5 Key Elements of Change Management for School Leaders (and the 1 Element that Blocks Change)

The following five practices, when consistently implemented by school leaders, result in greater levels of trust and assist leaders in demonstrating Commitment in times of change:

  1. Changes, and decisions leading to change, are always data-driven. Trusted leaders first gather data to determine what change is needed.[1]
  2. Once the data is collected, trusted leaders make an assessment, analysis, and interpretation of the data – including a prioritizing of the findings and the areas of greatest need.[2]
  3. Interventions are then defined, structured, and planned in a manner that addresses the specific issues revealed through the findings of the data.[3]
  4. All interventions include clear exemplars, coaching or mentoring where needed, and 360-degree feedback that is timely and frequent.[4]
  5. As the change process matures, there is constant evaluation, followed by another cycle of data gathering in order to be able to assess whether or not the interventions and strategies truly moved the school in the direction of the change desired.[5]

This seems simple and straight forward. Right? Then, why don’t more school leaders consistently implement these five elements? One answer. Fear! Fear is the greatest barrier to a successful change process.

“Fear of the unknown is human and an obvious barrier to trust. We most easily trust the familiar. With such rapid change, there is so much to grasp. If we don’t understand something, then it is hard to trust it.”[6]

There is the fear of the unknown. Everyone likes his or her comfort zone. There is also the fear of conflict. Everyone wants to live in peace. Educators know that exploring the unknown is often how growth takes place, and conflict is a part of being challenged. Trusted leaders, help others view conflict as healthy and a means for positive change and professional and personal growth.

Our capacity to face uncertainty and function in times of stress and anxiety is linked with our self-confidence, and our level of confidence is linked with our sense of increasing integrity. We are all affected by technical competence or political acumen, but we are more deeply influenced by moral power. In the end, the latter is the ultimate source of power.[7]

Trusted school leaders, who demonstrate Commitment, believe their employees possess great ability to develop and implement healthy and positive change. For example, trusted leaders hire well and trust their teachers with academic freedom and responsibility within wide boundaries of their school’s educational philosophy and its operational protocols. “From this perspective, administrators would remove obstacles from the path of professional growth and not manipulate people… [helping to] facilitate a climate of mutual trust and respect among teachers and administrators.”[8]

©2017 Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.

[1] Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, “Big Data. The management revolution,” Harvard Business Review 90, no. 10 (2012): 61-68.

[2] J. S. Oakland and Stephen Tanner, “Successful Change Management,” Total Quality Management & Business Excellence 18, no. 1-2 (2007): 1-19.

[3] Mark Hughes, “The Tools and Techniques of Change Management,” Journal of Change Management 7, no. 1 (2007): 37-49.

[4] Ibid.

[5] McAfee and Brynjolfsson, “Big Data. The Management Revolution,” Harvard Business Review, 68.

[6] Horsager, The Trust Edge, 554-555, Kindle.

[7] Robert E. Quinn, Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996), 60-61, Kindle.

[8] Hoy and Miskel, Educational Administration, 224, Kindle.

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