Change is one of the most familiar concepts in the contemporary world for various reasons and it is one of the most difficult achievements to accomplish. Most people find it difficult to adopt new perceptions or embrace new, yet unfamiliar experiences into their lives for various reasons including the fear of failure and the unwillingness to tamper with the comfortable balance to which they are accustomed. Such concerns are especially prominent for people in leadership positions due to the tendency of most of their decisions to affect the lives or perceptions of other people.
Most leaders thus choose to stick to one mode of operation, often the first one, which yields success depending on their area of leadership. Although such modes of operation are fruitful at first, they tend to result in stagnation after a couple of years. Various scholars have raised alarm over the impact of stagnation in education on the economy of a country, some of which include insufficient skills in a country’s labor market and a drop in innovation leading to lack of a competitive edge in the international market among others.
The concept of change leadership provides a remedy to these concerns, especially regarding education. Change leadership addresses reasons why leadership institutions in schools find it difficult to adopt change elements, why individuals prefer maintaining the status quo, how to change such perceptions, and the adoption of change as a process.
Some of the steps discussed in this paper concerning the adoption of change include the creation of awareness of the necessity of change, developing an adoption plan, addressing concerns and difficulties in change adoption at personal and institutional levels, assimilation of the changes to the system, and reviews to ensure that such changes address educational concerns appropriately. The paper also highlights some of the main attributes that constitute effective chain leadership as an essential element in the management of educational institutions.
New knowledge: the result of research on change leadership
The main book used for this research is Change Leadership: A Practical Guide Transforming Our Schools, by Tony Wagner, Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey, Richard Lemons, Jude Garnier, Deborah Helsing, Annie Howell, and Harriette Rasmussen. However, for purposes of objectivity, the paper also entails other literary works by various authors regarding the topic at hand. One of the main problems that Wagner et al. (2006) acknowledge with regard to the American education system is that its design does not support the needs that students have currently in relation to skills that they need to navigate the contemporary and the future world.
They note that the American government has been aware of the situation since the 1983 government-appointed blue ribbon published report entitled A Nation at Risk, which termed the American public education system as being at a ‘crisis’ level. The report further stated that the ‘mediocrity’ of the school system places the American economy at risk of having a “low-skill labor force that is no longer competitive in the global market” (Wagner et al., 2006, p.1).
The authors also give data to the effect that since the execution of the No Child Left Behind legislation in 2001, there has been little improvement between the results of the education system’s application in the 1980s and the improved 2001 system. In their opinion, although the implementation of the legislation resulted in rigorous changes in the public schools’ system, such changes focused on altering the results rather than addressing the cause of the problem in the previous system.
For instance, the authors posit, “In the 1970s, our graduation and college-readiness rates were even lower than they are today but it has only recently become a crisis because of the nature of the skills needed in today’s knowledge economy” (Wagner et al., 2006, p.3). Some of the problems they list as requiring solutions through change leadership include teaching all students new skills, motivating students, consideration of social changes and economic knowledge during curriculum development and instilling the perception of teachers as leaders and not just the heads of school administrations.
An important element in this study is the mention by the authors of the main book of the difference between reform and reinvention in the education system. Reforms suggest the presence of a period in time in the past when conditions were acceptable and the desire to return to such a state. On the other hand, reinvention suggests the need for an overhaul of the past system in favor of a new system with new conditions and regulations to suit present conditions.
Although in both definitions there is a disturbance of pre-existing conditions, the former ultimately results in no change at all due to its preference for old results while the latter aims at creating results suitable for current conditions, thus culminating in real change. Therefore, it is important for scholars studying change leadership to keep that in mind, especially with regard to the topic at hand. The difference between the two descriptions is essential in the formulation and maintenance of a change management system.
Another important learning point is that in change leadership, different leaders formulate and implement different change management systems depending on various factors including their personal management methodology preferences, their environments, and the needs of the people that they serve, which in this discussion are the students’ needs.
Lastly, change has to occur on two levels simultaneously, viz. at personal and organizational levels. Lack of progress in the adoption of change at one of the levels hinders the progression of the alternate level, thus defeating the purpose of the entire process (Kotter, 2008). A good example is one where the school, at the organizational level, chooses to grant individual teachers the permission to manage the progress of students in their individual classes and teachers fail to accomplish the task due to personal perceptions as subordinate members of staff instead of managers. The entire school’s change management system will experience a hitch in operations.
Therefore, in order to attain sustainable change, the process must include training sessions that help in solving leadership problems at different levels. Although school principals and individual teachers operate in different capacities, it is important to perceive teachers as managers of their classrooms and as leaders, albeit with different mandates and limited authority. This element carries substantial weight in terms of earning teachers the respect that they require from students, changing the personal teachers’ perceptions, and allowing them to make meaningful contributions to the school’s change management system. The element of the perception of the people who qualify as leaders in the school setting is also important in relation to stakeholders such as school boards and parents in terms of their need for accountability.
Broader knowledge about leading change
As mentioned earlier, change leadership in American schools requires efficient change management systems and it should incorporate the input of teachers, as leaders in their own right, in order to achieve success. However, teachers cannot operate as effective leaders and part of the change management system if their skills do not support the desired change, hence the need for various ways to strengthen their core function, which is instruction. Wagner et al. (2006) describe seven disciplines that serve as guidelines to strengthening instruction. The authors note that apart from inherent leadership qualities such as vision and confidence, teachers need to develop their instructional skills to ensure the adaptability of the said skills to the demands of the knowledge economy and community with regard to students.
One of the most significant disciplines among the seven that the authors mention as a contributory factor to strengthening instruction is the recognition of urgency for instructional improvement using real data. The authors explain that although most education curricula expect schools to develop ways of enriching students with skills that match the labor market demands uniformly, the execution of such a goal remains nearly impossible due to various reasons. Some of the main reasons include the uniqueness of skills that certain labor environments demand, preferential differences in students, and the different leadership modes that are applicable by teachers.
It is almost impossible for teachers to decide a set of skills that best address most occupational skills for diverse student populations, thus leading to a lack of precision during the instruction process. The authors suggest the engagement of the community in helping schools to establish the kinds of skills that they expect from children in the community and offer their assistance in reinforcing instructions through motivating students to learn even when outside the school vicinities (Wagner et al., 2006, p. 28).
The second significant discipline is a shared vision of the students’ results, which essentially centers on students as the main benefactors of the education system. The authors describe the students’ results as the product of their trade and thus they insist on good results as a measure of the value of a teacher through his or her work. A shared vision requires well-defined performance standards and assessment criteria for students throughout the various grade levels as well as a concise understanding of what quality work looks like for both the teacher and student fraternities (Wagner et al., 2006, p.30).
This discipline incorporates an element of collaboration present in the works of management experts such as John Adair, Henry Mintzberg, and Jacob Morgan. Jacob Morgan, for instance, insists on the value of collaboration in the establishment of an effective management system. In his opinion, every organization with any hope of accomplishing its goals and objectives needs to adopt a management system that incorporates the input of all the players in the organization regardless of their position in the organization’s hierarchy (Morgan 2012).
The different roles that individuals play in an organization, from the management level to the consumer level, are vital to an organization’s sustainability, growth, and transformation as it adapts to changes in its environment. A manager who makes decisions without considering the consumers’ needs risks losing the demand for what a company produces. Collaborative efforts towards a common goal often lead to faster achievement of the goals with fewer complications along the way such as individual resistance to change. A manager who ignores the needs of his or her employees also risks a fall in the company’s input as well as reputation (Morgan, 2012).
In the same way, a school’s management team has to incorporate thoughts from teachers on the best way forward regarding instructional techniques without forgetting consideration of concerns from students and pointers on what would make learning easier and generate motivation. In this way, schools can agree on common goals with regard to quality work and the achievement of good grades and learning of skills and work to achieve the same.
The third discipline that stands out of the seven is effective supervision. According to Wagner et al. (2006), supervision needs to be “frequent, rigorous, and entirely focused on the improvement of instructions” (p.30). The authors mention the lack of proper personnel to conduct effective supervision in a frequent manner thus resulting in little or no reform at all too inadequate methods of the instructions that teachers apply in their classroom management plans.
One of the issues that Wagner et al. (2006) point out, in relation to the problem of inadequate personnel, is the vetting process at the national and district levels for supervisors. In their opinion, lack of proper vetting leads to the inability of supervisors to identify the characteristics of a proper instruction in classrooms. This aspect leads to the assumption that quiet and compliant students during supervisory sessions are indicative of proper classroom management skills. In most cases, supervisors fail to engage students in an exercise to find out whether they actually learn what teachers teach.
Such oversight often leads to laxity for teachers, thus resulting in the development of ways to ‘cheat’ their way to favorable grading by supervisors instead of actually working hard to prove the improvement of their skills or seeking assistance where necessary. The resultant effect is the development of an institutional education system where the school administration is satisfied with the results of supervision exercises, but experiences disappointment and frustration in terms of student results. In such scenarios, it becomes difficult for school principals to identify the root of poor performance for students in the school, and thus they often place all the blame on students and parents and overlook the possibility of poor instruction skills as the main problem.
As with most other management situations in different institutions, the stagnation of progress becomes a real concern as wrongful diagnosis of problems curtails the effective application of good strategic policies in the school’s change management system to the existent conditions leading to a lack of progress.
The most effective solution in this case, according to Wagner et al. (2006), is the training of supervisory personnel to assist them in identifying characteristics of proper classroom management skills and indicators of improvement in student learning. This solution would provide school administration heads with a proper picture of the actual situation in relation to their change management systems, and thus allow them to make relevant changes for the sake of improved learning and the successful development of students as qualified entrants in the job market.
Other disciplines that the authors mention in their explanation of the seven disciplines include meetings about work, diagnostic data and accountable collaboration, a shared vision of good teaching and professional development. The four disciplines revolve around the administration, and teachers working as a unit in schools to discuss the change management system and develop plans that work for the benefit of students with the versatility of the knowledge of the economy’s labor market in mind.
Obtaining buy-in and support from stakeholders
In business and management, a buy-in often occurs when a manager, not under a company’s employment, buys shares from the company. However, in decision-making, a buy-in may occur in several ways including the signing of an agreement promising specific undertakings regarding a decision between parties. The main aspect around which the buy-in concept revolves is commitment. Tasks members indicate, as part of their undertaking in management agreements regarding buy-ins, the extent of their commitment towards the successful completion of the terms of the agreement with the inclusion of their stakes (Kotter, 2010).
Obtaining buy-ins or support from stakeholders requires the existence of elements such as a concise change management plan, an indication of benefits that each shareholder gets, and a set timeline for the execution of the plan for the desired results (Walker, 2010).
In this paper, the item of interest is changed. Although the concept seems straightforward, the progressive nature of the process of the achievement of change often results in complexities, which require various levels of commitment from the involved stakeholders. The ‘company’ in this paper’s extensive discussion with regard to the education sector is the school. A school has various groups of stakeholders, one of which is the school administration heads.
The stakes for administration heads rely on the success of the schools that they manage. Their value as managers depends on the attainment of good grades by students in the school and subsequent success of the institution in developing individuals that are useful to a country’s economy through applicable skill sets in the labor market.
The second group comprises teachers attending the students in classrooms every day in a bid to impart various skills. Their stake emanates from the determination of their value as instructors with the ability to provide relevant and applicable skills to students using methods with which they can relate. Apart from the financial incentives that salaries and bonuses provide, administrative heads and teachers place the reputation of their craft at stake in the execution of change in any learning institution. Students from the third group of stakeholders in schools in the execution of change policies.
They hold the greatest stake as their livelihoods depend on the skills that they obtain, which in turn depend on the success of the change management systems that their school managers adopt. The fourth group entails parents, guardians, and sponsors. Their stakes in most cases comprise the future of their children as well as their expenditure to facilitate learning through buying books, uniforms, paying for school projects, and other financial contributions in addition to the provision of moral support.
Government officials such as ministers, supervisors, and district superintendents form the last category, although, in cases of privately owned schools, shareholders earn a spot on this list. The wellbeing of the integral education system and any changes made to accommodate adaptability depend on this group in the public eye. All the above parties make significant contributions in the form of time in the accomplishment of proper education.
Of the five groups, parents and students are the two groups that qualify as having high stakes in the execution of change in the school system without being under the employment of the school, and thus their contributions, as mostly explained in sections prior to this one, qualify as ‘buy-ins’. The remaining groups’ contributions are usually supportive in nature. The benefits of each stakeholder in these categories are synonymous with their stakes.
Applying leadership principles that result in positive change
According to Mintzberg (2008), vision is one of the most essential leadership principles that leaders should espouse. Mintzberg (2008) explains a vision as a projection of the product of one’s actions in compliance with a plan with the ultimate aim of achieving success. He explains that vision provides meaning to the tasks that individuals in any organization perform. Without the sense of direction that the presence of a clear vision provides, it is impossible to determine whether an organization has made any progress.
Even in instances where progress is visible or even tangible, it is often difficult to assess the relevance of such progress or determine its sustainability and the need to alter various areas of an organization’s operational plans (Mintzberg, 2008). According to Wagner et al. (2006), before making any changes to the curriculum of a school, the school managers must have a vision of what they hope to accomplish by the execution of such change.
Wagner et al. (2006) mention planning as part of the most essential leadership principles. Planning involves the formulation of a blueprint through which to navigate to the projected results via a concise vision. It requires the application of strategies, structuring of tasks, and prioritization in order to ensure that every player in the plan knows his or her role in the execution process and strives for its achievement. The processes involved in planning ensure that all players prepare for any eventualities (Fullan, 2011).
The division of tasks also allows the entire team to reassess areas that do not yield a desirable outcome and change only those elements without necessarily interfering with other processes or progress towards the ultimate goal or achievement. Wagner et al. (2006) insist on the need to adhere strictly to plans in order to avoid costly delays in time and money due to distractions that although attractive, do not contribute to the achievement of set goals.
Commitment to change is another leadership principle that appears severally throughout the main book. Wagner et al. (2006) highlight the need for commitment to change at the institutional and personal levels in order to ensure the actualization of results that actually indicate favorable conditions for students in the knowledge economy after the successful completion of grade level education in public schools. The commitment applies to all stakeholders, inclusive of parents and students, in their various capacities in the protection of their stakes to the change. The last leadership principle most notable in the book as with various other books in this paper is a collaboration (Wagner et al., 2006).
In Morgan’s (2012) opinion, collaboration allows various stakeholders involved in the execution of a vision to work together as a team and seek assistance where necessary to ensure that plans work out smoothly. The complexity of the concept of change requires stakeholders at educational institutions to address issues as a unified front in order to negate instances of implementation of plans by individual stakeholders that work well for those particular stakeholders, but clash with those of others, thus resulting in stalemates and subsequent stagnation.
Fullan, M. (2011). Change Leader: Learning to Do What Matters Most. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Kotter, J. (2008). A Sense of Urgency. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Kotter, J. (2010). Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea From Getting Shot Down. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Mintzberg, H. (2008). Mintzberg on Management. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Morgan, J. (2012). The Collaborative Organization: A Strategic Guide to Solving Your Internal Business Challenges Using Emerging Social and Collaborative tools. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Wagner, T., & Kegan, R., Lahey, L., Lemons, R., Garnier, J., Helsing, D., Howell, A., & Rasmussen, R. (2006). Change leadership: A practical guide to transforming our schools. San Francisco, A: Jossey-Bass.
Walker, R. (2010). Buying In: What We Buy and Who We Are. New York, NY: Random House Trade.