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Conditions for Change in Schools

Something I have been considering today is, what are the optimum conditions needed for deep, sustainable school development and change to have the best opportunity to succeed? Having listened to Michael Fullan, Clive Dimmock and Graham Donaldson speak recently, and after recent reading of articles by Helen Timperley and reports from  the Teaching and Learning Research Project from England, there seems to be some consensus about various aspects that need to be in place.

These would include:

  • A school culture that is based on support and trust. Not something that can be established overnight. It takes time to build trust and demonstrate willingness and preparedness to support colleagues. Fullan stated that to establish trust, we should first say it, then model it in our actions, and finally keep monitoring it to ensure it was still there and live. Similarly with support, we need to complete the same process so that colleagues see that we are being non-judgemental and wish to support everyone's desire to get better at what they do.
  • You need clear values as a leader and as an organisation. These need to be understood and shared. They need to be in the DNA of each leader but also of the institution. They say what you are and what you are about. They help prioritise actions and inform practice. They should be a key element of self evaluation processes and be 'lived' by all.
  • Collaboration is essential. You need a culture and ethos that embraces collaboration as the way of working, and of developing individuals and schools. You should collaborate internally and externally and recognise how such collaboration is vital to grow. You should recognise the power of collaborative capacity building. Leaders also recognise the primacy of relationships to the effectiveness of organisations. If such collaborative practices are not in place, time and thought has to be spent to engender and develop these.
  • Schools and leaders need to be clear in exactly where they are in terms of development. Schoolleaders really need to know where their schools are, and where individuals are in their development. They need to have robust and secure self evaluation practices, so that they are well informed. Schools can only start from where they are, so it is vital they are clear about where this is.
  • School leaders need to be committed to career long professional learning and to supporting  staff through appropriate professional development. They need to recognise that it is through such professional development they can continue to develop their practice and understanding throughout their careers, and that of their colleagues. But more than this, they also recognise the need for themselves to be actively involved participants in school development activities. They see themselves as the lead learners in their establishments.
  • You need leaders and teachers who recognise the importance of pedagogy to what they do. They are focused on learning and practices which enhance, develop and promote this. They have teaching and learning at the centre of what they do, and see the development of these as the way to keep moving forward in their desire to improve experiences for all learners. Innovative practices should be encouraged.
  • You need leadership and teachers who see 'the big picture' and make connections to all developments. They understand their role across the whole school and for all pupils, as well as the wider role of the school within its learning community. They equally are committed to developing their own understanding and practice, as well how they can support this for their peers.
  • The last condition you need I feel you need is one of my own, and that is perspective. You need a school leadership that has a clear sense of perspective. They need to remember what it is like as a class teacher having to implement a change agenda. They need to recognise the complexity of such change and the conflicting pressures teachers can find themselves under. They need to remember that everything should be measured in terms of impact for pupils, and be prepared to protect teachers from the unrealistic demands of others, and for those initiatives which have no evidence to support their introduction. A sense of humour helps as well.
Whilst I started this post with a list of speakers and authors who have commented on conditions for effective school development, I would note that the conditions that are identified above very much chime with my own experience of school leadership. In my experience, too many well meaning and well informed school developments have foundered, or not achieved their full potential, because care was not taken to ensure the right conditions existed to give them the best opportunity to flourish. As with all learning, the base and the foundations have to be firm in order for future development to be secure.

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