Effective Leadership & Continuously Leading Change

I had the privilege of attending the Emerging Leaders Summit (ELS) again this year and as always, I got a lot of great new learning and reminders from the sessions, speakers and participants. I really do think that experienced leaders would get a lot from these summits too - they're not just for your emerging leaders.

Mark Osborne workshopped some great thinking and reminders about what effective change leadership involves. He highlighted Waters and Marzanos' (2006) first and second order change descriptions. I'm not going to go into detail here about what these are, but to summarise:

  • First Order Change is an extension of the past and is incremental and linear and people who see the change in this way find the change easy and manageable. 
  • Second Order Change is a break with the past, is complex and non-linear. People who see the change in this way find it conflicts with their values and norms and see the change as loss.

Waters and Marzano say that the first thing to do in change is ask how people are experiencing the change. Le Fevre (2010) also highlights the need for people to talk about change. Mark Osborne explained at ELS that as a leader, if you are ensuring that your team is continuously move between 1st and 2nd order change, you will also ensure ongoing readiness. 

In schools and clusters, ongoing change is a given because the world of education is fast moving and complex. If you don't see things this way, you might need to reflect on your leadership practice and what is happening in your school. This picture/quote recently shared by Kerri Thompson (kids in her class created this) sums it up for me:

quote: Will Rogers

People don't necessarily resist change - they resist loss. Personal loss and implementation dip leads to blame - how do we deal with this?

Supporting and leading change

The key thing about 1st and 2nd order change is that as a leader, you can't assume the change is experienced by everyone in the same way you see it. What you might see as 1st order change, could be seen and experienced as 2nd order change by some of your staff. Find out how your staff are experiencing the change by asking them about the change. Then respond accordingly: 

  • For people experiencing change as 1st order change: support with advice, experts, cheat sheets, manuals, visits etc

  • For people experiencing change as 2nd order change is primarily feelings based: support with listening, talking about loss, emotional support. Find opportunities to boost 2nd order people as role models - leadership opportunities - be strengths based. Can they be coached? If not, buddy them up. 
Throughout the change, don't use the same old role models to celebrate wins - hold up a range of staff and celebrate their progress.

"The single biggest failure of leadership is to treat adaptive challenges like technical problems" Ron Heifetz

Key aspects of readiness

Mark Osborne explained that people are ready for change when:

  • they believe the change is needed (use drivers, storytelling, sensegiving/making, examples, whys, put the learners at the centre)
  • they believe the proposed change is appropriate for the challenge at hand (hook into values, beliefs, look for dissonance to fix "if you continue to do what you have been doing, what will the result be?")
  • they believe the school has the capacity to implement the change (schools already uses design thinking, Teaching as Inquiry, or other processes and systems that support change and problem solving)

This is a really useful reminder that can support us to lead and support change effectively. In my work with clusters, as we start to move beyond visioning (the first bullet point above relates to this), we start to articulate how this vision might look. That is when beliefs really emerge as people start to talk about how the vision might look in action (the rubber hitting the road). This is when we often need to go back to the vision to rethink things. Often people in a cluster (or school) who haven't yet built enough relational and professional trust with one another won't expose their beliefs right away and they may even get through initial values/beliefs work for visioning without really exposing their perspectives. So when They begin to articulate and commit to practices, they are forced to share their beliefs to avoid committing to principles and practices that don't align to these. These are moments of dissonance that needs fixing (second bullet point above). 

The third bullet point above about capacity is a real challenge if your cluster or school doesn't yet have processes for problem-solving in place but is moving ahead with significant change. For example, many clusters have Modern Learning Practice/Environments as one of their focus areas, but they may not yet have effective and consistent Teaching as Inquiry processes in place. Therefore, the major change becomes developing Teaching as Inquiry or Spirals of Inquiry processes - one of the most effective and evidence-based processes for enabling people to move through change. Steve Mouldey's post on supporting teachers to deal with discomfort is also really useful in this space. 

Neill O'Reilly, Principal of Waitākiri School in Christchurch also presented at the ELS. He talked about the role of a teacher and the role of a leader, and the need for us to be clear on this.

What is the job of a teacher? To cause learning to occur!
What is the role of a leader? To do everything in their power so teachers can cause learning to occur!

He also talked about the drivers of current change in schools towards Innovative Learning Spaces/Environments explaining the drivers of this and the need for teachers to collaborate. I liked his point that within-school variance in teacher quality is massive issue in NZ - that in itself makes the case for collaborative teaching. The more teachers a learner is exposed to during school, the better chances they have of succeeding on their terms. 

Neill also highlighted the need to talk not only about what you do believe, but also what you don't believe - to make the vision and values of the change extra clear:

Kotter's 8 step framework for change highlights the steps for enabling and sustaining change - again emphasising the need to get pace right. This was a great activity led by Mark Osborne at ELS where we had to try to put these steps in order:

Broad-based guiding coalition = voice and input from parents, kids, community, teachers etc...

Change Leadership support in schools seems to be a bit of a gap in Aotearoa and Steve Mouldey talks about this in his recent blogpost

Some schools are now operating in several change spaces at once, with a focus fostering a belief that MLE/MLP is needed, while also building the school's capacity to implement change - which is a major change in itself. That is complex! One school I recently worked with is focusing only on Teaching as Inquiry as the major change and is going slow on the "why" part of the next phase of change in relation to four other areas. The importance of slowing down to do this well can't be emphasised enough. Good processes to enable capacity to implement change should come first and can help to integrate different focus areas to make them manageable for staff.


Kotter, J.P. (1996) Leading Change: Harvard Business Press

Waters, J. T., & Marzano, R. J. (2006). School district leadership that works: The effect of superintendent leadership on student achievement. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning. - See more at: http://www.mcrel.org/products-and-services/products/product-listing/01_99/product-90#sthash.zpNGRnS3.dpuf