Change is difficult: In life, at work, and especially in schools.
Perhaps in no other time in history have American schools had to face so much change — both in the classroom and outside of it.
Technology has transformed the mission of schools from simply instilling knowledge to equipping students to navigate an increasingly complicated world. The Every Student Succeeds Act’s ongoing implementation means that school and district leaders have more autonomy and responsibility than they’ve had for several years. And the growth of school choice means schools must think more strategically and competitively to prevent students and parents from looking elsewhere.
To stay ahead, school leaders are seeking better ways to implement major changes without impeding student success.
The key is effective communication and community engagement. Just ask former principal, education thought leader, and author Eric Sheninger:
“Success of any change, minor or major, begins with effective communication. Your entire staff and community need to know the what, why, where, and when associated with the change. Communication never ceases to be a prevalent component of this process.”
Communication is one of Sheninger’s “four C’s” of change implementation, which he outlines in a recent blog post. All four tools work to keep your community engaged throughout the process.
Students, parents, community members, and staff have two things in common: They want to know what’s happening in their schools, and they want the chance to weigh in on major decisions.
Effective communication doesn’t mean just making announcements or sharing timelines; it means bringing every part of your community into the decision-making process, asking for their feedback, and showing them how they contributed to your school’s strategy.
Remember: If you don’t define your brand, someone else will. Keeping your school community in the dark only increases the risk that rumors or inaccurate information will spread when (almost inevitably) something doesn’t go as planned.
The word committee may conjure images of formal board rooms and meeting minutes. But what Sheninger means is that your decision-making team should represent the diverse interests of your district.
Do parents have a seat at the table? Other taxpayers? Students? Whether you have a formal committee or not, make sure you listen to every interested voice before you make any decisions.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes one to implement change in schools.
Whether it’s a new school, a new learning strategy, or a leadership transition, change requires collaboration between many people in your district. If those groups aren’t communicating, you’re almost certain to fail.
Collaboration means having real, transparent conversations with everyone affected by a proposed change. Giving everyone a voice is vital to your success.
Yes, it’s impossible for everyone in your community to agree on the same approach to solve a problem.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to listen to all positions. Make sure your decision is well-informed and considers everyone’s feedback. Then, walk your community through your thought process.
Clearly laying out your rationale and showing that your decision was strategic and intentional will go a long way to instilling trust in your leadership—even if someone disagrees with you.
What do you think of Sheninger’s four C’s? How do you prioritize community engagement when facing major changes in your district? Tell us in the comments.