As we travel around the state working with school leaders doing “Balanced Leadership Training” we spend several days discussing the implication of “change” McREL’s research indicates that how we manage the change transition will impact the success or the change process. They consider the change as “first or second order”. One of the keys to understand change is to understand that it is not the change itself but how the change is perceived by the stakeholders that are dealing with change.
As we are in the height of flu season often we recognize the symptoms that come along with the flu and we respond accordingly to get ourselves through the flu as quickly as possible. High impact leaders must understand the symptoms of change, and more importantly understand the type of change they are working through, in order to lead the organization effectively through the successful implementation of that change. Heifetz and Linsky discuss in their work the difference between adaptive and technical challenges associated with change. Adaptive challenges require changing people’s values, beliefs, and habits. Technical challenges can be solved through the knowledge of experts and those in a position of authority. In Kansas we are currently working through several adaptive challenges, i.e. changes in the evaluation process, implementing college and career readiness standards, development and implementation of a QPA system based on the five R’s, rigor, relevance, relationships, responsive culture, and results. Leaders must understand that each of these is a highly adaptive challenge, because they they impact educators, beliefs, values, and habits. So what are the “symptoms” of adaptive challenges that leaders must recognize? William Bridges work surrounding transitions during the change process, can give leaders key insights into the “symptoms” of change.
William Bridges in his work referred to “transitions” as the critical element to successful change initiatives. He focused on three components. “Ending, Neutral Zone, and New Beginnings” Each step in the process plays an important role in adopting the change. First we must understand the “ending” of the old ways we have always used to accomplish the task. Remember, endings lead to denial, shock, anger, and frustration. As we all know, it can be difficult to change. The second phase, the neutral zone will be a time of chaos and high anxiety but it can also lead to a very creative problem solving. Solutions are desired and a crisis may inspire great leadership and teamwork if the transition is managed correctly. The final component is referred to as new beginnings. It is characterized by hope, enthusiasm and success. As leaders we have to be intentional in how we manage these transitions with people living through the change. Bridges calls this intentional management the “Four P’s of New Beginnings:” Purpose-explain the purpose behind the change, Picture-show the picture of what it will and can look like once the change has been successfully implemented, Plan-lay out a detailed, step-by-step plan, and Part-give everyone a part or role to play in the new beginnings.
As educational leaders we need to ask ourselves if we are leading change or suffering from change. Lets make sure we are providing the leadership required to ensure success as we deal with changes that impact student learning in our schools and communities.