Effective leaders often need to break new ground, challenge assumptions and introduce new thoughts to well-established traditions. This is certainly true of school principals. They need to consider the existing demands of national curriculum statements and the expectations of the broader school community. They need to be aware of the realities of hard-working teaching staff who have become bruised and battered over the years by the changing goalposts of curricula dictated by state and provincial education departments. While considering all these realities, they are also tasked with bringing effective change to ensure relevant teaching practice and dynamic learning opportunities for all the pupils in the school.
The challenges listed in the previous paragraph coupled with the very real element of fear and reprisal can lead school principals to adopt a “we’ve always done it this way” approach. In no way do I advocate change for change’s sake but when change will improve the learning experience for pupils and will create a more dynamic learning environment, it is up to the school leader to pick up the reins and drive the change process.
It can become too easy to blame the Department of Education, the CAPS curriculum, the lack of resources, poor parental support and so on for perpetuating poor teaching practice. The losers in this scenario are both pupils and teachers. It is up to the school leader to put in the hard yards in learning about new ideas, preparing and implementing an effective change plan. This is a scary prospect for many principals who have never had any previous experience in leading change but perhaps becoming an educational dinosaur leading a school which continues to operate in a time warp is a lot more scary!
In my experience the most effective tool in bringing about effective change in a school is COMMUNICATION.
Without open communication the principal risks being a lone voice unsupported by the very people who are needed for effective implementation of the change. A mistake I have often made is that I have rushed this critical aspect and have then found it much more difficult down the line to bring staff and parents on board the change process. Changes to curriculum and any other aspect of teaching need to be communicated clearly and early on to the academic staff. They need to know the reasons for the proposed change and how the change will affect them. Will it require more time commitment for planning? Will teachers be required to redesign lesson plans or revisit their assessment procedures? What new administrative tasks will be required? Is there clarity on what benefits teachers will derive from the proposed change? Do the teachers understand how the proposed change will bring about more effective learning in their classroom?
Innovation and change are two distinct concepts and should not be confused. There are way too many principals who think that regular change makes them innovative school leaders. This is simply not true and too much change can create confusion, mistrust and anger. Innovation involves well thought through and considered risk taking which can lead to incredibly effective change.
Creative risk taking is essential to success in any goal where the stakes are high. Thoughtless risks are destructive, of course, but perhaps even more wasteful is thoughtless caution which prompts inaction and promotes failure to seize opportunity. – Gary Ryan Blair
Change will never come to those who choose to sit on their hands because they are paralysed by thoughts of failure or because they are afraid of the inevitable push-back from certain quarters. Effective leaders of change are those who can see the need for change and become involved in bringing the needed change to reality with the help of their team. I certainly do not want to be a school principal who is afraid of change. I want to be a principal who sets the course for change and brings his team with him in the implementation process. If at the end of 2014 I look back on the year and this is all I have achieved professionally then I’ll be a very happy man.