and traditions stands out as key tools that our team is under-utilizing. With this information at hand, I would like to involve staff in establishing and maintaining rituals and traditions, both with the students and as a staff. One of the ways we have kicked off every school year has been with a BBQ on the playground. This has always given us an outlet to get to know one another in a neutral setting away from the classrooms. However, this is where tradition ends. Simple changes could promote a positive culture change: rituals for birthday celebrations, reviving former practices where we taught each other about our culture’s most significant holidays. I look forward to getting additional feedback from all staff about their ideas for the new year and how we can celebrate one another’s unique backgrounds but also establish common foundations through school rituals and traditions.

The summer break is coming to a close and I will face a pile of changes from Monday. As I settle into the new routine, surrounded by new people, I will be considering if each proposed change has a vision, skills, incentives, resources, and an action plan, because without these, the positive effects of change cannot emerge or persist. With these in mind, the year will set off on the right foot and change will be a positive catalyst towards a vibrant school.

 

References:

Frontier, T. & Rickabaugh, J. (2015). Driving Change – Educational Leadership . Ascd.org. Retrieved 18 July 2018, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb15/vol72/num05/Driving-Change.aspx

Reeves, D. (2006). How Do You Change School Culture? – Educational Leadership . Ascd.org. Retrieved 19 July 2018, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/dec06/vol64/num04/How-Do-You-Change-School-Culture%C2%A2.aspx

Lippitt, M., (1987). The Managing Complex Change Model [Image]. Enterprise Management, Ltd.

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