Why does it take so long to institutionalize change?

Why does it take so long to institutionalize change?

According to Andy Hargreaves, “Educational change is rarely easy to make, always hard to justify and almost impossible to sustain.”

Having discovered our new Website, you are likely aware that we’ve undergone significant and important changes in the recent past, resulting in the creation of SMART Learning Systems. We engaged in numerous conversations about what we wanted the company to represent (our vision and mission) as well as our new “look and feel,” i.e., our color palette, logo and Website design, down to the font we would use. While we had expert help in addressing these decisions, our own process of change involved more than any of us imagined.

That said, the work we engaged in and the changes we made resulted in the birth of a new company whose mission . . . Building capacity for student-centered, goal-directed learning heralds the beginning of a promising era in education. But what will that era look like for an educational system that is also experiencing significant changes?

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the most recent training session of the current Wisconsin SMART School Academy in Sun Prairie. I listened as committed educators shared their ideas about how they could strengthen their leadership skills to garner trust with their colleagues and initiate effective and sustainable change within their schools or district. During a particular conversation on Fullan’s “Change Process” someone mentioned that change in schools used to take 3 to 5 years to institutionalize, more recently 5 to 7 years, and now it could take as many as 11 years from initiation! One of the participants noted with some sadness that he could be retired by then.

Educational change is a complex process, but does successful change really have to take that long? How do we make necessary changes in a shorter amount of time for improvements that will endure?

I believe several major problems impede sustainable and successful change in our school systems. One is the common perception or attitude in many districts that new initiatives probably won’t last more than a few years. I recall leading a PD workshop on a research-based and proven-effective writing model during which a teacher asked, “What is the new thing you are going to be teaching us in three years?” What trust and commitment did that comment instill in the others in the workshop? In spite of that attitude, we were thrilled when the model was piloted, implemented, institutionalized and lasted more than ten years – the longest for any initiative in that district.

What are the keys to successfully guiding the educational change process? In future posts I will address several influences that affect change including: how to effectively build relationships and trust, the importance of change acceptance, understanding resistance, Fullan’s eight lessons of change, and planned succession of school leaders.

Peter Senge reminds us, “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!”¬†We embraced our own process of change and the response has been both gratifying and validating.

Kiett Takkunen

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