The dust has settled on the start of a new school year in Saudi Arabia. And, so far, I am pleased by the wonderful beginning that we’ve had. A new school year brought about a great deal of “change” for our community. We opened a new building to welcome more members into the fold. Our leadership profile changed, as two new principals joined our team. My teaching team expanded from six to nine, as we welcomed four new colleagues into our group and many more throughout the school. We have a wonderful new learning coach, an additional counsellor, and are in our first year of implementing a newly adopted Social Studies curriculum.
There has been a lot of change, and for that I am thankful. Not because what previously existed was broken, dysfunctional, or lacking. As a matter of fact, I am thankful for quite the opposite of reasons. I am proud to work at my school and know that my children are receiving a top notch education. However, I believe that change, simply for the sake of change, is a GOOD thing. I know that the most successful schools need to change things up in order to be at their best.
But why fix what isn’t broken? Well, even the most high performing, healthy schools, can be vulnerable to a buildup of professional cholesterol. Overtime, personal dynamics begin to take over, and informal networks start to take on a formal structure. Practices become entrenched, territories emerge and people become protective of their sphere of influence. Unfortunately, these “islands” or “silos” limit collaboration, communication, creativity, and efficiency. Simply, they hinder rather than help learning. Rather than wait for a professional heart attack, learning leaders can begin to manage change while things are still at their best and avoid the need for a complete overhaul.
Here are some questions that you might ask yourself, your colleagues, your leadership team, or your faculty, in helping you monitor your own professional health or the health of your school. A colleague I met this summer at the University of Bath shared some research around change from Harvard that I found fascinating and I thought I would share some key ideas. Try answering YES or NO to the following statements.
Communication & Collaboration
- Do teachers interact only with teachers from their own grade level, team, subject area or group?
- Do strong subcultures and norms exist between grade levels, teams, subject areas or groups?
- Do “silos” or “islands” interfere with communication or efficiency?
- Has collaboration between grade levels, teams, subject areas or groups decreased over the past few years?
Influence & Power
- Do influential teams, groups, or individuals have access to disproportionate time/resources?
- Do influential teams, groups, or individuals interfere with how decisions are made?
- Have teams, groups, or individuals extended their influence over the past few years?
- Are people uncomfortable with change, both big and small?
- Has it been a long time since individuals or teaching teams have had significant change — i.e. influx of new colleagues, change of grade levels, adopting new professional practices, etc.?
- Have the levels of student learning and/or performance decreased over the past few years?
If you answered YES to 0-2 of these statements, things are looking good. There is no need to change. If you answered YES to 3-7 of these statements, it is a great time to consider change! Finally, if you answered YES to 8-10 of these statements, you may be behind the curve, and facing a need for significant change.
As someone who started running a few years ago, I know the importance of changing my workouts so that they do not become routine. I know that once they do, they hinder my growth as a runner. Change for the sake of change, is essential to success.
Although a new school year has just started, for many of my international school friends and colleagues, it also happens to be the time of year for some professional reflection. At this time of year, I always find myself thinking of The Clash, and the question of should I stay or should I go? Is it time for a change? Am I suffering from a build up of professional cholesterol? I know, that is certainly not what I want, and I do know that I want to manage change on my own terms.