Leading Change: Implementing the Professional Learning Communities Model Across Diverse Departments of a Regional Service Agency Joanne Hopper Central Michigan University February 2006
Learning organizations have to develop skills and mind-sets that embrace environmental change as a norm. They have to be able to detect ‘early warning’ signals that give clues to shifting trends and patterns. And they often have to find ways of inventing completely new ways of seeing their environment” Morgan, 1997, p. 90 Theoretical Framework
Successful reform efforts have emerged to serve as models for school leaders committed to making a difference in the way teaching and learning occurs. The commonalities among these models center on the importance of establishing a learning community structure in which to initiate and sustain lasting change. DuFour & Eaker, 1998; Lambert, 1998; Newmann & Wehlage, 1995; Schmoker, 1999.
The purpose of the school is to ensure high levels of learning for all students .
We can achieve our fundamental purpose of high levels of learning for all students only if we work together .
We assess our individual and collective effectiveness in helping all students learn at high levels on the basis of results rather than activity .
DuFour & Eaker, 1998
An effective PLC functions with Loose-Tight Leadership
Not John Wayne Not George Gallop
“ My way or the highway!” “Poll the group”
DuFour & Eaker, 1998
We consider this question to be the fork in the road – the one question more than any other that will demonstrate commitment to learning for all students and progress on the road to becoming a PLC. What we will do if they don’t learn? DuFour & Eaker, 1998
Both the Eight-Step Model and the PLC Model Support These Attributes Kotter and Cohen (2002) - Emphasizes creating a sense of urgency and engaging a guiding coalition. DuFour and Eaker (1998) - Focuses on developing the capacity of employees to lead change, the value-driven commitment of leaders, and the loose-tight leadership necessary to establish firm accountability standards while embracing staff empowerment.
Table 1. The Eight Steps for Successful Large-Scale Change From: Kotter, J.P., and Cohen, D. S. (2002). The heart of change: Real-life stories of how people change their organizations. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. New and winning behavior continues despite the pull of tradition, turnover of change leaders, etc. Make change stick 8 People make wave after wave of changes until the vision is fulfilled. Don’t let up 7 Momentum builds as people try to fulfill the vision, while fewer and fewer resist change. Create short-term wins 6 More people feel able to act, and do act, on the vision. Empower action 5 People begin to buy into the change, and this shows in their behavior. Communicate for buy-in 4 The guiding team develops the right vision and strategy for the change effort. Get the vision right 3 A group powerful enough to guide a big change is formed and they start to work together well. Build the guiding team 2 People start telling each other, “Let’s go, we need to change things!” Increase urgency 1 New Behavior Action Step
The model is predicated on Kotter’s definition of effective organizational leadership vs. management. I’m talking about leadership as the development of vision and strategies , the alignment of relevant people behind those strategies, and the empowerment of individuals to make the vision happen, despite obstacles. This stands in contrast with management , which involves keeping the current system operating through planning, budget, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem solving. Leadership works through people and culture... Management works through hierarchy and systems. Kotter, 1999, p.10, italics in original
The Question Could the PLC model be successfully implemented to generate organizational change across diverse departments of a regional service agency?
I ntermediate school districts (ISDs) and regional service agencies are expected to be on the “ cutting edge ” of innovative school leadership, serving not only a models for local districts, but also as supportive mentors to districts striving to improve teaching and learning Buford, 2001; Michigan Association of Intermediate School Districts, 2001; Stephens & Keane, 2005; Talbott, 2001
Document analysis – Spanning 1999 to 2005, including Administrative Team meeting agendas and minutes, workshop agendas, Professional Development Committee meeting agendas and minutes, memos, letters and other communications;
Personal one-on-one interviews;
Transcription of interviews;
Coding of all documents for evidence of correlation with Eight-Step Change Model.
Findings: (1) Did not connect urgency with specific students (2) Struggled with establishing a guiding team Evidence from documents revealed that teams were begun and then disbanded several times for various reasons until spring 2005, when Alpha Learning Partnership was created. “ I’m a whole lot more likely to buy into something if I had something to do with it…It’s a challenge and it’s a frustration, but at least I feel like, if it all falls apart, at least I had some input.” “ Some – a handful of instructors – don’t truly believe our job is to teach every kid that comes here.” No evidence from over 100 documents reviewed, or from transcripts of participants interviewed, that team used visual strategies to help staff see and feel the need for change.
Findings: (3) Struggled with the vision (4) Slow in communicating for buy-in “ When we made decisions, they have been based upon whatever we wanted, not what is our vision of the ISD. We have not gotten consensus from the group on any of that (mission, vision, values and goals). That’s hurt us all along.” “ I think it’s important for administration to be somewhat clear about what the need for change might be…to be clear about how we might facilitate change…we need to improve or be better at this. “ We realize we may have been overzealous in our implementation of the collaborative model and that you desire to participate in the development of professional learning goals for our organization.” “ Why is it taking us so long to move this very simple model? Why have we let very strong personalities block our way? Why has politics played such a role in what we’re doing?”
Findings: (5) Slow to empower action (6) Did not celebrate short term wins “ I don’t think they’re (PLCs) effective yet, but I think they have a lot of potential to be. I just think there’s a lot of good ideas shared and nobody follows through with it…A lot of people go away from the meetings where all of these wonderful ideas are shared and they just kind of…leave it all at the door that they walk out of.” “ It takes a long time to get to that point where people are buying in…The other side of that coin is, once that happens, you’d better get out of the way because they’re gonna run with it.” “ Each director feels that they are a grade of ‘C’ at the implementation of PLC in their department.” “ Lots has been done, lots has been put into action, but we hadn’t all…been on board at all times. “They are starting to talk the talk, but they haven’t started to walk the walk yet.”
Findings: (7) Not Letting Up (8) Making Change Stick “ We need to find a way to silence or circumvent the naysayers. If we could change the mindset and say, ‘Take a deep breath. Don’t worry about change. Embrace it. Make the changes that you can now and go with that, and then just continue on. ” “ No one has objected or said it’s not a good thing. So now, when I see loose/tight…There should not be a question. Yeah, we’re gonna struggle, but there’s not a question about what we’re gonna do…I don’t see why there should be anyone who can check out and not do what we agreed to do. ”
Whatever it Takes C O M M U N I C A T E T H E V I S I O N
Make the change stick “In the best cases, change leaders throughout organizations make change stick by nurturing a new culture…A great deal of work can be blown away by the winds of tradition in a remarkably short period of time.” Kotter & Cohen, 2002
Lack of expertise in leading change points to a potential void in the preparation of educational administrators. Need additional background/training in “how to” lead.
Lack of support systems for administrators who are leading change is evident. Functioning as a learning organization provides the support system for administrators who are unsure of the “how”, but are willing to explore, learn together and sustain one another. External support systems would be beneficial.
The importance of the visual graphic for connecting the change initiative with organizational events and learning opportunities is worth investigating.
The question of whether the Eight-Step Change Model is transferable to other educational change initiatives also has merit.