I am currently completing my Ontario Principals Qualification, Part 2 (PQP2) here in Ottawa. I don’t know if it is lazy or smart (isn’t everything smart these days?), but I plan to include my ‘assignments’ here as blog posts whenever possible. I figure this way I am not neglecting the blog and the conversation AND my learning will be more open – perhaps even garnering some food for thought from readers.
A step in the right direction?
The assignment this week is to read a journal article on school improvement planning and prepare a visual to discuss the key points of the reading. I chose Adelman and Taylor’s Systemic Change for School Improvement, published in the Journal of Educational & Psychological Consultation, 17, 55-77 (2007).
I used Wordle to create this image of the entire text (22 pages) of the article. The wordle not only highlighted the key words from the text, it also formed a footprint (click the image to see a larger version – I promise it looks like a footprint). Change is always a journey: Sometimes it is a pleasant hike with the company of colleagues who are interested in pursuing the same path, but often it is an arduous expedition through unknown territories. Sometimes you choose to embark and sometimes you are given the direction to walk this way. Perhaps systemic change as proposed in the article would be a ‘step in the right direction’?
Adelman and Taylor link the models for change at the school level and the system level, viewing school improvement as the prototype for change that must be scaled up to effect system level change.
That is, the same elements can be used to frame key intervention concerns related to school improvement and systemic change, and each is intimately linked to the other. The elements are conceived as encompassing the (a) vision, aims, and underlying rationale for what follows; (b) resources needed to do the work; (c) general functions, major tasks, activities, and phases that must be pursued; (d) infrastructure and strategies needed to carry out the functions, tasks, and activities; and (e) positive and negative results that emerge (58 – 59).
These elements, according to the authors, are fundamental to any successful improvement/change process, be it at the school or the system level.
Vision, Aims, Rationale
Adelman and Taylor explain that at the outset of any improvement or change process, it is crucial to carefully examine the underlying rationale and accompanying assumptions and biases(60). The aim or goals must be articulated explicitly, taking into consideration all of the unspoken assumptions that might undermine the school and system improvement journey. I think that within the current context, the underlying rationale would be a commitment to equity of outcomes for all learners. Exploring what that means for us personally, within our classrooms, our schools and our district would mean revealing our biases and assumptions. Having acknowledged our collective and individual baggage serves as the true starting point for the journey.
Whenever we set out to implement change or improvement, we need to give some thought to what resources, or gear we will require along the way. Anticipating the need to allocate time, people and materials to support and sustain the mission, it is often necessary to borrow or reallocate resources previously designated for other projects. Adelman and Taylor state that resources must be pulled together in creative ways to get the change process started and well on its’ way:
Pursuing major systemic changes in an era of sparse resources generally means redeploying and weaving together some of the system’s available resources to underwrite the change process. If enough resources cannot be devoted to essential change processes, it is likely that substantive school improvement will not be achieved (60).
It isn’t that difficult and tight budgets will undermine change, we just might have to borrow or buy second hand gear required for our expedition.
Tasks, Activities, Phases
The tasks, activities and phases of change process are like the road map and the itinerary. Prior to embarking, it will be necessary to prepare, or, as Adelman and Taylor suggest, create readiness:
Enhancing a sense of community involved oingoing attention to daily experiences. With respect to sustaining initiatives, stakeholders must experience initiative in ways that make them feel they are valued members who are contributing to a collective identity, destiny, and vision (64).
In other words, the journey must appeal to stakeholders. Also, it must be seen as both necessary and meaningul.
Like a temporary bridge, the infrastructure required for systemic change consists of lead change teams that are able to steer the process and guide stakeholders across those parts of the process that are particularly daunting. They are a group of committed team members who might also act as sherpas, both guiding the way and carrying some of the load. Adelman and Taylor define the change agent who is part of the process:
This form of specially trained change agent embodies the necessary expertise to help school sites and complexes substantively implement and institutionalize school improvements. Such an individual can be used as a change agent for one school or a group of schools. A cadre of such professionals can be used to facilitate change across an entire district (66).
The task of leading change at both the school and the system levels is not easy. It requires solid commitment to the journey. It is imperative that the lead team have the fortitude to endure through the difficult times, keeping in mind the vision and goals that initiated the process at the outset.
Positive and Negative Results
Adelman and Taylor end with the following caveat:
Systems are driven by what is measured for purposes of accountability (69).
Although the initial vision and imperative for change might have been driven by a commitment to the belief that all students can learn, we must make sure that we keep that tenet at the centre of our activities. Along the way there will be many unexpected outcomes, some positive and some negative. Only when we remain true to our commitment to equity of outcomes for all students will we be able to process and learn from all of the unexpected events of the journey. Likely it won’t be a short trip, but having checkpoints at which to reflect and evaluate progress will help sustain the process for the long run.