The 8 Stages of Change

Change is an innate component of education and it is not without inconvenience.

No school is immune to change despite resistance. Changes push and pull schools to pivot from their current status quo into something new.

But to grow and thrive, schools must be able to adapt and change willingly and the management of change is an essential skill for school leaders.

For school leaders, implementing change means influencing staff to do something new or behave differently.

As a Headteacher you are by definition a change agent in chief and a chief change enabler; you build the platform and invite others to join the movement (Hamel and Zanini, 2014) by stimulating, facilitating and coordinating the change effort (Lunenburg, 2010).

Change is 80% leadership and 20% management but in most school environments, these percentages are reversed (Kotter, 1998).

Management is about coping with complexity and leadership is about coping with change.

How do you implement change?

You could announce it and just get on with it.

Worse, you could just do it and then announce it.

Change in a school setting is happening all the time; it’s constant not episodic. This can create uncertainty and it can be uncomfortable.

Living in a VUCA world, change is a fact of school life because progress depends on innovation, risk-taking and bold decision-making.

Change is omnipresent, uncertain and difficult but it can also be a creative force for good.

Change in schools can be procedural, programmatic, and pedagogical, motivated by both external and internal forces.

Some change just happens and it’s out of our control but there are plenty of changes that need to be planned for.

Change is a science and so implementing changes, especially big ones, we need to understand the process.

To model the change process is helpful because it gives school leaders, as change agents, a framework to work with and, in some cases, to cling to when the going gets tough.

John Kotter’s 8-Step Change Process is an agile structure for thinking things through and seeing things through.

1. Create a sense of urgency

Inspire people to act – with passion and purpose – to achieve a bold, aspirational opportunity. Build momentum that excites people to pursue a compelling (and clear) vision of the future… together.

2. Build a guiding coalition

A volunteer network needs a coalition of committed people – born of its own ranks – to guide it, coordinate it, and communicate its activities.

3. Form a strategic vision

Clarify how the future will be different from the past and get buy-in for how you can make that future a reality through initiatives linked directly to the vision.

4. Enlist a volunteer army

Large-scale change can only occur when massive numbers of people rally around a common opportunity. At an individual level, they must want to actively contribute. Collectively, they must be unified in the pursuit of achieving the goal together.

5. Enable action by removing barriers

Remove the obstacles that slow things down or create roadblocks to progress. Clear the way for people to innovate, work more nimbly across silos, and generate impact quickly.

6. Generate short-term wins

Wins are the molecules of results. They must be recognized, collected, and communicated – early and often – to track progress and energize volunteers to persist.

7. Sustain acceleration

Do not let up! Consolidate gains and achieve continuous improvement by analysing the success stories individually and improving from those individual experiences.

8. Institute change

Articulate the connections between new behaviours and organisational success, making sure they continue until they become strong enough to replace old habits. Evaluate systems and processes to ensure management practices reinforce the new behaviours, mindsets, and ways of working you invested in.

What does this look like in action?

An example of a school using this change management model in ‘real-life’ shows how one teacher overcame challenges and put change into effect successfully when implement a phonics programme.

Another example shows how you might implement change to create an inclusive school environment.

It is an easy step-by-step process which provides a clear description and guidance on the entire process of change and is relatively easy for being implemented.

Despite widespread support for this change model, it does not meet with approval everywhere. Some say it is too rigid, some steps are not relevant in some contexts and there isn’t enough actionable detail to cover all change scenarios (Jones, 2019).

But what it does do is provide a useful checklist and as Applebaum et al (2012) note it is “most useful as an implementation planning tool, but complementary tools should also be used during the implementation process to adapt to contextual factors or obstacles.”

Leading change effectively is critical to advancing a school and effective leaders act as agents of continuous change to promote school-wide success and wellbeing. Understanding of the change process is therefore critical for leaders of  complex school systems.

It is worth remembering that there are a plethora of change management models (e.g. the 4 As of Change, the RAID process, Lewin’s Force Field Analysis, Diffusion of Innovation etc) and a combination of these could be the way forward.

Kotter’s model remains a useful framework to establish a more impactful change initiative and bring about change in a more organised, thoughtful, and deliberate manner.

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