Whether we like it or not, we are leaders of change in our schools. Reluctantly or willingly, change is occurring all the time and in all corners of the school. Whether we are employing the benefits of ubiquitous technology or responding to the ever-increasing body of brain research supporting social and emotional learning, we are facilitating a shift in learning environments.

We can choose to encourage the pace of change, oversee that process strategically, or we can push back to minimize the speed. But we can’t avoid managing change.

 We contend that new initiatives need to go through three stages as we enact a change. We call this these stages i2i. For an overview infographic, click here.

First they are introduced. In this phase the concept is tested in the classroom and discussed in the local coffee shop, with later success or failure being largely determined by these early debates.

If the initiative passes the introduction phase, it is included. During this time, teachers give the initiative its own distinctive spot in the curriculum and develop a shared vocabulary to describe the impact. The impact will be carefully monitored and weighed by those involved with the scope and speed of implementation being dependent on multiple supports.

Finally, when the initiative gets past inclusion, it has been infused into the fabric of the school. Infusion means the concept is part of the identity of the school. Both adults and students in the school speak about the initiative as the way things are done.

Infusion has to be the goal for every new initiative. But our experience would tell us that there is no way that every initiative can reach infusion, right? We disagree.

Initiative overload is common in many international schools. We set too many things to improve and provide too little time to do them right. What results is a scatter-gun approach to school change where more and more is started and less and less gets finished. The outcome is too often partly-completed projects and frustrated teachers. Who among us hasn’t heard an experienced teacher declare, “this reminds of the time we tried…”?

We contend that all schools can successfully make significant change. They just need to manage the initiatives and see them through to infusion. This creates the space for new initiatives to be commenced because infused actions are automatic and based upon deeply held understandings.

Another advantage to managing to infusion is the learning generated within the process. Taking initiatives through a thoughtful and strategic process allows for tests, trials, vetting, and critical analysis. Even the ones that don’t make it will have provided important lessons for all involved.

Schools are complex, so the process of real change is, as well. No single procedure will work for every school in all contexts. Given this diversity, how can we know a change is in the infused phase? In lieu of a step-by-step manual, we can firstly share a set of conditions that prepare the school for lasting change.

We know that successful leaders are those who create conditions for change in the organization. They initiate, organize, plan and oversee change strategically. And they empower the community to take ownership of the initiative.

The conditions for success are not new to us. Many of us will have regretted not having these in place before launching into a new initiative. All the conditions impact on successful change and so the more that each can be identified within a school, the more likely will be successful change.

Condition 1: Create the need. Whether it be the core values of the community or the requirement of accreditation, instilling a need for change in the community sets the scene, rallies supporters, and disconnects the change from the perception of whim or individual interests.

Condition 2: Less is more. If there is a way to focus change around a couple of high-leverage areas, the change that evolves will be more impactful and supported by the community. Allow for thinking space in an initiative and benefit when it assumes automaticity.

Condition 3: Think tangible. Meaningful change tends to be based in large, conceptual ideas. Think “Collaborative Teaching”, “Integrated Assessment”, “Supportive Learning Conditions” For the idea to be realized, however, there need to be tangible results. When a tangible outcome surrounding assessment practice is needed, for example, we would look at redesigning the report card. 

We know that change is more likely to be successful if these conditions are in place. In the next blog of our i2i series we will explain how to create the conditions for successful change so that projects are taken from introduction to infusion.

Matt Merritt is a teacher and curriculum director across international and national schools. His insights into the required conditions for change in teaching and learning have made him an influential mentor and school leader. Matt now works for Schrole providing training and advice to school leaders across the globe.

Greg Smith is a teacher, principal and head of school who now works in Schrole, the company he co founded with business partner, Rob Graham. Greg is committed to the idea of building capacity in school leaders and helped to develop the i2i model with Matt to support the continuous improvement of schools.