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5 Steps for Leading Change In Your School or District

by Ellen Ullman, on Jan 16, 2024 1:29:32 PM

From tiny alterations like a new product feature to the epic transformations like moving to project-based learning, change is always happening. 

Another thing we can count on is that change is hard. And many people hate it.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Arthur Schwartz from, who recently shared insights on fostering kindness, outlines the five steps that school and district leaders should follow to help educators and staff embrace the power of change. 

Creating a culture that embraces change requires a strategic approach from school and district leaders. Effective communication is pivotal, as is creating a collaborative environment. By prioritizing communication tailored to change, leaders pave the way for a community that thrives on adaptation and growth.

Here are the five steps for effectively leading change.

Step 1: Know What you Stand for
First, you need to understand your actions, behaviors, choices, and messages. Whether the change is school-based or personal, you must be clear on what you believe. "Change starts with leaders who have taken the time to reflect on the convictions that fuel them," says Schwartz. 

Step 2: Understand Your Strengths (and Weaknesses)
“Look at yourself in the mirror and know your super powers as well as your weaknesses. If necessary, learn where you can get support, such as hiring a career coach," says Schwartz. The infamous McKinsey & Company report says that 70 percent of change programs fail, and one of the reasons is that leaders don’t recognize their shortcomings. 

Step 3: Ask Questions
“It can be asking your cabinet or team, ‘Why do we do it this way?’ or discussing something that no one wants to talk about,” says Schwartz. “Don’t accept this is how it’s always been done. Confront the undiscussable.”

Step 4: Inspire a Shared Vision
Change only happens when others share your vision: It’s our change, not “my boss’s change.” Work with a team to develop a specific vision that’s unique to your school or district and that everyone buys into. When someone is not practicing the expectations of the shared vision, you want colleagues that say, “That’s not who we are; this is how we do things.” Shared accountability is the cornerstone of leading change. 

Step 5: Practice Gratitude
In Leadership Is an Art, Max Depree shares two core responsibilities of a leader: define reality and say thank you. Schwartz adds, “You can’t do it alone. Acknowledge people. Thank them for all they’re doing. Let everyone on your team know how grateful you are and how much you appreciate them.”

Topics:BehaviorDistrict CommunicationChange management