Sunday, July 12, 2015

Make Change Stick

When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal; you do not change your decision to get there.” – Zig Zigler

Change in any organization is an arduous task at some point, especially during the initial implementation stage.  The onset of the process is typically fraught with challenges such as overcoming the status quo, a mentality of if it isn’t broke why fix it, fear, a void of leadership somewhere in the hierarchy of schools, lack of knowledge on initiating change, no clear vision, too many initiatives at once, naysayers/antagonists, and a one size fits all approach.  One must realize that change is really hard and a commitment to see the process through is vital if the end goal is cultural transformation that sticks.  

Success also lies in a leader’s ability to make difficult decisions when needed. Leadership is not a popularity contest.  True leaders make the tough decisions instead of trying to please everyone.  I fell victim to the allure of putting popularity first early in my career as a young principal.   It took some self-reflection, after realizing that the school was stuck in a rut, to get myself on track and do the job that I was getting paid to do.  From that point on several change initiatives were implemented and sustained resulting in a culture that worked better for our students and staff.  In the end, real leaders take action and their ability to be catalysts for change are not defined by a title or position. They are defined by the example they set.

One must develop a mindset for change.  This process begins with an examination of why change does not work in organizations and then looking more closely as to why it has failed in your school or district.  The challenges described in the first paragraph provide a good starting point, but by no means are an inclusive list as each school/district has it’s own set of unique roadblocks. Pinpoint areas of potential difficulty beforehand that morph into challenges or excuses such as time, lack of collaboration, finances, limited support, poor professional development, resistance, mandates/directives, and frivolous purchases to name a few.  Once the challenges and potential obstacles are in front of you, begin to develop a road map for change using the following questions:
  • Where do we begin?
  • What are the school factors that influence student learning and ultimately achievement?
  • How do you change culture and move past the status quo?
  • How do we get educators and school systems to embrace change as opposed to always fighting for buy-in?
There are many frameworks and ideas on change leadership.  You can’t go wrong with the work of Michael Fullan and his Six Secrets of Change. When I began to develop a shared vision and strategic plan for change with my staff back in 2009 I referred to the Katgar Model of Change. 

While there is virtually no elaboration that I could find on this model an image provides some detail on the elements that are essential to successful change in any organization.  The central tenets of leadership described in this model center on why change is needed.  Effective leaders develop a shared vision with input from all stakeholders, including students.  They then craft and implement a plan for action that supports the purpose for the change. The glue that holds the entire process together is a leader’s passion for how the change will positively impact students and staff.  The Katgar Model for Change then identifies five essential elements that leaders can focus on to ensure success:
  • Strategy – After developing a shared vision a plan for action has to be developed.  The plan not only identifies the purpose and focus for the change, but also provides methods to monitor to ensure successful implementation and sustainability.  Always model the expectations you have for others.
  • Communication – You won’t find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator.  The art of communication allows leaders to accomplish tasks and get things done, pass on important information, acquire information, develop a shared vision, reach many decisions through consensus, build relationships, and move people to embrace change. Leaders in the digital age leverage available technology to transform communications.
  • People – Successful change initiatives rest on moving the masses, but you must begin at a foundational level. This can best be accomplished by building positive relationships at the individual level.  Empower staff to embrace change by putting them in a position to experience the value firsthand for themselves.  Provide autonomy to those who are already on board while focusing more time and effort supporting staff who are not yet willing to change.
  • The Work and Fun – With any change initiative ensure that a solid foundation aligned to teaching, learning, and leadership is in place. It is always good practice to align the work to the latest research and best practices.  As change takes hold have fun by celebrating the successes of your staff and students.  Nothing moves change along better than showing people how proud you are of their hard work.  This will also assist in motivating others to embrace the change effort.
  • Learning – The best and most effective leaders never stop learning, as they understand that there will always be work to do, not matter how much success is encountered.  As Antoni Cimolino states, “There is something to be learned every day, both by looking in the mirror at yourself and by looking at the people around you.” Today’s leaders have a great advantage when it comes to learning and that is social media.  The ability to learn anytime, anywhere, anything, and from anyone through Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) is a leadership game changer.
A great deal of effort, time, and hard decisions embody every successful change effort. With this being said it is imperative that the changes being implemented stick.  Hargreaves and Fink (2004) provide some key points on sustaining change that will enable you to develop a clear focus during the initial visioning and planning process:
  • Improvement that fosters learning, not merely change that alters schooling.
  • Improvement that endures over time.
  • Improvement that can be supported by available or obtainable resources.
  • Improvement that does not affect negatively the surrounding environment of other schools and systems.
  • Improvement that promotes ecological diversity and capacity throughout the educational and community environment.
If you are serious about implementing change then lead with conviction so that your efforts result in sustainability.  Just the willingness to change doesn't cut it. Making change stick is what separates great leaders from the good ones.


  1. Thank you for discussing the follow through that must take place for real change to take place. It definitely takes work and time and the willingness to make some tough decisions. But if change is what we want, then we must be willing to do whatever it takes. I know I can certainly do a better job.

  2. We can always do a better job. The work of a true leader is never done.