Agents of Change Leadership
The leadership of change agents is in high demand. This includes classroom leadership, school leadership, district leadership, and student leadership. To be a change agent takes an extraordinary amount of courage, nuance, vision, and missional drive. It is the type of leadership that you feel when you are in the presence of an excellent leader. The type of leadership that makes you want to join their cause. Education is change, and change is education. Without a leader that can truly orchestrate change, our students will simply be a part of a legacy system based more on habit than research, a system that lacks the beauty and elegance of best practices drawn from modern research, practice, and experience.
Ingredients of a Leader
The leadership of change is an art form that has essential ingredients to begin the recipe, but even with knowledge and proficiency of these ingredients, the culture of the learning space heavily dictates the amount and combination of these ingredients. An artful change leader needs to use his or her intuitions to truly maximize and maintain change over time, as sustainable change requires continuous adjustments throughout the process. Change is always ready for sampling, but never ready to be celebrated for completion.
Change leadership includes:
- Building a culture of YES
- Developing a living curriculum
- Shaping the right metrics that matter
- Rethinking the push/pull instructional balance
- Shifting legacy systems
- Supporting deep partnerships, and
- Focusing on building solution-oriented citizens
Growth from “Yes”
Growing into a leader that can truly drive sustainable change requires a shift in the use of one simple word: YES. Saying yes is the lubricant to successful change in classrooms, schools, and districts. It empowers learners, young and old, to dream bigger, stretch further, and regain the passion of their mission.
Saying YES as a leader is risky. It opens the leader up to questions from supervisors, colleagues, and the community. It means saying YES to something new and excited and having the energy to support change throughout the organization. Saying YES refreshes an organization. Saying YES can refresh the energy for learning in a classroom. Saying YES is a statement that things are moving forward to a space that will be uncomfortable for many because the security of now, of maintaining the status quo, is a powerful force.
Develop a Living Curriculum
Change also means that the most important documents of the learning space (classroom, building or district) are living. Too many curriculum documents—the heart of the instructional game plan for schools—are lying dormant in binders, both physical and online binders, their practices and lessons based more on habit legacy than on critical thinking, research, and regular review.
Curriculum should be growing each day. New resources, materials, and best practices should filter into units before, during, and after their use, so that the curriculum is a living, breathing representation of the best possible learning opportunity for students. As a leader in your part of the educational space, regular review toward positive change should be a priority. We can always do better, but we only improve through effort and revisiting received assumptions and materials.
Being a leader of change means shifting metrics away from the legacy metrics that inhibit our system, primarily the over-reliance on test scores, to an essential metric like the experience gap. Data is clearly showing that our students who struggle with the effects of poverty are getting lapped in the area of life experiences. Parents, families, and communities that surrounding our students with greater affluence have a significantly higher amount of money spent on them throughout the year, both during the school year and in the summer, on activities that enhance learning, build deeper learning mental models, spark passion, and create anchors for the learning that happens in schools. Leaders of change can’t completely overcome this barrier, but they can dedicate their leadership to bringing quality learning experiences to all students more often. Closing the experience gap should be of highest priority for those looking to empower learning and be leaders of change.
Pull Students to Learning
How much of what you learned in school was pushed to you by teachers? How much of what you learned in school was pulled artfully through the passions and interests that you had as an individual? Learning for most is a push, not pull situation, and leaders that are truly looking to make change should consider how to make this shift in their learning space.
Students retain understanding around topics in which they have ownership. In these spaces, students produce excellent work samples, which demonstrate their understanding. When students have an opportunity to pull content through a passion or interest, their time on task goes up, their energy for learning rises, and their ability to connect to prior learning and life accelerates. Making a shift from push to pull, or at least establishing a healthy balance in this area, will be a key success for leaders of change in the next few years.
Examine the Status Quo
Change means looking deeply into the structure of learning, a structure that has glued our educational system together for many years. Real sustainable change in our education system won’t be successful without a serious commitment to introducing fresh practices in the area of how we grade and assess students as well as how we build the master schedules that dictate the chunks of learning that occur in schools.
It is hard to imagine that a school looking to be in sync with the societal changes would be anchored to legacy thinking and practices found in most schools surrounding grading, assessment, and scheduling. Leaders of change will need an incredible amount of courage to lean into these essential issues for making sustainable change.
Harness the Power of Partnerships
Classrooms, schools, and districts that operate as islands, that is, as independent entities removed from their surrounding communities, are withering. The resources available to schools are declining while the responsibilities of what it means to educate children are increasing rapidly. This reality requires leadership that can thread together meaningful partnerships for learning spaces.
The possibilities for partnership include: parents, community group, business partners, and other schools and educators around the globe. As an island, schools aren’t able to maximize their materials, ideas, and resources. As an island, schools begin to lose connection, perspective, and the urgency to grow for kids. Change leadership begins by sharing the vision of the school, telling its story, and drawing the interest of those looking to contribute to education. Once growing, partnerships allow for schools to have the resources, both human and financial resources, to truly change the way that learning is happening in the classroom.
Prepare Kids to be Solution Oriented Citizens
Two final ingredients lie at the heart of the art of change leadership:
- Changing the emphasis for our students. Leaders with the courage to make change truly believe that the purpose of school isn’t just to prepare kids for testing or to be college and career ready, but to prepare them to be excellent citizens. The best change leaders are looking to build a new generation of change leaders that have empathy for others and a drive to be change-makers.
- Change the emphasis for our educators. Leaders of change are dedicated to right-sizing summative assessment. They understand the toxic nature of testing done wrong, and they are always looking to scrub the worst practices in this area out of their ecosystem.
Empowering leaders to lead in a new way can happen in any area in education. It can come from a student speaking up, or a teacher taking a stand to do things the right way. It can come from a principal who has decided that true leadership means less managing and more positive risk-taking for kids. It can come from a superintendent dedicated to his or her community and building models for other communities to replicate. It can come from the mom or dad that has had enough and simply want a truly refreshing place for their children to learn.
No matter where it comes from, change is happening, and the art of change leadership will be the key to harnessing the positive power that comes from this wind of change in learning.
About Dr. Robert Dillon:
Dr. Dillon serves the Affton School District as Director of Technology and Innovation. He has a passion to change the educational landscape by building excellent engaging schools for all students. He looks for ways to ignite positive risk taking in teachers and students and release trapped wisdom into the system by growing networks of inspired educators. Dr. Dillon has had the opportunity to speak throughout the country at local, state, and national conferences as well as share his thoughts and ideas in a variety of publications including his book, Engage, Empower, Energize: Leading Tomorrow's Schools. To get more from Dr. Dillon check out his blog Principally Speaking.