5 min read
15 Oct

Last week I had the pleasure of working with a group of leaders from Schools of Tomorrow. It was the first morning of their inaugural year-long Leadership for Tomorrow development programme. If you’ve never come across the Schools of Tomorrow network then you really should. Established several years ago – originally as the Beauchamp Group – SoTo has since evolved into an influential network of like-minded schools who all share a common mission: to transform schools so that they are beyond outstanding. I have written articles about this previously about the creation of ‘stand-out’ schools, but SoTo goes beyond this by acknowledging that we cannot simply continue to improve schools by incrementally doing so. You can read more about this in the book that was published at SoTo’s launch event last Autumn at the RSA by Professor John-West Burnham. It’s free and can be downloaded here from i-books.

The theme for Day 1 of the LfT programme was simply called ‘Imagine’. Part of my remit was to explore the notion of change and the forces that influence it. The management of change has always fascinated me, so much so that it was the focus of my M.Ed back in the mid-1990s. My research was around how the organisational culture of a school can influence change, concluding that it is one of the key drivers of effective school improvement. Organisational culture is a tricky concept to define but can perhaps best be described as ‘that which keeps the herd heading west’ or even more simply as ‘the way we do things around here’. At its most basic, it’s the sum total of how people behave in any organisation.

For this reason, the dominant values and beliefs of an organisation are what determine the culture, ethos or climate of a school and ultimately its success: ‘When a school seeks to become powerfully effective it does so by creating a climate or culture in which the range of shared values is high and commitment to those values translates into motivation.’(Murgatroyd, 1993).

The difficulty of course (and I wrote about this in a previous blog) is that it is almost impossible to change the culture of a school, particularly when the stakes are high and Ofsted are breathing down your neck. The ability to compromise is therefore essential and for this reason I’m with Peter Drucker on this: “Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try instead to work with what you’ve got.”

So this is where we find ourselves with our sponsored school in special measures, although fortunately we have a team of staff who are committed, have the desire and share the vision and values. Rather than trying to impose a culture onto the school, one of our priorities this term has been to try and fuse together what is there already along with our own beliefs. It’s what Tim Brighouse refers to as ‘winning hearts and minds’. I think we’ve made a reasonable start and can see that at least the ‘herd is now heading east’.

Spending time getting to know the culture of a school is therefore an essential pre-requisite before embarking on significant change (or any change for that matter). This was at the crux of my session with the SoTo leaders as I attempted to unpack the main features of the change process. There are a number of excellent books available on the management of change. A particular favourite of mine is Michael Fullen’s ‘Leading in a Culture of Change’ in which he sets out the context for the change management process by identifying the different styles of leadership that are necessary to develop an effective organisational culture. The most effective organisational cultures are those where leaders can ‘style-flex’ between, for example, coercive and authoritative or democratic and affiliative styles of leadership.

I take a far more simplistic approach though by using the following formula:

C = v2+s+d+r+2p

where c = Change, v = Vision, s = Skills, d = Desire, r = Resources and p = Plan

For effective change to occur, all five factors need to be evident for shift to happen. Vision is so important here as it’s inextricably linked to values and organisational culture. It needs therefore to be squared up. Likewise with strategic planning: However well you think you’ve planned, double it and plan again. (I am always reminded of the SAS maxim that proper planning and preparation prevent p—- poor performance.)

As with any formula, it simply won’t add up if a factor is missing from the equation. For example, take away the Resources and you end up not with change but with Frustration (a situation we find ourselves in at the SM school with a large budget deficit). Put the Resources back in but take out the Skills (i.e. the ability to teach) and you have Anxiety. Leading a school without Vision will surely only lead to Confusion. Likewise, if the staff have no Desire, motivation or commitment then you are likely to find Resistance. Finally, it matters not one jot how effective the v2+s+d+r is if the 2p is missing and there is no strategic Plan. In this scenario, everyone will feel as if they are on a never-ending treadmill because leaders have failed to define the milestones or success criteria. As a result, staff will never know how well they are doing or whether they have achieved the goal.

I’m sure there are a number of other factors that could be included in the formula for change. For example, Time (t) surely plays a key role when leading effective change. However, it could be argued that this element is wrapped up in the Planning (p), especially if SMART targets are deployed. The rate of Learning (l) is also crucial, as this must always exceed the rate of change, so perhaps this needs to be factored in somewhere.

Let’s face it, nobody likes change. We don’t want to  admit it out loud, so our default position tends to be “Yes, of course I like change, but you go first…’ Over the years though, these 5 elements have served me well, especially when a leap of faith is required. I’m always conscious that I try to have them all in place when embarking on change. I’m generally a fan of the ‘lining-up-all-your-ducks’ school of leadership. Whether these ducks are enough to create the schools of tomorrow remain to be seen. Why not join SoTo and try for yourself?

* The email will not be published on the website.