What You Need to Know
Change is hard (you already knew that). But did you know that 70% of organizational change initiatives fail? 1 And of course, education comes with its own special set of challenges that can make it extra difficult to move your good ideas forward.
The good news? Resistance to change is often rooted in a failure to see the need for change – and that means it’s a surmountable problem.
Why Is Change in Education So Hard?
1. Districts are already facing a lot of change
The world of education looks wildly different today than it did even a few years ago. Schools operate under a mountain of pressure from the community. Sometimes, it feels like online ‘report cards’ and school rankings incite an undercurrent of competition in what should be a collaborative community, and the proliferation of social media and local blogs make it feel like everyone in the school district is under a giant microscope. Plus, it’s easier than ever for news and misinformation to spread like wildfire.
And that’s not even getting into national problems like teacher shortages, shifting regulations and the constant demand that districts do more with the same (or less!) funding. Districts are flooded with a relentless volume of changes that are often mandated and out of the control of those most impacted. So it’s hard to get people on board with change when they feel like they’re already forced to be flexible with shifting priorities.
2. Lack of time and resources
Another reason why it’s difficult to lead change in schools is, quite simply, a lack of time and resources — two things that are never in abundance for any district.
In addition to all of the day-to-day work that must be fit into the day, school districts are often overwhelmed with change initiatives, new programs and new protocols. These are rarely accompanied by additional resources and are often mandated by outside agencies who assign seemingly-arbitrary deadlines.
There may be rules around who’s permitted to perform what kind of duties and what staff members are allowed to take on projects and hours outside of their regularly scheduled responsibilities. Even when everyone agrees that change is in order, the strict regulations on how money can be spent in a district can make it impossible to find people to lead these projects because there might not be significant funds available to incentivize the extra work.
3. Change hasn’t always gone so well
To make matters worse, most educators and administrators can think of multiple examples of previous attempts at change that were ultimately unsuccessful. These past failures can make people wary of future efforts to enact change, especially if new strategies aren’t accompanied by a realistic, detailed plan for implementation.
With that in mind, it shouldn’t come to anyone as a surprise that “change” isn’t always a welcome word in schools. And that brings us to the most common reason why it’s difficult to make a change in any organization: resistance from others.
4. Resistance from others
If you’ve ever had an idea that would make work much easier but struggled to get buy-in from team members, you’re not alone. Resistance from other people is the top reason why organizational change can be such a tough sell.
Part of this is directly related to not having enough time and resources. There’s often a feeling of resistance based on the argument that change takes time, and time is already at a premium. How can you expect someone to make a strategic shift in their process when they’re already struggling to find five minutes for lunch? Ironically, some changes — like going digital or moving to new software — can free up time and resources for many of the people who need it most.
But much of the resistance is simply due to the fact that most people are more comfortable with the way things are than they are with change. Continuing with “business as usual” is easier than developing new skills and strategies, and there’s a tendency for people to identify with their habits. If you’ve ever tried to get someone who is really set in their ways to do something differently, you know that asking them to change can be tantamount to challenging their identity. It’s not uncommon for people to feel threatened by change, especially when you’re asking them to change something they’ve been doing for a very long time. They may not be open to the idea that there really is a better way of doing things and have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
Between the top two reasons why change initiatives fail, this may seem like the more difficult to overcome. But if you remember that resistance to change is often rooted in a failure to recognize the need for change, it’s a surmountable problem. Your colleagues need to realize how unsatisfactory the current process is before they’ll accept that change is for the better. It’s all about getting people to understand the “why” behind the change.
Is It Time for a Change?
Whether you’re primarily feeling the pressure of an immediate need for change or a reluctance to tackle such a significant undertaking, experts agree that you cannot go wrong by pausing long enough to honestly assess your school’s change readiness.
A change readiness assessment addresses the many aspects of culture, trust, priorities and resources that contribute to the likelihood of successful change for your school. You’ll examine the place of teachers and other stakeholders in not only implementing but also initiating change, the support your leadership is able to garner and the most effective ways to communicate and plan for change.
Incomplete changes are often a step backward, rather than a half-step forward, for the disruption and distraction that they bring. Beginning with a hard look at change readiness will ensure that your efforts have the best chance at success, equipping you to continue delivering excellence in education.
Resources for Assessing Change Readiness:
- Are You Ready for This? (RTI Press): In addition to an excellent article on change readiness in schools, you’ll find rubrics, actionable key findings and recommendations for those planning and leading changes in education.
- School Readiness to Change Self-Assessment (The Professional Learning Center): Use this ready-made assessment to take stock of your change readiness using simple, clear rubrics for each area of consideration.
- Readiness: Assess Your School’s Potential for Change (ASCD): Use key questions to pinpoint your school’s culture, core beliefs, action patterns and what they say about your change readiness.
Is It Time to Change Some of Your Processes?
Is it time to change how you handle onboarding, certifications and employee credentials?
Recruiting and Hiring
Is it time to change how you find and move new candidates through your pipeline?
Ready for more flexibility and accuracy without sacrificing control?
Getting Buy-In for a Change?
Making the Case
Like change implementation itself, the early step of making the case for a change is a multifaceted challenge. A proposed change must be presented with clear commitment to follow-through, supported with data and aligned with the school’s mission. But it turns out that some of the most important aspects of getting buy-in comes down to good old-fashioned skills like listening and assuring stakeholders at all levels that their opinions matter.
Thinking through the interpersonal aspects of making the case for change? Check out this article regarding teacher resistance to change, common reactions from change leaders and reactions that may prove more effective.
When the rubber hits the road, make sure you’ve read this article and its resources: strategies for tackling resistance, specific considerations for presenting a change and a plan for following up on your school’s change.
Need to make the case for some change? Download a customizable workbook which you can present to or share with key stakeholders.
Wondering how to choose the right solution? You don’t want to have to change twice – read our buying guides and feel confident in choosing the right tools.
A Buyer’s Guide to K-12 ERP Software
Choosing The Best
Applicant Screening Tool
How do you make change happen? Six models for change.
You’ve identified it’s time for a change, and you’ve gotten the necessary buy-in. Now what?
To get started, take this short assessment to find out which of 6 popular change management models might be right for your district.
Explore Change Management Models:
- Lewin’s Model
- The McKinsey 7-S Framework
- Kotter’s 8-Step Process
- The ADKAR Model
- The PDCA Cycle
- Nudge Theory
What are the common themes in successful change management?
Despite their differences, each model can be broken down into three phases: initiation, implementation and institutionalization — and it’s important to get each one right.
Whether your planned initiative is a huge transformation or more like baby steps, you have to ensure that your organization is prepared. There is no change without change readiness. Ask yourself:
- Do you have the right resources?
- Will you need to shift priorities to make time to enact the change?
- Are your colleagues’ in agreement that this is the right move?
It’s crucial to make sure that the need for change outweighs any resistance, and that key stakeholders agree and support the change.
Communication is key throughout the process. You, your employees, and other stakeholders all need to be on the same page. Keep it simple by focusing on core messaging and remember that communication is a two-way street.
Finally, make sure to keep the momentum going. The inertia of the status quo will remain in the background for longer than you might think — serious change takes time! No one ever said it would be easy, but innovation is the cornerstone of education — and innovation can’t happen without change.