What Should School Change Leaders Know and Be Able to Do?

What do we look for in a change leader, and how do we know it when we see it? The question comes from Phillip Schlechty, who heads the Center for Leadership in School Reform in Louisville, Kentucky and has written much about the particular problems school leaders face in a time of change. He lays out the following suggestions, which are here condensed from his writings:

Leaders frame problems and create a sense of urgency. This includes: . Analyzing organizational problems, first asking questions that uncover hidden agendas and difficulties, then reframing the problems in ways that encourage action toward change. . “Marketing” change to the people who need to support it, by framing the problem and solution in ways tailored to relate to their core concerns.

Leaders know and articulate what they believe about schools, and convey their vision of what schools could and should look like. This includes first being able to answer questions like these: . What is the primary purpose of schools? Who should they serve and satisfy? . Do I believe all children can learn, and learn more, in school? If so, what must I do when that is not happening? . What factors cause some children to learn more in school than others? Are these things under schools. control, or beyond their control? . What role should the family and other community members play in relation to students and their schooling? What should happen when my vision clashes with their beliefs about education? . What role should the schools play in moral and civic education? Should they reflect the social order or try to shape it? . What rules, roles, and relationships should govern behavior within schools, between schools and the district office, and between schools and the community? . What obligation does the school and system have to its employees in providing resources for their continuing professional development? Once they know what they believe about such matters, Schlechty observes, leaders should be able to imagine how schools could look if they consistently reflected those beliefs. Whether that vision comes from themselves or from others, leaders must develop the ability to articulate the vision in an inspiring way, using symbols and metaphors that speak to the heart as well as the head.

Leaders define progress and measure results in publicly verifiable ways. This includes: . Having a clear picture of the school’s current situation. . Assessing the capacity of the school to support and sustain change, and having a plan to improve that capacity. . Saying clearly what results one wants in the long run, and laying out various ways in which they will be measured. . Knowing what short-term results contribute to the long-term results, and acknowledging them often in public.