Change does not happen overnight and most people know that. To create sustainable and meaningful change, people need to experience it, embrace it, and understand its importance. This change process is especially true in schools. Many people get frustrated when change does not happen as quickly as they desire, which can often lead organizations to either abandon movement toward a desired outcome in exchange for something new or disenfranchise stakeholders by pushing them too quickly. True change happens when leaders persistently and patiently create opportunities to help people move in a positive direction when they are individually ready to do so. I have said often that schools have to help move individual stakeholders from their own point ‘A’ to point ‘B.’ It is often neither desirable nor practical to have everyone move at the same pace. Every step forward is a step closer to a goal; change agents just help to ensure that people are moving ahead.
A change agent does not have to be a person in authority, but he or she does have to have a clear vision and be able to communicate that vision succinctly and powerfully to other stakeholders. People often become frustrated when change agents either lack a clear vision or change this vision too frequently. Lack of clarity and purpose scares others away because they often come to feel as if they are on a sinking ship and, not surprisingly, begin to focus their attention on finding a way out. It is essential to note that a clear vision does not mean that there is one way to do things; in fact, it is essential to tap into the strengths of the people you work with and help them see that there are many ways to work toward a common purpose.
Stephen Covey talked about the importance of leaders having both character and credibility; he stressed that leaders need to not only be seen as good people, but also be knowledgeable and teachable in their areas of expertise. Too often educators feel their administrators have “lost touch” with what is happening in the classroom, and many times these assertions are based in truth. School leaders who remain active in learning and working with learners – even if they are out of the traditional classroom context of teaching – can build both credibility and trust with teachers, students, parents, and other stakeholders. If you want to create change, you have to clearly articulate what that entails and be able to demonstrate it to others. You have to be open to learning yourself and be able to jump in alongside those you lead and exemplify what excellence looks like in practice. And you have to have the humility to recognize the areas in which you still need to grow and learn.
It would be easy for someone to come in and tell you how things should be, but again that is someone else’s solution. When that solution is someone else’s, there is often little accountability on the part of the internal stakeholders to see the solution through. People need to feel an emotional connection to and personal investment in something to see it through. Asking questions that focus on what is best for students and then helping people come to their own conclusions based on their experiences drive people to take ownership of the change process. Continuing to ask questions and reevaluate throughout the change process ensures that stakeholders remain continually invested in the process.
All of the tenets greatly diminish in both value and effectiveness if you do not have solid relationships with the people you serve. People will resist any change if they do not trust the person who is leading the change effort. Effective change agents develop strong relationships with those they serve by being both approachable and reliable. Approachability does not mean that these change agents shy away from tough conversations, but rather that they create a context in which trust, change, and authenticity can coexist. Relationships strengthen when stakeholders trust leaders to do what is right, even when it is uncomfortable.
“LaMarr blends cutting edge research with his everyday experience of working with children and youth with very challenging behaviors. His practical examples and demonstrations illustrate a realistic and compassionate approach for reaching troubled youth. He inspires and informs; and audiences give great reviews.”
Dr. Jeffrey Robinson, Professor, Rutgers University