Leading successful change in schools

Whether you’re introducing learning portfolios, deploying a 1:1 device program or shifting to a new curricular framework the challenge is inherently the same. How do you ensure the initiative is not only successfully implemented but also sustained in the longer term?

Here are seven practical strategies that can help you garner empathy for stakeholders and better support your next change initiative.

btw John Kotter does it in 8 steps so… which one are you going to pick?

1. Create a compelling case

The first and most important step is to find clarity around WHY you’re engaging in the change. For an initiative to be successful, stakeholders require a deep understanding of its value if they are to intrinsically engage.

A ‘How/Why Ladder’ is a useful strategy for clarifying intent and unearthing the deeper rationale for your initiative. Simon Sinek also does a great job of explaining how “Starting with Why” can be a powerful tool.

2. Craft an elevator pitch

Though its roots are in business as a way to sell an individual, product or idea, a clear and concise elevator pitch is also critical to communicating change. By distilling your initiative down to its simplest level, and crafting a succinct and persuasive pitch, you ensure people can rapidly on-board with your idea. Furthermore, it also enables them to effectively communicate the concept to others therefore becoming agents of change. A well crafted elevator pitch can grow your impact exponentially.

Need help creating one? Check this out.

3. Design an Artefact

A picture is worth 1000 words. Creating a visual or symbolic representation of your change initiative is a powerful way to communicate scope. Use it as a talking point whenever discussing the project and make sure it’s available online/offline too. A great artefact will do the talking when you’re not around and also becomes a reflective tool when discussing progress.

Start by brainstorming potential visual metaphors as a team and then sketching them in a variety of formats. Keep prototyping and bouncing ideas around until you narrow it down to one or two. Keynote and PowerPoint are both great tools to pull final versions together.

4. Kanban your scope

During the process of creating your artefact you’ll unearth events, resources milestones and more that need to be addressed if your initiative is to be successful. Put them all in a giant list and then welcome yourself to Kanban.

A Kanban board is an agile way for your team to collaboratively log, visualise and manage tasks that need to be completed for any given project. At a basic level it’s a giant whiteboard with 3 columns, “To Do”, “Doing” and “Done”. Items are added and shifted around as progress is made. Microsoft Planner (in 0365 suite), Trello and Kanbanchi are all based on Kanban. Alternatively if your team is centrally located, a physical Kanban board is also useful.

5. Mitigate pain points

As your Kanban board comes to life so will potential pain points for your stakeholders and the project as a whole. Call them all out with your team and work together to address them.

In truth, many of these can often be mitigated by having someone on your senior leadership team (with the clout) to endorse your initiative. They’ll become a champion for the change and support it in places where you have less influence.

6. Open communication channels

“Communication during implementation is far more important than communication prior to implementation”.

This quote from Fullan highlights a common problem with some change initiatives in schools. Often we see considerable effort put into communicating the change, but then little or none during the actual process outside of compulsory professional development.

Be sure to open communication channels during the entire initiative to boost transparency and de-privatise the great work that is going on. For schools this could include setting up a Twitter hashtag (or Slack/Yammer), holding causal forums to share progress (think TeachMeets or EdCamps) and having regular 1:1 meetings with key stakeholders.

7. Embrace early success

Once your communication channels are open great examples of practice will begin bubbling to the surface. Capitalise on these by documenting and sharing them with all those involved in the change.

This could be a retweet, shoutout at meeting, email communication, blog post, whatever. You could even engage these people to share at future professional learning opportunities or document their success in a more formal snapshot (think iBook, video, website, etc). Both of these strategies will assist in further scaling change.

By leveraging these steps and remaining at the coalface of change, you’ll be in a better position to garner empathy for those involved and pivot the project when needed.

Want to learn more? Check out the books below.


John Burns is the Chief Innovation Officer for International Schools Services where he works on identifying opportunities and scaling best practice across the organisation.

www.j0hn.org