How to Create and Sustain Educational Change
By Matthew Lynch
When it comes to creating and launching school reform, the most critical question administrators must confront is: where do we begin? It is not advantageous to begin reform by tackling several goals at once; when trying to start reform in a complex environment such as a school, administrators need to focus on one task at a time. When making decisions, the administration needs to be sure to complete all steps of the reform in sequential order, using a strategic way of thinking.
Schools as business models
When considering school reform, it may be advantageous for administrators to think of their schools as businesses. If the structure of the school were to reflect the business model, we would work from the assumption that students in the school system are customers, schools are the businesses, teachers are the employees/supervisors, and the administrators are the CEOs.
In any business, the customers needs always come first. The reputation for customer service is the best advertising a business can receive. Keeping this savvy business strategy in mind, the business of the school should be to create learning opportunities that lead to greater academic achievement. If educators make lessons fun while adhering to the curriculum, the graduation rate will increase dramatically. If children feel safe and entertained, they will want to come to school. It is the educator’s task to make sure students learn to love to learn, while it is the administration’s task to support their efforts.
In some cases, goals can be independently accomplished. Departments will be able to achieve short-term goals while accomplishing the larger goals. When it comes to long-term change, however, three conditions must be present in order to sustain it.
- Administrators must come to an agreement concerning the issues that have made it necessary for school reform to take place. They must be open and honest and refrain from blaming others for the issues that exist. All individuals directly and indirectly involved in the school reform must share a common vision. Administrators also need to agree on the rules and guidelines that will support the implementation of the reform, while respecting cultural beliefs of the faculty, staff, and students.
- Administrators must communicate the current issues of the school and the vision for the future to stakeholders. Those who support and participate in reform need a clear vision of the common goal. Administrators must paint a reform picture that alleviates fears, and entices all to buy into the vision.
It Takes a Village
Administrators should make sure that teachers are a major part of school reform. Reform is considered a success or a failure based on the students’ performance, but teacher performance is inextricably linked to student performance. Through positive teacher-student relationships, genuine learning can take place in the classroom. Teachers know their students and the educational practices that work best in their classroom.
When creating school reform, administrators should also consider communicating with community members. Community members and parents have a lot to contribute when it comes to school reform and they should be encouraged and allowed to do so. Parents and educators undoubtedly have a genuine concern for the needs of students. Why not place the important decisions concerning our students in the hands of the people that have the children’s best interests at heart?
Too often, the most critical decisions concerning the educational system are made by people without the capacity to understand the inner workings of the individual school and what it takes to live up to the standard that “no child is left behind.” To achieve true success in any school change, the decision-makers need to seek out the people who know what needs to happen to make a real difference in the outcomes for students.