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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Leadership and Change

Leadership and Change

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What educational leadership qualities and/or steps do you find essential in order to initiate and sustain change in schools? It would be great to hear the perspectives of both teachers and practicing administrators.

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Karla Reiss's picture
Karla Reiss
President, The Change Place

I created an acronym as a means for helping school leaders think about successful strategies for creating change... become a CHANGEMASTER...
Challenge Assumptions
Have a Meaningful Purpose
Awareness of Limiting Beliefs
Nix the Negatives & Naysayers
Gather a Group
Emotionally Connect to the Goal
Maintain Momentum
Ask How Can I
See Success Smiling
Turn Talk to the Future
Expect & Welcome Discomfort
Remain Relentlessly Focused


Karla, author, Leadership Coaching for Educators
POWERful Coaching for Powerful Results certification training program

Doug Wilson's picture

I have found that in 20 years as an educational leader, one of the most important characteristics that outstanding leaders possess is the essence of servanthood. Those who accept their role as working for their staff to ensure that the employees have the capacity to achieve greatness are generally leaders of successful schools or districts. The success of those you work with, becomes your success.

Robert L. Murphy's picture
Robert L. Murphy
Principal at Brookhaven High School


I definitely agree that leaders must be servants. I always tell each staff that I work with that they do not work for me, I work for them. It is my job to facilitate what they do.

brian cleary's picture
brian cleary
Library/media specialist in Camas Washington

Michael Fullum, and Robert Marzano, and Daniel Duke have written extensively on change and educational leadership, Its good thoughtful and though provoking stuff. If I was going to break their work down into something could be reasonably posted as a response, it would go like this...
* Care: let everyone involved, staff, students, community, and parents, know that you care about what is going on. Care about what has been, and the people that built it. Care about where those people will fit into the new structure
* Communicate: Listen to the voices in your village. They have fears, anger, stress, ideas, and suggestions that they need you to hear. Communicate your thoughts. Why the change? What will it look like?
* Empower: find ways to bring your staff into the change, share the timeline, let them manage parts of the process, find specific roles for them in the new environment.
* Move forward: Help your community deal with the change but continue to change. Work to develop a culture where change is a positive and a constant.

Abe Feinberg's picture
Abe Feinberg
elementary school teacher - grades 4 - 6 California

To date, all I have read about in the issues columns are general philosophical comments reiterating that we should be making better decisions to upgrade teaching and education. The same comments have been offered for years. When will we dispense with our soapbox oratory and talk about the happenings in the classrooms. Are we interested in kids learning---and more important, becoming interested in learning. If so, let's talk about classroom learning. It does begin and continues to operate under the leadership of the principal

For many years the most prominent educators have talked about individualized teaching. I'd like to hear the leadership/teacher response to several questions regarding this important area:

1. Why aren't we headed in that direction?
2. Why don't most principals work with their teachers within the classroom?
3. Why do almost no school districts have a meaningful principal and teacher evaluation
These are some of the issues which should be under discussion---but they never are---well???

Scott Taylor's picture
Scott Taylor
Superintendent- Kenilworth Schools; Adjunct Professor at Rutgers, Montclair, and Kean Universities; Ironman Triathlon All World Athlete 2015

Great topic Eric!

The New York Times Washington correspondent Jodi Kantor talks about what she believes to be President Obama's biggest political mistake in her work "The Obamas-" he neglected the need to bring the country along with his ideals. Looking at the passage of the health care law as a lesson in leadership (let's not debate the merits of the legislation here), one should heed the rule that it takes the support of everyone around a leader to install his initiatives successfully. Leaders should make their agenda their subordinates', colleagues', and constituents' agenda and not make the same mistake Obama made early on in his fight for health reform when he abandoned public sentiment and forsake the need to persuade the nation that his initiatives were important for everyone.

Every educational leader is entitled to establish an agenda as long as the agenda is in the interests of student achievement. The lesson I take away from Kantor's analysis is that supervisors, principals, and superintendents should do what American presidents must do- get everyone on-board with the agenda so there is shared interest in "doing the agenda right."

P. Schultz's picture

Enthusiasm, thick skin, and patience are all vital to sustaining academic success. Environment and instructional training are two areas of concern for under-performing schools.

Freddie's picture

sounds about right for starters (especially number 7 above - aka patience... Lots of patience and as Doug and Robert suggest, we aim to support and enable our teachers, aka leaders, to become the best they can. Build a sense of we are in this together and together we can achieve much more than as lone pilots in our separate rockets to whatever planet... some solid shared ideas of what we want to do TOGETHER. Communication is always the biggest issue between humans - listening, learning, acting .... and, as said above, making it professional, not personal.

Chrissie's picture
Secondary maths Teacher in Australia

I think with any change it is important to consult everyone it is going to effect. You can't please everyone all of the time but as a teacher you feel valued and more positive to change if you have been consulted. For example, we had a new building built, initially one person made a decision about the IT equipment to be installed, assuming all departments would have the same needs. This wasn't so, and was addressed just before installation, but it made departments feel unvalued.

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