Types of Change and perceptions
Perceptions and types of Change
The mere mention of the word “change” is likely to bring on a negative response from most people, because in education the word ‘change’ means adjustments to WHAT we are teaching as well as HOW we are teaching it. Here are some specific reasons that cause change to be negatively perceived:
- First of all, it can feel like an imposition. Whether we like it or not, certain elements of our roles will be adjusted without our consent. As professionals we are obliged, in many cases, to adapt to the changes but this doesn’t mean we have to enjoy changing the way we have been doing things up until now.
- Secondly, change is often messy and can feel chaotic. When we take on anything new, there is an inevitable process of trial and error before we can feel we are once again being successful. In an already busy job, where we rely on routines and structures to keep our heads above water, this can feel unsettling.
- Next, changes may sometimes be seen as irrational. Whilst this can sometimes be the case, it is more likely that information has not been communicated carefully enough so we are left feeling ill-informed, and this leads to our perception of change being irrational.
- Change can also be seen as a result of practical necessity within the school or organisation. For example, if one teacher leaves and we are asked to take over his / her class, we experience a change that we were not expecting and this places additional pressure on us, which can be negative, even if we understand why it is being done.
- Change can also be felt as a competing perception. For example one person may not perceive a particular event or series of events representing a change, whereas another person might. In spite of the reality of the situation, this still represents a departure from the reality of the second person, and therefore a change for them.
- And finally, change is often perceived to be uncontrollable and it is totally normal for us, as humans, not to like something that we do not feel in control of.
These perceptions all cause some level of stress within the team. In your role as leader, if you can identify which one it is, it may provide you with some clues as to how you can limit or even remove the stress for your team.
Now let’s consider these factors against the backdrop of the three types of change, to see if we can better understand how the perceptions may match each of them.
- The first of these is Change for Improvement: Improvement is a part of school life. As educators we are accustomed to having to improve our classroom practice, our planning, our attention to detail, our attention to individuals and so on. This is the normal life of an educator, and this sort of change should be a normal expectation in any organisation, especially schools.
As a leader, making sure that your change agenda is continuously communicated to your team becomes very important when considering improvement. Your team will respond best if they are kept fully informed, and if they are given the opportunity to contribute their ideas and thoughts into ongoing improvements.
- The next type of change is Innovation Change: Good organisations seek to innovate regularly, particularly if they want to remain proactively current in their thinking. In these sorts of organisations, merely relying on small incremental change is not enough. A great example of this can be seen in how some schools rapidly innovated their modes of delivery during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some schools transferred to online learning very quickly, whilst others floundered, unable to innovate fast enough to meet the learning demands of their students.
This sort of change is usually targeted at specific areas within your organisation or team role. Once again, communication is key but in general your innovators within your team should be asked to step forward with their ideas. Innovation is usually necessary if there is a problem, or if a changing climate (e.g. the onset of a pandemic) demands that you change things quickly.
- The third type of change is Transformational Change: In cases where organisations are floundering and losing pace with every passing day, transformational change is often required. Transformational change looks at every area of an organisation, from values to systems, from curriculum to teaching styles. In essence it involves significant amounts of innovation as well as improvement.
You can imagine that this type of change probably has the most significant impact on the team and it requires a highly skilled leader to navigate the many challenges that will arise. Again, communication is very important but depending on the nature of the transformation requirements, WHAT is communicated becomes very important. It is important to maintain a very clear focus on your vision throughout this type of change.
One of your jobs as a middle or emerging leader in a team is to facilitate change. If you understand clearly the reasons why the change has to be implemented, and understand the type of change that it represents, from the above three options, then you can probably predict the sorts of responses you will get from your team.
For example if your team is having to find an innovative solution to a challenge that has presented itself, then you will know that certain members of your team may dislike innovation, preferring to do things in the way that they have always been done. Or in another example if you are having to redistribute the responsibilities in your team because your team’s purpose has been readjusted with a total shift in organisational direction, you will know the characters in the team who will find this the most difficult, and if you have spent time with your team you will be able to predict the types of responses you may get from them.
Much of successful change management comes down to anticipation and communication. As a leader, keep your finger on the pulse of your team, and do your best to preempt any negative responses to potential change, with clear communication and open channels that will allow your team the freedom to ask questions, gain understanding and be heard. This will help you make any changes as smoothly as possible.
Point of Reflection:
Reflect on the changes you are currently implementing in your team (or those that are being implemented in your team). Identify which of these are ‘Improvement’, ‘Innovation’ or ‘Transformation’ changes. Is there a balance? Or are the changes skewed in favour of one of the types. Whatever your outcome, reflect on why this is the case.
Personal Development Activity:
Strategy Activity (60 mins)
As a leader, being able to anticipate your team’s response to changes is vitally important in determining how you roll out the change. This module talks about the three types of changes that may occur and the circumstances that they happen in.
- In your current team, make a list of the changes that you have experienced over the past 6 months and categorise them into change for ‘Improvement’, ‘Innovation’ or ‘Transformation’. Think through the various strategies that were used in the roll out of each of the changes and reflect on where these were positive and where they could have been done better.
- Identify a change that is happening currently or imminently in your own team. After reflecting on the strategies used in section 1, identify which type of change you are about to implement, and plan a strategy to implement it.
- If you are indeed leading the team, try out your strategy and ask your team for feedback throughout the process. In the PLC facebook group post a comment for discussion, based on your experience of planning strategy for change.