How to Effectively Lead and Manage Change

Blaine AlexanderBlog, Lead Better

TL;DR:

  • School leaders can effectively lead and manage change by communicating why change is necessary.
  • School leaders should involve team members in the change process, and explain and articulate what the change will look like.
  • Leaders put the needs of their people first by providing support and helping them navigate through the process.

By not possessing a domineering personality as some of my colleagues do (I will not mention names – ha), I have always allowed my co-workers to choose our dining destination when we are together.  Crossing my fingers that they choose a place with a good steak and potato, or maybe some ribs, it seems that we always ended up somewhere the extreme opposite.  Although I envy their desire to be diverse in their dining options, my colleagues will always consider me “plain Blaine” when it comes to my food choices.

A few years ago, while attending an educational conference in Boston, one of my colleagues asked me if I would like to try some of her Brussels sprouts and a boiled oyster.  Granted, I would much rather stick an ice pick in my ear!  As the encouragement at the table continued, they started putting money on the table to entice me to try such despicable dishes.  In a moment of weakness, I tried both foods and walked away with an extra $1.42 in my pocket, donated by seven of my high rolling colleagues at the table.

Change in the context of teaching and learning is much more important than dining choices.

When it comes to several aspects of my life, such as my food choices, I would much rather stay in my comfort zone.  Change is difficult!  Some of you may be able to relate because change brings about the unknown and causes us to be vulnerable.   In the example of food choices used above, the refusal to change does not necessarily create a negative impact, but in school leadership, not adapting to change can often produce some undesirable outcomes.

As school leaders, one of the most important leadership skills we must possess is the ability to lead and manage change.  Change is inevitable in the school business.  Sometimes we choose to change, and sometimes change chooses us (more about this later).  In my position in leadership development, I often hear from school leaders, “My teachers just won’t change.”  Most of the time, the context is instructional issues, but there are multiple areas in the teaching and learning game where change is necessary.

Ineffective leaders tell team members that change is necessary, but effective leaders support team members through the change process. Click To Tweet

Sharing my personal experiences about change.

You could spend all week reading research on the “change process” or “why people refuse to change.”  Everybody and their grandmother have written about change.  This blog is not going to be heavy on research. But I would like to use this space to share with you, school leaders—and teachers—some suggestions about the change process solely based on my experiences as a school leader and a leadership coach.  Hopefully, you will find these tips relevant and informative.

Change should only occur when the change is an improvement to the current status.

We have all heard those stories of leaders who make changes just for the sake of making changes.  Maybe the leader is in a new school and wants to make sure that all team members realize that there is a “new sheriff in town.”  When the leader makes such changes, they are usually first-order changes—those changes that are easy and do not drastically transform the culture, sometimes just to send a message.

Leaders, please remember that change is hard on most people.  If there is no evidence that the change is going to improve the status quo, please consider whether the change is worth it.  If team members must go through changes, be sure the change supports the school’s core values, mission, and vision.

Effectively lead and manage change by communicating why such change is necessary.

A few years ago, I was hired as a building principal in a new city, and one of the teachers met me at my office door on my first day on the job.  She wanted me to know that leaders often come in and start making changes for no apparent reason, and if I was that type of leader, she could not support that.  On the other hand, if a change is necessary and I communicate to her “why” this change is going to make our school better, she will support me all day long.

This was one of the most important lessons I learned as a young leader, and I will always be thankful to this teacher for this conversation.  The teacher and I had an amazing working relationship and I could always count on her support.  When changes are necessary at the building or district level, effective leaders communicate the purpose of the change with all team members.

Effectively lead and manage change by involving team members in the change process.

When decisions are being made about changes at the building or district level, effective leaders involve team members for input and support.  If the change is going to affect multiple stakeholders, representatives from each stakeholder group should be at the table.  When members have input and decision-making ability during the change process, support for the change is more likely to occur.

Most people will not change willingly until they are dissatisfied with the status quo.

As we recently started saying on social media, say that one more time for those in the back.  Think about our personal lives when change is needed.  Maybe we need to eat better, stop a bad habit, exercise more, etc.  Others around us know that we need to make that change, but change will only occur when we personally become dissatisfied with the status quo.

As leaders, we often put our efforts into trying to make others change, when our efforts should be focused on helping our team members understand that the status quo is unacceptable.  If the current status of our school needs to improve in some areas such as our student achievement, the learning culture, teacher and student relationships, etc., instead of trying to force change, effective leaders should use data to help team members understand that the status quo is unacceptable.

Effectively lead and manage change by explaining and articulating what the change looks like.

As mentioned above, change is difficult because of the unknown.  We are asking team members to leave their comfort zone and move to a better, but unknown, zone.  When leaders help team members understand how the new status quo is going to be more effective and can articulate the “new normal,” members will not fear the unknown as much.

Leaders must have the skills to support team members through the change process.

Ineffective leaders tell team members that change is necessary, but effective leaders support team members through the change process.  Recently, I became aware of a high school principal who told his teachers that he expected to see high-level instructional strategies in the classroom.  When he did not observe such strategies, he would write them up.  In a very short time, nearly all the faculty had been written up, and some even resigned.

Writing up team members was in his comfort zone, but he did not have the skills to support the teachers to grow and improve.  The teachers were not being insubordinate.  They needed help and support to grow.  When improvement or change is necessary, effective leaders show support and walk through the process collaboratively with the team members.

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Sometimes change chooses us.

Effective leaders have the skills to lead their team through the change process even when the change is something we did not expect.  Leading through a pandemic is a perfect example.  When change chooses us, the most important skill leaders need to utilize is support.  Teachers need the emotional intelligence skills from leaders during times like this much more than they need to know how much we know.

Change is difficult.  It is not always as easy as choosing Brussels sprouts over a steak and baked potato.  In the school business, change is inevitable.  Effective leaders understand that certain skills are needed to successfully navigate through the process.  Putting the needs of their people first is the foundation and a sign of an effective leader.


About Blaine Alexander

Dr. Alexander is currently serving his eleventh year as a Leadership Performance Coach with the Arkansas Leadership Academy through the University of Arkansas. Prior to his current experience in leadership development, Dr. Alexander served as a school administrator for 17 years. His research focuses on developing collaborative cultures founded on trust and respect and immersed in student and adult learning. Dr. Alexander’s dissertation explores the factors necessary for student voice to be institutionalized and taken to scale in a school district. Each year, he facilitates learning for students and teachers in the Arkansas Leadership Academy’s Student Voice Institute.

Education:
B.A. Harding University, Searcy, Arkansas
M.Ed. Harding University, Searcy, Arkansas
Ed.D. University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Dissertation: Student Voice Initiative: Exploring Implementation Strategies