The many models of change management don’t seem to work in N-12 schools, which tend to be higher in emotion than corporate environments, more resistant to change than most corporate environments, and more diverse in stakeholder identities and opinions than most corporate environments.
As a result, change is often made chaotically, scaring tuition-paying parents, leaving faculty confused, and usually not sticking or attracting adequate interest.
Based on my own experience as a consultant to schools and in the for-profit sector, I would like to propose the The 5Ps Model of Change Management for Schools. The 5Ps are:
- Parlor Meetings
For example, discuss how to change the math curriculum substantially at a secondary school. The head of school or division head has a vision and wants to “bring people along” on the path to a more modernized math program. Here’s how I propose she would go about doing it.
The first step is to understand stakeholder opinion on a particular issue. How you do that depends on the school. You might conduct a large-scale marketing survey asking parents about customer satisfaction with the math program. You might ask students to comment on their comfort with math and compare that comfort with their standardized-test scores. And on and on. If you work in a particular cultural community, you engage stakeholders on their turf and on their terms to hear their opinions before piloting any new programs. There are endless ways to get the “pulse” of a school’s stakeholders.
Once you have an understanding about what’s working and what isn’t working in your specific situation, you can plan and conduct a very limited pilot program. You announce the findings of P1 and ask parents and/or students to opt into the pilot program, which you openly label as an experiment with a finite duration and scope. Once the pilot has ended, you report back to the community about its results. If they are promising, you continue to P3.
If your pilot math class was successful, you then offer it as a path or option or choice for a larger group in year two or semester two, leaving the original math program in place alongside it. At the end of this “paths” period, you report back to the community about its results. If they are promising, you continue to P4.
P4: Parlor Meetings
Once the pilot and path programs have demonstrated success, you begin the process of engaging stakeholders in a wholesale move to the new program. You begin with an inquisitive approach, asking parents what they’ve heard and whether they’re interested. If there is large-scale skepticism despite your reporting during this period, you have more persuasion work ahead of you. If the new program is as successful as you believe it is, the word on the street should be positive. This stage is called “parlor meetings” because these meetings should take place in person in small groups for maximum effect.
In the last step of the process, you move to make the change persistent and widespread, relinquishing the “old way” fully in favor of the “new way” entirely. As with every step before, you should take care to communicate your reasoning and the history of these 5Ps with stakeholder groups in a reassuring fashion.
I hope you find this 5Ps approach helpful as you go about making change in a N-12 school environment. I would welcome any input you have about how you make change successfully and consistently in schools.