Leading Change in Schools for 21st Century Teaching and Learning
21st Century Teaching and Learning
Current education is calling on schools to transition into a new paradigm of learning. We can see this in the challenges given through current standards (e.g., Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and International Standards for Technology in Education), the demands of the work place, the complexity of the world, and lack of effectiveness of the “stand and deliver” method of teaching. 21st century teaching and learning is this new paradigm that is trying to create students that will be problem solvers and critical thinkers. Our society is changing at such a rapid pace; we, as educators, are preparing students for jobs that don’t exist yet. This means we have to change how we teach and how we lead our schools.
Change in Schools, Facilitating the Process
To oversee change in schools and make this transition and others successfully, we need to be able to see the whole picture. In my role as principal, I have a few go-to, change management strategies that I use for leading change in schools. I will review each and their practical application in supporting the work of 21st century teaching and learning.
Levels of Analysis: Seeing the Big Picture
One useful strategy that I use comes from the work of Wells (1985). He articulates the five different levels of processing for an organization: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, Group-as-a-Whole, Intergroup, and Interorganizational.
- The Intrapersonal has to do with the individual and how they relate to themselves.
- The Interpersonal level focuses on relationships, interactions, and dynamics between individuals.
- The Group-as-a-Whole analyzes the group as a system. We look at how the individuals are co-acting as a part of the group.
- The Intergroup looks at the relationships and interactions between groups.
- The Interorganizational looks at relationships and influences from different organizations and the environment. Using this frame, we can gather a full picture of the organization and understand why and where we are getting resistance.
For facilitating the process of change in schools, I have found it useful to move through each level and consider influences that may be affecting the school and how I can address those influences. I don’t normally use the chart below, but it can be helpful in framing your analysis when first starting to use this method.
Determine the change that your school is about to go through. As you articulate the change, focus on the purpose of the change. When you move to the next row, consider what is happening in the school that might impact the change. Go through each level and see if there is anything present. There might be one or two levels that this does not apply to. Once you see what is happening in the school and with your staff, you can try to make sense of it and begin thinking of ways to respond. Lastly, bring the different levels together into one plan.
The benefit of looking at the organization through multiple lenses is that it provides more insights. We often see one level standing out as the biggest or most important factor and make our plan based on addressing that one level. Then we can get blindsided by a factor from another level that we did not consider. The bigger the picture we have of our change, the better prepared we can be.
Neutral Zone: Managing the Time of Transition
Another “go-to” of my change management strategies comes from the work of Bridges (1990) in which he describes the time of transition as the Neutral Zone. He gives a number of strategies to address this time. The three strategies that I gravitate toward in leading change in schools are normalizing the neutral zone, setting up temporary structures, and redefining the metaphors being used.
- Normalizing the neutral zone involves naming for the group that change is hard. Naming is explicitly acknowledging for the group the space that we are in. We all have stresses and anxieties that come with transitions and change, and it is okay for the group to name how they are processing the change. When we create space for the staff to discuss how it is working through the change, we learn a lot about supporting everyone through this tough time.
- Setting up temporary structures will look different for each change and each organization. In essence, we need to create a way for information to move and for creativity to blossom despite the impending change and the uncertainty that change brings. We need to allow the organization to be flexible in adapting to the needs that are arising because of the transition.
- The final strategy that I like to employ is redefining the metaphors that we are using. Metaphors can be a powerful way to get everyone to see the same image for the direction of the organization. It is a good reminder to stop and think explicitly about images we want to create. Bridges also has a great checklist for administrators to consider as they look at managing their neutral zones.
Self as Evidence: Self-Reflection for Empathy
After considering the big picture of leading change in schools and making sure that you have prepared as best as possible, there is still the need to facilitate the process with meetings that will guide the group through the change. One strategy that is helpful for reading the group during meetings is watching your own reactions. The intrapersonal level for ourselves can provide a lot of data about how the group is processing.
What I mean by this is that our reactions are reflections of the group. If I am noticing that I am feeling frustrated during the meeting, I can make the assumption that others are frustrated in the room. Once I know this, I can begin considering what might be their source of frustration. It will likely be different than my source, but it is present in some way. Ideally, we can go through this reflective process during the meeting, but that is a large challenge and one that takes practice. For now, take note of those emotional reactions and spend some time reflecting on what they may mean following the meeting. It will help you to prepare for the next meeting.
Overall, change is challenging. There are hundreds of change management strategies to guide a group, and each group and change process is different. I have found that if I use structures to remind me to look at the larger picture, then I can make a better plan. Not all plans work out, but I have the structures to go back and consider all of the factors to determine what I missed in my analysis.
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Elijah Bonde is currently the principal at Nativity Prep Academy (NPA) in San Diego. He has been the instructional leader of the school for the past five years and a teacher at the school for the eigth years prior. He earned his MA in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego (USD) in 2015, his single subject teaching credential in English and Science from USD in 2007, and his BA in Philosophy in 2005.
Elijah’s work at NPA has focused on transitioning the school toward 21st century learning with an emphasis on student-centered lessons, incorporating technology, and increasing rigor. He has also focused on developing a professional learning community that is rooted in collaboration and addressing the individual needs of each teacher.