Managing Change in School

I am excited to share this guest post by Seonaid Davis, who is the Vice Principal, Teaching and Learning at Havergal College a K-12 Anglican girl’s school in Toronto (  She has taught math and science at all grade levels as well as being the Head of Science.  She is responsible for the professional learning for teachers in the school as well as the academic program.  Seonaid’s interests are in backward design, creating cultures of thinking and school culture.

Our school is sometimes criticized about being slow to make change and there are many reasons for that.  One of the positive reasons is that we don’t believe that “all at once” change is an effective way to manage resources or people and rapid change all at once also doesn’t leave room to adjust from failures early on.  We have a particular way that we manage change that has us supporting our high flier innovators who love to try new things and giving them time and resources to try things out.  We encourage those high fliers to share their ideas with others and encourage others to also try some of those new things.  Our technology integrator is always working with our innovators to help them with new tech challenges and our curriculum coordinators also support these pioneers with new instructional strategies they want to try out.  When an idea is good and has a positive impact on student learning, then we will often suggest that more people try it out and then at a certain point, if it is appropriate, then it becomes an expectation for the entire staff.  Often by the time that happens, the new strategy, tool, or idea just happens with little grumbling or complaining because it feels like it has always been that way.

That is the way we changed our assessment system and how we managed a problem free transition to “ Bring Your Own Device”.  I have just learned that this phase in method is called the “Diffusion of Innovations” model of change, an idea developed by Everett Rogers who described it in a book with the same name.


(Rogers, Everett M. Diffusion of Innovation. New York: Free, 1995. Print.)

According to this idea,  change happens when people we know and trust, who have successfully managed a change themselves give us the confidence to take part in that change ourselves.  In any school community, there are innovators and early adopters who are always looking for new ideas and new ways of doing things.  They try things out and are comfortable with failure. They don’t need a lot of persuading to try something new and are happy to give feedback on their attempts. The early majority are a larger group of teachers who can be persuaded to try something once most of the ‘bugs’ have been worked out.  Once this group is on-board, usually the change has happened.  The laggards in the school are the hold-outs, the last ones to change and they are the ones who may drag their feet.

The trick to school change, then,  is to support the innovators and early adopters as they test out new ideas.  Then use their enthusiasm and credibility to get the majority of teachers on board. Not spending a lot of time worrying about the laggards and not spending a lot of effort trying to get them on board too early will save time in the long run.  Also phasing in change slowly where it is possible allows the early adopters to figure out where the problems are and hopefully solve those problems before the majority jump on board (or are pushed).

The other trick is to recognize the impact of change on people’s sense of efficacy and their ability to do their job.  This is where the implementation dip phenomenon becomes an important consideration.  With any change, support and a bit of pressure are needed to manage that change and to help people through the implementation dip.

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Thanks for reading!

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