Changing school culture – Push too far, then face the kick back

When new leaders are appointed to their various roles in schools, they are often eager to make change, to help the school improve and move forward.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to make change but how one goes about it is crucial to its success and the impact change will have on the school as a whole. A lot of what is written about change is quite mechanical, yet it is good to see more and more being written about how school culture informs change and vice-versa.

More often than not, when plans for a change are laid down, or when changes are requested or required, there needs to be a change in school habits, which means a change in school culture.

If we are looking to change established habits in a school that have gone unquestioned over a long period of time, we are dealing with entrenched behaviours and a significant amount of resistance may need to be overcome in order to form new ways of working. It is vital that school leaders do not underestimate this when planning for change.

If we change the expectations that have been previously set for teachers, then we are asking teachers to work differently. If we are introducing a new workflow, then we are asking staff to comply with a new way of working. If we decide that we want to tighten-up on something in our school that previously was allowed to be ‘loose’, then we are shifting the requirements.  At its core, improving things in our schools is about forming new habits and changing culture.

With this comes great risk; change things too quickly, the resistance will kick back. Over the years, I have seen leaders bring in numerous changes all at once, meaning that teachers were required to immediately reform to a large set of new behaviours. Subsequently, they pushed back and made life difficult for those leading the change. Similarly, I have seen where the change in behaviour has been demanded instantly, as opposed to working gradually towards the desired state of change. Push too far, either too much or too quickly, then faces the repercussions at your peril. In worst case scenarios, I have seen new Heads of School brought in to change the cultural status quo, only to be asked to leave 12 months later as the kick back was immense.

While changing a way of working may appear simple to us, to others it is a big deal and difficult. We must never underestimate the significance of the cultural element associated with change and, therefore, move gradually and carefully. Otherwise, prepare to face the consequences of the kick back.

Connect with me @richard_bruford

Originally posted on the Ed Leader blog