“We must be the change
we wish to see in the world.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Leadership, at its core, is about leading change. The question is how we can attain sustainable, quality change in schools. The following change equation presents a framework for leading institutional reforms that endure.

Sustainable Change = Big picture   x   Buy-in   x   Skills & tools   x   Manage risks   x   Action

Equation variable

Actions to take in this area

1. Big picture


  • Develop a shared vision that you can explain in five minutes or less.
  • Always communicate the change in a wider context. Answer the question “Why?” and address the fit with the organisational direction.
  • Use metaphors, stories, and examples to illustrate; people need a good illustration to understand the change.
  • Prepare an interdependency analysis; often, change has many interlinking systems, which can disrupt change.
  • Find and tap synergies with other initiatives in the school.

2. Buy-in






  • The best way to gain the acceptance of others is by involving them early and often.
  • Communicate, communicate: Why? What? and How?
  • Use multiple channels of communication: formal and informal; and ask for feedback.
  • Prepare a stakeholder map, as each group sees it. Ensure people understand the effects and benefits of the proposed change.
  • Build and organise allies early; often, support is only asked at the action phase.
  • Recognise and thank people for their support when you get it.

3. Skills and tools



  • Always build collective capacity of the whole staff team in the school.
  • Understand that productivity often initially drops just when you want gains.
  • Ensure that your change is user-friendly.
  • Do not overlook the skills that other members of leadership team will need to explain the change to the staff.
  • Ensure that the staff professional learning is student outcomes focused, evidence-based, data-informed, collaborative, and involves reflection.
  • Provide for coaching and mentoring of the staff.

4. Manage risks



  • Treat others’ reservations as normal; risks are a natural side effect of change. Don’t resist resistance.
  • Anticipate as many risks and reservations as you can.
  • Learn how people need to transition internally.
  • Never underestimate the power of the status quo and the need for the people to protect their turf.
  • Recognise the power and influence of the rumour; a void will get filled.
  • Address inconsistencies, and encourage resilience among the staff members.

5. Action



  • Prepare short term action plans that generate small wins to sustain momentum.
  • Recognise and celebrate successes.
  • Always model the behaviour you expect in others.
  • Minimise reliance on “happy talk” to facilitate goals. It makes people cynical.
  • Keep your cool and your sense of humour. Implementing major change is a challenge for everyone.
  • Anchor the changes into school culture so that people begin to say about the new change: “This is the way things are done around here”.
  • Develop a culture of ongoing reflection to build lifelong learning mindsets.

Fullan, M. (2007). The new meaning of educational change. New York: Teachers College Press.
Fullan, M., Cuttress, C., Kilcher, A. (2005). 8 forces for leaders of change, JSD, 26(4), 54–64.
Hargreaves, A., Earl, L., Moore, S., & Manning, S. (2001). Learning to change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Hiebert, M., & Klatt, B. (2001). The encyclopedia of leadership. New York: McGraw Hill. 
Holman, P., Devan, T., & Cady, S. (2007). The change handbook. San Francisco: Berret- Koehler Publishers.
Kotter, J. (1996). Leading Change. USA: Harvard Business School Press.
Scholtes, P. R. (1988). The Team Handbook: How to Use Teams to Improve Quality. Wisconsin, USA: Joiner Associates. 

Title image: Cramer, K. D., & Wasiak, H. (2006). Change the way you see everything. London: Running Press.

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