Successfully Leading a School in a Culture of Change

I have had the pleasure of meeting with hundreds of Christian school administrators this year at conferences and on their campuses. Our conversations often lead to a discussion of their biggest challenges, and I sometimes share the following advice on how to make positive changes.

We live in an era of exponential change, and with every change comes an element of friction. Christian schools need strong leaders to meet changing expectations, manage new technologies, and confront elements of culture that conflict with a biblical worldview education (all within a finite budget). It is not hard to convince leaders of these facts. It is also important to affirm that some things should never change at a Christian school.

What are some of these ‘challenges’ that Christian schools are facing? Here are a few facing leaders in 2018:

  1. Changes in Expectations:
  2. Changes in Technology:
  3. Changes in Moral Beliefs:

Formulating a solution to existing and emerging challenges is one of the most important job functions of school leaders. One powerful component of effective leadership that I often recommend is described by Michael Fullan in his book Leading In a Culture of Change.

Fullan asserts that you cannot be effective without moral purpose and being guided by moral purpose is more important than ever for leaders in complex times.

According to Fullan, having a moral purpose means:

“Acting with the intention of making a positive difference in the lives of employees, customers, and society as a whole.”

We know as Christians that real success only comes when we broaden this idea to being guided by God’s purposes. We must let the Holy Spirit guide us and walk with Him, not ahead of Him. We can then look back and see how He used us and give Him glory. I include his idea of moral purpose under the umbrella of God’s purposes.

I saw this aspect of leadership back in 1986 when Carl Lindner felt a need for his children and others to have a school where Christ was taught. He certainly had a strong moral purpose by wanting to make a “Kingdom” difference in the lives of children in his community! Others saw the same need and the result was amazing.

The result of Carl’s moral purpose was the opening of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, a school that won national awards and grew to 1400 students (K-12) in the 16 years that I had the privilege of serving there as a leader.

However, Fullan also warns leaders that:

“Moral Purpose without an understanding of change will lead to moral martyrdom.”

Too many Heads of School experience trauma partly as a result of understanding change is needed, but then going about it the wrong way. School leaders should learn at least one of the many good frameworks for successful change management: such as Kotter’s 8 Step Process for Leading Change or Fullan’s Model for Change Leadership

In summary, here are thoughts for positive change management at Christian schools:

  1. The goal is not to innovate the most.
  2. It is not enough to have the best ideas.
  3. The single common factor to every successful change initiative is that relationships improve.
  4. Understand and appreciate the implementation dip.
    • If you know a dip will occur in advance, you can plan for it and minimize frictions to make important positive changes.
  5. Redefine resistance as a potential positive force.
    • We are more likely to learn from those who disagree with us.
    • We should hire consultants or ask for input from those that will provide new ideas and challenge our old ideas.
  6. Re-culturing is the name of the game.
    • Barrett Mosbacker has said, “Consensus is desired but not required.”
    • Some leaders and teachers who will work to undermine a successful change effort might best serve elsewhere.
  7. Never a checklist, always complexity.
    • Michael Fullan writes that “There can never be a recipe or cookbook for change, nor a step-by-step process. Leaders and members of the organization, because they live in a culture of frenetic change, are vulnerable to seeking the comforting clarity of off-the-shelf solutions.”

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