Some say the current QWERTY keyboard is one of the slowest working keyboards in existence. It was created for typewriters to slow people down so the little arms that typed the letter would not get stuck together. Yet, we still use the QWERTY keyboard in almost everything we type. Conversely, Captain James Lancaster unintentionally discovered that lemon juice reduced the risk of scurvy on Naval ships and it took 111 years before it became a prerequisite in the British Navy. The point is this…some really bad ideas get implemented in organizations and some really good ideas don’t…most of the time it has to do with the way those initiatives are implemented.
All school leaders face the implications of implementing change in an organization. District, state and national initiatives seem to be brought into the fold on a yearly basis. It seems as though we finish one initiative just to get ready for the next. The challenge for leadership is to keep everyone invested in the idea of change while still valuing the work of the past. All people handle the change process differently. Some will embrace the process because they like the challenge and things get too stagnant for them. Some will absolutely refuse the change process as they like the way things are done and essentially will wait for an initiative that they like before they dive in. Most fall in the middle of the group. Phil Schlechty’s book, Working on the Work presents an outline, field-tested in schools across the country, for improving student performance by improving the quality of schoolwork designed for students. He poses the following questions to schools as they approach a new innovation or framework:
1. What is the new circumstance or system we are trying to create?
2. Can it be done?
3. Should we do it?
4. How do we do it?
These questions serve as the foundation of whether or not change can happen in schools. He contends that anyone involved in the change process of schools needs to be aware and address the organizational makeup of the school. Once you have made the decision, or the decision has been made for you, it is important to identify the needs of your staff in relation to the change. Historically, for financial and logistical reasons, when a change is implemented there tends to be a small group who is trained in the model and that group is asked to help implement the change. In doing this, the large group has to accept that some will have more knowledge than others and though a group may be more “in the know” it does not mean that they are the sole decision making body in the school. The trick for leaders is the connection between those in the know and those who seek the knowledge.
I was lucky enough to look at multiple schools and the implementation of the PBIS process. The fidelity measures of the framework allowed me to look at what factors truly impacted the implementation process. The following factors contributed to the successful implementation of PBIS at multiple schools in Wisconsin. The understanding of these concepts can prepare leaders for the change process and identify needs of the group prior to implementation.
· Knowledge. Knowledge incorporated a number of different aspects from how the program was running to how they could increase their “tool box” of good things happening in the school
· The importance of a Connector. This turned out to be the number one factor in the positive implementation process. A go to person who was able to communicate and be knowledgeable about the process, where it had been, and where it was going.
· School Environment. Addressing the current school environment is important when deciding how to roll out an initiative. Some school environments are welcoming and ready for change. Some need a small push. Some need a big push. All need to be valued.
· Communication. An open and honest level of communication between everyone involved was absolutely essential for the positive implementation of any program. A common understanding of when and how things are communicated will help the process take form in schools.
Change is inevitable. In Wisconsin we have seen and will continue to see a number of changes throughout the state as education changes in the coming years. The process that leaders use to implement change can determine whether or not that change will be sustainable. Identifying the factors that lead to a successful implementation will certainly be key to success. Good luck everyone!