Mid-year changes are always the most difficult to make in a school. Since late August, schools have toiled to develop systems and put protocols into place. The front-loaded work was intended to carry the community through the entire school year. Then change comes, whether in the form of budget cuts, illness, or staff finding opportunities outside of your school.
Change is stressful on everyone in a school — the students, the teachers, the support staff and administration. Leaders of well-developed teams recognize the effect change can have on a school culture and need to take action when change is thrust upon them.
It is important to the community that all constituents be made aware of the reality that has happened.
“Right now the budget does not allow our school to continue to use Jennifer in her current capacity. She will be moved to another school where she will continue to serve students who need her the most.”
“While Mr Cromer is no longer able to come to school because of illness this will allow him the time and energy needed to focus on healing.”
“Dr. Gaber will no longer work here because he was offered a terrific opportunity that allows him to better serve more students.”
Trust in an organization is crucial for it to grow and flourish. Members of a community can only grow and learn in a safe environment. Transparency happens by communicating a clear message to all staff that explains why the change is happening. This will help staff feel safe and assuage anxiety.
When school leaders ‘cherry pick’ information to disseminate, the recipients fill in the blanks with their own version of reality, which can often result in wild fantasy.
“Dr. Gaber no longer works here,” is quite different than,”Dr Gaber has been offered a job that would allow him to build on his strengths and have a bigger impact on instruction.” There is no room for rumor or speculation.
Grieve the Loss After messaging a change, allow for the loss to set in. People in schools work closely in high-stress jobs. When the community is no longer whole, there is often a sense of loss. Ignoring anxiety will alienate those that are having trouble coping and devalue their feelings.
Recognize the Opportunity Often times in a school, employees wear many hats. The ELA teacher is also the team leader, coaches basketball and may even moderate the after-school coding club. When the ELA teacher leaves, others will be asked to pick up some of the work left behind. Leaders need to be able to identify and support new individuals to take on these responsibilities. The loss becomes an opportunity for the work to change for others. New teacher leaders emerge and skill sets are developed, building capacity.
Revisit the Mission
School change can be a time for a staff to regroup and recognize what's important. Leading the staff to re-read the school’s mission statement and providing time for them to articulate how their individual work strives to fulfill a portion of the mission will reignite shared purpose.
Change happens in every school, often suddenly. Leading your staff through change, using these steps, can go a long way toward keeping the ship running smoothly.
Walter Brown has been in public education for 22 years as a classroom teacher, team leader, lead teacher, and currently as an AP at Hudson High School of Learning Technologies. He has been invited to speak at the Tech Forum NY "Fostering Innovation at the School and District Level” 2015; BREC “How to Implement an Effective Team Approach to Teaching” 2009; Adelphi University “Urban Education Conference” 2007. He currently sits on the board of the Nassau County High School Assistant Principal's Association — www.mchsapa.com. When not at work, he enjoys being a father to four amazing boys and Deputy Commissioner of LNBaseball. #LGM. Walter is a co-founder of the EDxEDNYC Conference. Chat with Walter on Twitter @wbrownhs using the hashtag #edxednyc