Establish the Conditions for Change at your school

Leadership can make or break an initiative. The style assumed by a leader from the beginning sets the tone for the entire process. Too much direction and the initiative is seen as “yours” and may never truly be embraced or owned by the community. Facilitate too much empowerment and teachers will individually follow interests and overload the agenda which dissipates the energy of the school.

After analyzing effective change management, it appears critical for a leader to effectively set the conditions for change to infuse lasting impact in the organization.  It is this understanding that has led us to encourage leaders to establish conditions which combine to facilitate the entire change process. By establishing an environment where change is embraced, resourced, and adaptively supported a leader is more likely to oversee initiatives that are impactful and enduring.

Condition 1Create the need

Whether it be the core values of the community or a 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.

Creating the need for change centers on building consensus on what needs fixing and developing a credible plan to deal with it. Involving others in this process can be daunting to the inexperienced or authoritarian leader, but it is a crucial aspect of wide-spread engagement in the change process. Truly honest dialogue with colleagues, openly addressing questions and concerns, and providing timely expertise as issues arise are significant to creating the need within your faculty and community

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.

It is common in forward-thinking schools to employ teachers and administrators who are constantly enhancing their craft. This is a good thing. They push themselves to find, research, test, and analyze that next great educational idea. There is a need and a place for this interplay with innovation. But these ideas do not get introduced to the school community until school leaders put their stamp of approval behind the idea. This is when and where less is more is important. As important as empowering your faculty, focusing the creativity and enthusiasm around a few impactful projects is paramount to avoiding “initiative overload”. This is high time for strong leadership.


The change projects that will result have the highest impact on improving student learning and teacher practice are the projects that deserve your time and attention. Improving the school is a part of every teacher’s job description, but it is one of many responsibilities placed upon them. Focus your attention, and in turn theirs, on a small number of meaningful actions. Be deliberate in your communication about the need for a few, quality foci and celebrate the milestones that are met along the way. We have developed a (we think) helpful way to assess the impact of initiatives and projects on your school. Download the self-audit tool here for an overview of project impacts.

Condition 3: Think tangible. 

Meaningful change tends to be need roots in significant concepts. Think “Collaborative Teaching”, “Integrated Assessment”, “Supportive Learning Conditions”. These are ideas that challenge established thinking and a leap of faith to let go of existing practice. For an idea such as this idea to be realized, there need to be tangible results. Just understanding the principle and agreeing with it is not sufficient to establish a change. A tangible outcome of a change to integrated assessment practice, for example, could be the redesign of the report card.

Teachers want to feel their time leads to something useful and productive. Target and promote practical outcomes that force teachers to tackle the big conceptual ideas. Find the endpoint that gives a destination and a reason to celebrate and share progress.

Hare are some practical examples;

Choosing not to undertake change in schools is no longer an option. Change has to be an integral, systematic, and positive aspect of modern schools. Whenever the future is imagined, the magnitude of the challenge to prepare children for a world we cannot know highlights how ill-prepared our schools are. We need to approach change as the norm in schools. Set the conditions for impactful and lasting change, and you will be well on your way to being that school that is prepared for the new world.

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.