(Originally posted on One Administrator’s View.)

By David Steward

If there is one thing I have learned throughout my career in education, it is that change is both inevitable and difficult.  During my 12 years as a building principal, I have had the opportunity to lead my school through a couple of significant changes.  One of those was our 1:World Learning Initiative that provided every student a laptop.  I believe that the process we went through as a building led to effective implementation and as a result, an effective initiative.  Currently, we are in the process of potentially converting our traditional eight period day to a flexible-modular schedule.  As I reflect on the processes that have been important on each journey, I thought I would share some thoughts.

None of these items are earth shattering or groundbreaking, but they have been important in my experience leading change.  So….here are eight items that are important to me in the change process.David-steward-leading-chang

1.  Begin with the end in mind.  What is it that you want to accomplish with the change?  What are the key issues that the change is to address?  These items must be defined in order for the change to be view as essential for success.  If you can’t answer the question of ‘How will things be better as a result of this change?’ then you are just changing for change sake – which is rarely successful.

2.  Develop ‘buy-in’ from the staff/students/community. For any change to be successful, those that are impacted must understand and value the change.  This is not to say that you have to have 100% of those impacted fully behind the change, rather it is to say that momentum must be built leading up to the implementation of the change.  It is vital that key people within your organization are supportive of the initiative.  These people will help bring the others along throughout the change process.

3.  Show them how it’s working elsewhere.  As we completed our 1:World Learning Initiative which provides every student a laptop computer, the most valuable piece of the change process was site visits.  We took several trips to other schools that were already doing this type of initiative successfully.  This reinforced the need for the change and created momentum toward making the change successful.  But, most importantly, it alleviates many fears that exist when a change is taking place.

4.  Keep the ‘Main Thing’ the ‘Main Thing’.  As you work through the implementation of any initiative, it’s easy to get distracted by the logistical hurdles or negative thoughts that will surely present themselves.  As we worked through the transition to every student having a laptop, we worried about such things as battery life, charging stations, PE locker room issues, field trips, etc.  Several times, it felt that we became so overly worried about these things that the real focus of our initiative was lost.  As the leader, it is your job to take a step back and remind your team what the focus of the change is.  Details are important, but the impact for students is the most important.

5.  Acknowledge fears. To me, this is high on the priority list during change.  The leader must be ready to validate the fears of his team.  One activity that I do for this is ‘Three Hopes and Three Fears’.  When we undergo a major change initiative, after the education process and near the time of commitment I ask my teachers to anonymously submit to me their three hopes for the initiative and their three fears for the initiative.  I then compile these lists and put them out there for all to see.  This simple acknowledgement helps us to deal with those fears up front by focusing on what we hope will come from the initiative.  Then, after we are several months into the initiative, we pull those lists back out and start marking off fears.  With our recent technology initiative, we reduced the fears list from 29 items to 12 items just over a year into it’s implementation!

5.  Model your expectations.  As the leader in the building, it is vital that you are the first one to try things that will be impacted by the change.  If you expect your teachers to use technology in instruction, you need to be using it in faculty meetings.  Nothing will kill a change initiative faster than your team feeling like you are in a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ leadership mindset.  Modeling expectations develops a ‘we are in this together’ mentality.

6.  Provide training and time.  Providing training for teachers is vital to the success of any initiative.  However, where we usually miss the boat is by providing excellent training but skimping on the time teachers are allowed to work with the new material.  How many times have you had a full day inservice and then asked teachers to implement a change in your classroom?  When do you expect them to plan to use these new strategies?  Time to process and plan are the most critical yet most often sacrificed components of learning a new skill.

7.  Celebrate Failure. (thanks @casas_jimmy) – Anytime you make a change in expectations, procedures, culture, etc., you will make mistakes.  Those mistakes should be CELEBRATED!  Why celebrate mistakes?  Because that is how we learn!  The key to this mindset is to not give up when a couple of things go wrong.  If the change is good for kids, it is essential that we fight through the issues and stay the course.

8.  Be comfortably uncomfortable. (thanks @johnjungmann) – Throughout the change process (and the overall growth process for that matter) there will be discomfort.  It is vital that you as the leader are comfortable with that and that you teach those in your building to have the same mindset.  The trick here is to know the line between comfortably uncomfortable and being completely uncomfortable.  This will vary from situation to situation and from school to school.  It is your job as the leader to determine this line and make sure your organization doesn’t cross it.

I believe that including these eight pieces in the change process are essential to a successful implementation.  I’d love to hear about your experiences, thoughts, and/or additional steps you feel are important.  Thanks for reading!

David is a High School Principal in Monett, Missouri. He shares his insights on his blog, One Administrator’s View. Follow David on Twitter at @DSteward89.