Michael Fullan (1993) points out in Change Forces:
It is no exaggeration to say that dealing with change is endemic to post-
modern society. On the other hand, however, we have an educational system
which is fundamentally conservative. The way that teachers are trained, the way
our schools are organized, the way that the educational hierarchy operates, and the
way that education is treated by the political decision-makers results in a system
that is more likely to retain the status quo than to change. (p.3).
And thus, the dance unfolds for principals and educational leaders, as much energy is spent trying to understand and respond to external calls for reform while operating within organizational structures that remain rather static in design. At the same time, principals must deal head-on with the internal human face of change within a collective structure that is searching for stability and a renewed, respected self-identity. Schools today are defining themselves and being redefined – seeking to understand what it is to become learning communities as well as centers for community. As Fullan (1999) further offers in Change Forces: The Sequel:
..change (planned or otherwise) unfolds in non-linear ways,
that paradoxes and contradictions abound and that creative
solutions arise out of interaction under conditions of uncertainty,
diversity and instability (p.4).
In rational terms, we know that life itself involves constant change. However, Fullan (2001) points out that we do not always consider that change is multidimensional and that whether change is voluntary or not, “all real change involves loss, anxiety and struggle” (p.30). There is clearly no formula to offer principals, in 2001, that transforms the process of dealing with complex change into a neatly managed package that can be administered through professional development. The push to change and the pull to resist being changed is a constant dynamic that appears to require optimism, knowledge about change processes, vision, a sense of moral purpose and great patience to hopefully begin to shape itself into something that relevant stakeholders will recognize as “progress”.
The rhetoric of change has many faces. We recognize the calls to reorganize, reengineer, reform, restructure and reculture organizational systems across many professional settings including education. Senge et al (1999) reminds us that the old French word “changer” means to bend or to turn and concerns regarding whether or not internal structural change will meet the demands of external views, practices and strategies are rather timeless (p.14). Ultimately, Senge points out we are dealing with the notion of “profound change” when it involves change “that combines inner shifts in people’s values, aspirations and behaviors with outer shifts in processes, strategies, practices and systems” (p.15). Senge confirms that profound change involves learning and building capacity for ongoing change. However, Senge warns that “it is not enough to change strategies unless the thinking that produces the strategies and systems also changes” (p.15).
Purpose of the study
Against this complicated backdrop regarding educational change, I seek to explore several critical questions pertinent to my role as a school administrator and as a student. My literature search begins with a broad look at the larger educational context regarding educational change. Subsequently, I ask, what do we know about the human impact of change processes – that affect those being lead and those who are leading? What kind of leadership appears to be best suited to deal with the new reality? And finally, what are the implications for administrator training given what we know about leading change?
What is the larger educational context for principals as educational leaders?
Should we find it a comfort to know that our experience as a province and as a country is not unique? Benjamin Levin (1998) writes that educational policy is in a state of change across most industrialized countries. Calls for critical reexamination of education and subsequent reform are international and demonstrate a certain level of commonality of concern. Levin points out six themes which are summarized as follows:
(1)The need for change in education is being cast in economic terms related to the needs of the workforce and competition with other countries.
(2)Educational change is occurring within the context of large-scale criticism of schools. Often lamenting the high-level of educational spending, government policy documents typically offer that school systems have failed to deliver what is needed. Interestingly, in our context, parents do not necessarily support this view as reported by OISE opinion polls (Orbit/UT 1999).
(3)Large-scale change is not supported by substantially increased financial commitments to schools by governments. The impression is that education is a considered a cost rather than an investment.
(4)Changes in governance are often among the key proposals for education reform. A stronger role for parents in school councils, individual school charters or other governing bodies are examples of the changing landscape of governance.
(5) Attention has been given to making education more of a market commodity. Calls for vouchers, parental choice, tying school funding to enrolments are examples of this direction.
(6)Standards, accountability and testing have been a feature of the reforms imposed on systems. School rankings are a subsequent result for many jurisdictions albeit that the foundations for rankings are very suspect.
(Summarized p. 1-3).
While there is commonality in concern, there has been little evidence that one jurisdiction has learned from another’s experience according to Levin (p.7). Policies may have had similar intent but implementation has greatly varied. Britain’s national inspection of schools, for example, is quite a different reality from our own to date.
Ontario’s experience is discussed by Winter and McEahern (2001) and focusses on the impact upon teachers. Having government control of school curriculum has been a major change that has impacted all stakeholders. It is still to be determined if stating higher standards of achievement, a standardized curriculum and calls for greater accountability result in greater student academic success. Certainly government controls on class size, the amount of teacher preparation time, on funding formulas and on redefining relationships between administrators and teachers have left systems scrambling to respond, feeling considerable pressure without necessary supports. What Moon (1990) states appears very realistic – “pressure without support creates alienation” (p.176). The extent of teacher alienation in Ontario was very obvious when 126,000 teachers began strike action in the fall of 1997. Principals found themselves in the middle of the dynamic – a part of a collective one week and newly appointed managers outside of unions another.
Hindsight suggests that the views of Fullan (1982) and Leithwood & Montgomery (1987)
are correct. Would educational change in our Ontario context not have been facilitated if
(a)it had been well-understood?
(b)it had been described in simple and concrete terms?
(c)it represented a convincing improvement over existing practice?
(d)it had been maintained in ways that are believed to be appropriate? (p.5)
But, I offer from the literature, and somewhat tongue in cheek, a utopian view of change
that is not the reality that school systems and principals must face. Change forces
are far more complex. However, today’s context does appear to preclude that
leaders must be interpreters of change as well as catalysts and guides as Schlechty (1990)
points out. One can see that this becomes very problematic if the leaders themselves do
not understand the dynamics behind the change forces. An administrator’s professional
life today is often in a state of confusion as a result of this challenging reality.
Williams (1992) writes of our society experiencing fundamental social and economic paradigm shifts and that these paradigm shifts are resulting in the restructuring of many organizations within both private and public sectors. He concludes that successful organizations will need to be adaptive, learning organizations (p.6). Leithwood (1996) would define organizational learning – the outcome of learning organizations - as “the process of improving individual and collective knowledge, skills and practices” (p.1. ). Leithwood also contends that organizational learning is a perspective used much more frequently in non-school organizations and that because it has been applied rarely to school settings, there has been little systematic evidence describing the conditions which foster and inhibit such learning in schools (p.1). Leithwood (1997) also acknowledges that the change forces shaping schools “press them in no consistent direction” (p.1). This is problematic in light of calls to become “high reliability organizations”. As Leithwood states compellingly:
The problem of imagining the design of future schools includes the problem of
how they will get to be future schools. Future schools, however, much we may
wish it ,will not evolve into some different from, but connected to, today’s
school on a broken front, over a very unpredictable timeline, and without any
sense of ever completing that evolution (p.4).
Leithwood concludes that while systemic changes may be called for, incremental changes are to be anticipated and not to be diminished in value. He quotes Davis’s understanding that “marginal improvements in education are actual, real, practical improvements” and that marginal improvements “do not deny the nature of the boundaries of their context” (1996, p.204).
Fullan’s call for leadership for change (1996) recognizes the new work for leaders in light of significant societal changes and pressures. Fullan writes of a world-wide trend toward self-managing schools which seems somewhat paradoxical in light of government reform being top-down. As Fullan points out, self-managing does come with more visible accountability (p.116). Apparently agreeing with Levin who was referenced earlier, Fullan writes of new forms of school-community governance with new relationships being fostered. Thirdly, Fullan writes of a trend to reduce dependence on outside bureaucracy and regulation – driven by the need to reduce expenses (p.117). Fourthly, Fullan writes of middle-level bureaucracies becoming simplified while the state of government takes on new centralist roles. The reduction in the number of supervisory officers in Ontario during a time of reform is an example of this reality. Fifthly, Fullan points out that much discussion and action is taking place regarding reinventing teacher professionalism. The Ontario College of Teachers and “standards of practice” being articulated would be an example of this point. A sixth point Fullan makes, is that the massive expansion of information technology has impacted on our ability to access people and ideas globally and is transforming how people can learn. Seventh, a focus on learning outcomes continues to force us to redefine “demonstrations of learning” and finally, multi-racial, gender and sexual politics have brought new learning styles to the fore as well as issues of equity to the center of the educational table (p.118). Fullan contends that “leadership for change must first understand basic changes in the social context” (p.118).
Understanding external realities is no doubt helpful. However, internal foes of large-scale educational change also need to be recognized according to Trubowitz (2001). Trubowitz cites the following internal foes to be considered by those who manage change within systems:
(1)loss of leadership support – “a continuous turnover in top leadership
invariably leads to a diminuation of support for previously initiated change
(2)history as a problem – “innovative projects that have visited urban school
systems would fill many pages …they come and go with the rapidity of the
seasons” (p.13). Skepticism and cynicism are often the outcomes that
(3)the tenacity of conservatism – Change agents need to consider that they will
work with different levels of commitment.
(4)not acknowledging and learning from failures – “The opportunity to learn
from failures is lost when only successes are valued” (p.14).
(5)unyielding union regulation – Relationships need to be considered in any
attempt to bring about change.
(6)the pressure for quick change – “The notion of how change occurs fails to
recognize that school reform takes time” (p.15).
(7)unforeseen events – “All change models are inadequate in the sense that they
cannot take into account the effect of future events” (p.15).
(8)the problem of collaboration – “Problems will come with the territory”
In summary, my discussion to this point has sought to broadly examine the larger context for educational change including the external and internal pressures to be considered by those in administrative leadership positions. I turn now to seeking a greater understanding of what Evans (1996) calls “the human side of school change”.
What do we know about the human impact of change processes?
As educators, we are charged to deal with differing paradigms of change. Evans (1996) reminds us that “the rhetoric of school improvement is relentlessly assertive” and that “organizational change is riddled with paradox….we study it in ever greater depth, but we practice it with continuing clumsiness” (p.4). Our knowledge base has grown considerably. However, Evans contends that there remain two large gaps in our knowledge: training and implementation (p.4). We need to take note of the central lessons that past innovations and change processes have left as their legacy. Evans writes:
One of the central lessons we think we have learned about previous rounds of
innovation is that they failed because they didn’t get at fundamental, underlying,
systemic features of school life: they didn’t change the behaviors, norms and
beliefs of practitioners (p.5).
Evans contends that first order changes are often attempted before second order changes are in place. Barott and Raybould (1998) expand on the notion of first and second order change: “first order change is change within a system of organizing which allows the basic nature of the system to persist” (p.34). Examples include one class graduates in the spring and a new class begins in the fall or the president of the school council retires and is replaced by a new president. “Second order change is qualitatively different from first order change. In second-order change the basic nature of a system of organizational changes…….that is the social system’s relationship patterns change” (p.35). For example, a teacher changes from a lecture format to one of co-operative learning or a group of teachers change from individual instruction to a team teaching model.
Evans discusses that second order change is systemic in nature and aims to change the way the organization is put together – its assumptions, goals, structures, roles and norms (p.5). Education’s flaw, according to Evans, has been to graft change on to existing practice rather than critically examine what we need to know about accomplishing innovation. Traditional approaches to change are rooted in the concept of scientific management and based on assumptions of stability, rationality and structure (p.6) However, the traditional paradigm seems riddled with practical faults given present day realities. Complexity is ignored, linear approaches seem unrealistic and appear to overlook modern day understandings of human psychology and the process of change.
Evans offers the option of a strategic/systemic paradigm. Strategic thinkers find in chaos theory what seems a more realistic understanding of a world of continuous change (p.11) and an understanding that organizations are now so full of unplanned, unpredictable change that adaptability is very difficult. Strategic change sees change as a journey, rather than a blueprint (p.15). Change in this context is a multidimensional process that involves all aspects of the organization: its structure, its politics and especially its people (p.15).
The impact of change within complex human structures is what Evans addresses in his book, The Human Side of School Change (1996). Evans offers that, fundamental to our human nature, we both resist and embrace change (p.21). For those who must implement change, its primary meanings encourage resistance while provoking loss, challenging competence, creating confusion and causing conflict (p.21). While we may embrace change publicly, we oppose it in practice (p. 25). Change, rather than being normal or natural, finds its’ nemesis persistence as being far more typical. Change occurs, to be sure, but as human beings, our inclination is to hang on reflexively to things they way there are (p.25). We seek patterns and meaning in the change that is imposed upon us. Evans writes that significant change “almost always means loss and causes a kind of bereavement” (p.28). We must acknowledge that some change simply means substitution. For example, buying a newer, faster computer may replace an older model. However, change that challenges competence, creates confusion and causes conflict involves our emotions of loss before gain seems evident. The prospect of innovation must first deal with the implications of loss for both the leader and the follower.
Barott and Raybould argue that both change and persistence must be thought about in any planned change attempt (p.32). In attempting to change organizational culture, one must recognize basic assumptions about the organization, underlying values and the culture’s artifacts and creations (Evans, 1996, P.42 and 43). Cultures can change but it is a far more difficult task than most people realize as it addresses change at a deep psychological level that involves attitudes and actions (p.49). Moving from loss inherent in change to commitment promised in new beginnings requires what Evans calls “unfreezing” – a concept Schein (1985) introduced. “Unfreezing is a matter of lessening one kind of anxiety, the fear of trying, but first of mobilizing another kind of anxiety, the fear of not trying” (p.56). Evans reminds us that power issues influence behaviour. “ The change process is often not so much a matter of clear, objective improvement as it is a competition for control” (p.14). Whose interests and goals are being pursued?
Sipe (2001) writes that “real change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s evolutionary” (p.37). As well, even in a receptive climate, change is often “messy”. Schwahn and Spady (1998) offer several “rules” to consider regarding the human impact of change:
(1)People do not change unless they share a compelling reason to change (p.46).