Based on many empirical studies, there are three types of change a school can make when creating school reform. These include, but are not limited to, procedural change, technological change, and systemic change. Procedural change requires amendments of the procedures already in place. This type of change usually concerns the sequencing of events and altering the speed at which they occur. Technological change deals with the everyday practices of the faculty and staff. The job remains the same, but the method used to complete it has changed. Systemic change concerns changes in the tasks of a normal day in the school. It requires amendments to rules, attitudes, and beliefs, all while recreating the culture of the organization.
Procedural change is a commonplace occurrence in organizations like schools. This type of change is usually a matter of assessment and the correct conveyance of information. The new procedures need to be correctly conveyed to the faculty and staff who are directly and indirectly involved in implementing the reform. If at all possible, the changes should be communicated face-to- face, but written communication is also acceptable. Incentives for change may need to be given if the old procedures are deeply rooted in the organization. Once the change has been conveyed, a system of checks and balances must be implemented to ensure the old procedures are not revisited. Lastly, an evaluation has to be performed to ensure the new procedure(s) is serving its intended purpose and is benefiting the school more than the original procedure(s).
Technological change requires constant assessment and communication. In addition, it requires continuous staff development for those directly and indirectly involved in the process. It is likely that all faculty and staff will need to attend a specified number of professional development sessions in order to obtain the skills necessary to incorporate technological change. Administrators should anticipate staff resistance to technological change and should prepare ways to help staff combat their uneasiness with technology.
When school districts are met with resistance from certain sectors of the community and within the district, they will generally interpret these signs as a warning that reform will not be effective. However, the signs of resistance could mean that the initiative or reform is actually working. It is human nature to fear the unknown. However, the fear of the change does not speak to the quality of the reform. Members of a school community are used to the status quo, and when they are faced with something unfamiliar, their skepticism is their way of holding on to the past instead of moving forward.
Fear of the unknown accompanies educational change. People tend to revert to the familiar when faced with the unknown and the possibility of failure. This type of thought process is counterproductive to school growth and improvement and consequently precludes the possibility of genuine reform. Administrators in this predicament always find ways to rationalize why the plan being implemented is the best course of action. They must have the foresight to address all rebellion before the movement can gain support, although negative energy is not always bad. If the administrator is able to foresee problems or rebellion, he or she might be able to turn the negative energy into positive energy.
As with all organizations, it is not enough to provide professional development when implementing technological change. Leaders and teachers making the change also need the opportunity to practice new skills within a specific school context. In some cases, it may be necessary to receive mentoring from qualified persons. When technological change falls short of expectations, administrators might not have developed well-crafted training opportunities or did not give the educator enough practice carrying out the new skill or skills. Another reason for the failure of an implementation could be that the change was not gradual enough or scaffolded for people trying to make the transitions necessary for successful reform. Teachers will often scaffold instruction to allow students to build upon previous knowledge; the same strategy can work for teachers and administrators as learners.
When implementing systemic change, the same dynamic applies. Systemic change usually needs to combine the steps of procedural and technological change in order to be successful. Above all else, in order for systemic change to be successful, administrators have to be strategic and demanding, but also respectful and supportive. If the administration understands their staff, they will be better prepared to facilitate understanding and a more successful reform of the school’s policies and procedures.
Dr. Matthew Lynch is an Assistant Professor of Education at Widener University. Dr. Lynch is the author of three books; It’s Time for Change: School Reform for the Next Decade (Rowman & Littlefield December, 2012), A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories (Routledge February 26, 2012), and The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching (Pearson 2013). Please visit his website at www.drmattlynch.com for more information.