Change requires transformation, reformation, and risk.
Our education system is at a crux. A generation of students face unprecedented challenges of a global society. Experienced teaching professionals with a wealth of institutional knowledge are in a phase of the retirement process. Young teachers feel overwhelmed and under-supported, and education funding is threatened daily. Further, superintendents are faced with a dilemma: meet the requirements of a traditional, bureaucratic instructional system whose academic performance is based on standardized testing or providing cutting-edge opportunities for their students to prepare them for a workforce of the future. A lack of time, money, and support for personnel adds to the burden of creating change within their districts.
Much like a business that considers, implements, and sustains a new technology to improve its operations, these education leaders must build support systems for students, teachers, and building level leaders to encourage innovation and change. Much like a CEO and board of a multi-million corporation, the school district superintendent and board of education profoundly impact the instructional outcomes of its students through supporting of instructional programs, people, and overall systems (NISL, 2015; Delagardelle, 2006). Such support can occur through the creation of new organizational missions and visions, through the reallocation of resources such as time, money, and personnel (Crawford, 2008; Murphy et al., 2001; Murphy & Hallinger, 1989), and through deliberate decision-making in concert with its board of education (Bjork, 2008; Bjork, Kowalski, & Young, 2005; Wirt & Kirst, 1992). Meaningful and sustainable changes in education occur at the building and classroom levels but are ensued in the systemic changes created by district superintendents and boards of education (Kowalski, 2006).
Should Kentucky seek to create new systems that support meaningful change in its education systems to prepare its students for tomorrow’s workforce, let us consider the multi-prong approach to successful organizational change. Prichard Committee’s 2018-2020 Strategic Plan addresses objectives, goals, and strategies which focuses on closing achievement gaps, ensures that each student reaches proficiency at grade levels, and provides meaningful high school diplomas to each student. In order to reach these ambitious targets our education system should be laser-focused on the attitudes and processes that can make change happen. The National Institute for School Leadership (NISL, 2015) posits that the highest-ranking education systems in the world prioritize their energy and attention to building high-quality instructional systems, to supporting teaching professionals, and to constructing high-performing organization and management systems. Providing instructional systems with well-designed curriculum is only part of the picture. These countries believe that teachers must be well-equipped and well-supported in subject mastery through continued substantive professional development. Ultimately, enablers (i.e. superintendents, cabinet-level, board members) provide the foundation for instructional excellence through creating cultures of change – ecosystems of extensive and continuous learning, improvement, and creativity. Leaders within these cultures are experts within their field who provide guidance to organizational members and support professional risk-taking, transformation, reformation, and innovation (Choo, 2006; Senge, 1990). These change leaders foster a collective moral imperative among its people to support the new vision, give reason and purpose for the change, and alleviate covert and overt resistance to the change process (Agocs, 1997).
Our Kentucky superintendents and school boards have the expertise and competence to know the change processes, systems, and outcomes of implementing and supporting innovative endeavors in their school systems. They are networked in regional and statewide systems to collaborate and share ideas, experiences, and information to ensure success. Further, many superintendents and boards of education have provided opportunity for innovation beyond the boundaries provided by the current education system to provide a better way for their students. How can we scale these innovations and changes so that every student and teacher have the freedom, flexibility, and access to innovative ways of learning? How can we provide every student with the opportunity to be adequately prepared for life beyond the walls of their P12 schools?
As Kentucky seeks to once again provide equal opportunity for all children, I challenge each of us to support and include the leaders who are preparing our students for their future. Let us consider that incremental or operational changes in policies and procedures will only bring about short-term change. Kentucky can choose to transform and strategically improve its educational system by fully understanding the value of education and create systemic changes to address the long-term success we desire. May our state have the foresight to provide our education system and its leaders adequate resources, supportive dialogue, opportunity to create cultures of change, and recognize the importance of continued learning, transformation, reformation, and innovation.
Agócs, C. (1997). Institutionalized resistance to organizational change: Denial, inaction, and repression. Journal of Business Ethics, 16(9), 917-931.
Björk, L. G. (2008). Leading in an era of change: The micropolitics of superintendent-board relations. In T. Alsbury (Ed.), The future of school board governance: Relevancy and revelation (pp. 61–80). Lanham, MD: Rowman Littlefield Education.
Bjork, Kowalski, & Young, 2005; Björk, L. G., Kowalski, T. T., & Young, M. D. (2005). National education reform reports. In L. G. Björk & T. J. Kowalski (Eds.), The contemporary superintendency: Preparation, practice, and development (pp. 45–69). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Choo, C. W. (2006). The knowing organization: How organizations use information to construct meaning, create knowledge, and make decisions. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Crawford, M. (2008, December). Think inside the clock. The Phi Delta Kappan, 90(4), 251–255. doi: 10.1177/003172170809000405.
Delagardelle, M. L. (2006). Roles and responsibilities of local school board members in relation to student achievement. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 305317541).
Kowalski, T. J. (2006). The school superintendent: Theory, practice and cases. (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Murphy, J., Beck, L., Crawford, M., Hodges, A., & McGaughy, C. (2001). The productive high school: Creating personalized academic communities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Murphy, J., & Hallinger, P. (1989). A new era in the professional development of school administrators: Lessons from emerging programmes. Journal of educational administration, 27(2). doi:10.1108/09578238910004004
National Institute for School Leadership. (2015). The NISL wheel: A guide for school leaders. Retrieved from http://www.nisl.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/NISL-Wheel-v110716.pdf
Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Currency Doubleday.
Wirt & Kirst, 1992 Wirt, F. M., & Kirst, M. W. (1992). Schools in conflict: The politics of education. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.