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March 1, 2023
Vol. 80
No. 6
Reader's Guide

A Time for Changemakers in Schools

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    Leadership
    Reader's Guide
    Credit: Grinbox / Shutterstock
      The ability to lead through change has always been an integral part of education leaders' work. But it has probably never been more critical—or more complex—than it is now, as schools strive to recover and reinvent themselves after a once-in-a-century global pandemic. As Frederick M. Hess writes, the last few years have "stressed and stretched schooling in unprecedented ways." They have revealed deep structural gaps, raised questions about familiar routines, and left many students behind in learning and many teachers frustrated in their work. They have also—by challenging so many of the fundamentals of schooling—created new opportunities and expectations for transformation.
      That's a lot on school and district leaders, especially given that change has historically been slow and arduous in education. This issue of Educational Leadership, accordingly, aims to provide guidance and inspiration for the important work ahead. The articles—written by a standout mix of current school and district leaders and leadership experts—all aim to shed greater light on the current context of K–12 education and offer strategic advice on driving meaningful shifts in school practice and culture.
      As a guide to reflection and discussion, here are a few key ideas on change leadership that run through the issue:
      Embrace the moment. While it's important to be mindful of current stress and fatigue levels in school systems, leaders cannot shy away from the need for determined action. As Richard Culatta, the CEO of the newly combined ISTE-ASCD, states, "The world around us has evolved, and education is not exempt from needing to evolve as well." As Culatta and others note, the pandemic has left schools in a period of transition—what Hess refers to as a moment of punctuated equilibrium. Denying this is not only useless; it also risks wasting an opportunity that is "ripe for positive innovation." Leaders have to be wary of settling into comfortable routines.
      Build legitimacy. To gain traction, change initiatives cannot be arbitrary, authoritarian, or skin-deep. They must, as Adonius Lewis argues, be grounded in "institutional legitimacy." Strategies for accomplishing this are plentiful in this issue. They include: communicating with precision; creating channels for distributed leadership and problem solving; field-testing new practices; offering job-embedded observation and learning opportunities; embracing "resisters"; and modeling care and respect. By the same token, legitimacy can be undermined by a lack of focus and initiative overload.
      Center equity. To uproot long-problematic patterns in achievement, change efforts in schools must be inclusive and designed to mitigate opportunity and resource gaps that are endemic in society. This may require challenging the status quo and existing influence structures in uncomfortable ways, as well as using data more compellingly to highlight areas of need. Leaders, as Nathan Levenson states, must take steps to move from extolling equity in principle to rooting it in practice.
      See challenges as opportunities. Rather than falling prey to defeatism or cynicism, education leaders must try to make it a standard mental practice to recast thorny problems as opportunities for personal and organizational growth. In her article, for example, Elizabeth Dampf describes how a turnover crisis in her district led her to think more intentionally about her role as a team leader and create better processes to manage staff transitions.
      Find the bright spots. In her piece, Pam Cheng provides a fascinating example of the power of "mining the bright spots"—that is, leveraging the "positive deviants [in] data sets as a starting point for systems-based change." This is a useful reminder that leading change is often a matter of identifying and building on good things that are already happening.
      It should also be a way, as Culatta stresses, of creating better, more joyful "user experiences" in schools.

      Reflect & Discuss

      "Getting More Urgent About Change Leadership" by Douglas Reeves and Robert Eaker

      ➛ Do you think real change tends to take too long in schools? If so, why do you think that happens?

      ➛ Do you agree that gaining teacher buy-in is an ineffective change management approach? Why or why not?

      ➛ What steps could you take to accelerate improvement in your school or district?

      "The Crucible of Staff Turnover" by Elizabeth Dampf

      ➛ When you hear that a staff member is leaving, how do you typically respond? In what ways could you manage this news more effectively?

      ➛ As Dampf writes, "tyrants demand loyalty, but leaders inspire growth." What could you do when it's clear one of your staff members has outgrown their role?

      ➛ What's one step you could take to make your systems more "turnover-proof"?

      ➛ How does the whole-staff coaching model differ from the coaching approaches used in your school or district? What do you see as its potential benefits and challenges?

      ➛ What do you see as the biggest barriers to instructional change in your school or district? How might whole-school coaching address them?

      "Leading a District Antiracism Journey" by Julia Kempkey, Shane Safir, and Joe Truss

      ➛ How could your school or district strategically center student voice in its equity work?

      ➛ Have you ever facilitated or participated in a racial affinity space? If yes, what was the experience like? What are the risks and benefits?

      ➛ In what ways could you focus more on "street data" in your school or district? How might this help with equity efforts?

      Anthony Rebora is the chief content officer for ISTE+ASCD, overseeing publications and content development across all platforms.

      Previously, he was the editor in chief of Educational Leadership, ASCD's flagship magazine, and led content development for the association's fast-evolving digital outlets.

      Under his leadership, Educational Leadership won numerous awards for editorial excellence, increased the breadth of its coverage and contributors, and greatly expanded its online reach.

      He was formerly a managing editor at Education Week, where he oversaw coverage of teachers and teaching policy, and played a key role in online editorial strategy. He has written and developed impactful content on a wide range of key K-12 education topics, including professional learning, school leadership and equity.

      As a content developer, his foremost goals are to empower diverse educator voices and raise awareness of critical issues and solutions in education.

      Learn More

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