Elizabeth Holmes

Coping with and responding to change in your school

Change in education seems constant. Whether it’s new legislation to implement, new teaching strategies to learn or adapting to new staff and leadership styles. Elizabeth Holmes outlines how to cope and what you can do to ensure change is a success in your school.

He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery. Harold Wilson


It’s the eve of a new academic year and a teacher friend has called, in tears, fearful for the year ahead. ‘I just want to be able to consolidate,’ she says. ‘This will be my third year of teaching and the third year I’ve had to do everything from scratch. Why is there so much change in this crazy profession?’  

It has become a cliché to a suggest that teachers must be adept at coping with change, and that’s certainly not what my friend needed to hear. But the fact is that a profession that is resistant to change cannot progress.

If teachers like my friend are at all representative of others in the profession, change in itself isn’t the issue. It’s the lack of preparation for change and the lack of time to adequately implement the change that really challenges.

Necessity of change

Change is an enduring feature of life. Our private lives are littered with stories of change, both positive and perplexing. The changes and transitions we experience are what help to shape us and move us through life.

Change must also be a part of our professional lives too. Whether we adapt the way we work in response to fresh research, or to the needs of the children we teach, or a new direction for the department or school, change is an ever-present feature of working life.

But while professional change can have the effect of propelling us to new opportunities or pastures, it can also exhaust us.

Outlines the benefits

Schools need to ensure they handle change extremely effectively; preparing those involved, ensuring that workload isn’t impacted negatively and being crystal clear about the benefits to teaching and learning. If not, staff are likely to be stressed, disenchanted and detached, questioning the purpose of the disruption.

Most of us know from experience that even change that is undeniably for the better can be disrupting and challenging.

Stop and reflect

By way of an initial, brief, foray into thinking about change it can be helpful to consider first our response to it, and secondly, how we deal with the changes indicated.

Being alert to our response to change can be quite liberating and is a key to making change fruitful. Self-knowledge is always a wonderful thing. If we tend to feel suspicious of change, or resistant, we need to acknowledge that and find personalised ways to transform those feelings.personalised ways to transform those feelings.

One size will never fit all, however inconvenient that may seem. Responses and reactions can make or break what comes next. ‘Pause and reflect’ is useful advice.

How we deal with change impacts its sustainability. Leaders of change in schools need to be able to convey its necessity and successfully support teachers through each stage. If you’re feeling stranded or dumped on, this needs discussing.

Change as an organisation

Ultimately, though, we can be as calm and collected about change as we can possibly be, but there’s a real need for schools, as organisations, to perform effectively when change is implemented. This cannot simply be a matter of individual responsibility.

Dealing with change requires time. Simply adding to an already bloated workload serves only to stress.

Teachers should be warned, trained and prepared for impending change. Time must be set aside and the justifications for the change adequately conveyed to those affected. This is a minimum requirement in an organisation so dependent on the good will of its staff members.

Staying on top

The disempowerment felt by the friend in distress about the coming term can only be counter-productive.

If change is to be a success in your school, there are responsibilities to be met, not only by each member of staff but by your school as an organisation too. Enforced change is rarely effective.

Is it too much to ask that change occurs through collaboration, cooperation and mutual respect? 

Read more on coping with change in schools


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