Leading change in your school

Written by: Martin Matthews | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock
This is an interesting article with useful ideas. I would suggest that it's worth referencing ...

Posted by: ,

When an area of school life needs to be reviewed, refreshed and changed, it can sometimes be difficult to convince colleagues. Martin Matthews offers his advice on leading change

Barry leaned back in his chair and twiddled his moustache: “I don’t like change,” he said. “I’ve done this rubbish before back in the 80s – same old stuff – I ain’t doin’ it again now.”

The assistant headteacher leading the session stopped for a moment as she heard his grumble. We were back in the hall on an INSET day. I’ve often considered that the hardest group of people to teach is not bottom set year 9 last thing on a Friday, but rather a group of teachers.

A group of teachers is often harder to lead when, despite having a stack of marking to do alongside a pile of various admin tasks, they have found themselves sitting on uncomfortable chairs in a drafty school hall, again, faced with a fantastic new initiative that (at that moment) feels like just something else to add to the to-do list.

Teacher workload is a topic that has long been discussed and reflected on. It seems that workload grows year-on-year. So trying to support creativity and implement change could seem to be an ever more arduous task for middle and senior leaders.

Barry might not like change, but even for those that do like it, or are at least willing to try to engage in something new, how do they find the time to change, and most importantly how might you lead and embed that change?

What follows are some lessons and ideas that I have both picked up and used when leading change in schools. The points I outline are by no way definitive – there are lots of different models out there to explore. These are just some notions that have worked for me, even with Barry (eventually).

Highlighting a problem/area of concern

The first task is to develop a sense of concern or, as it is sometimes referred to, “urgency” around an issue that you want to address, change or develop. This effectively means ensuring that colleagues see the need for change.

You will need to set out clearly the reasons behind the need to change something in school. Is it based on data? Ofsted feedback? Student attendance? Or some other driving factor?

Where has the area of urgency come from? Department appraisal targets? Whole-school development aims? A gut feeling about something you believe will work and make a positive contribution to your school?

And where will this area of focus be presented and a sense of “urgency” generated? Staff meetings? Briefings? Elsewhere?

If it is a whole-school issue, it is important that it is discussed at whole-school level and colleagues are aware of the issue. Remember, if you want people to follow you, it is good for them to know where you are going and why.

Creating a guiding coalition

Once the issue is “out there”, it is useful to get a group of people together to act as a “guiding coalition”.

This could come in the form of a working party that undertakes research into the selected issue. The working party could be volunteers – to get volunteers at this stage is a positive step, as you can be pretty sure that they are at least interested in your idea.

A guiding coalition could be a group of “experts” that you know the school already have in relation to the area you want to change. If you’re looking at overhauling your homework system for example, perhaps the history team are already trailblazers in this field and you decide to enlist their help.

It is good to have a group of people on board who already see the need for the change you want to implement before you try to convince the rest of your colleagues. This group will ultimately “guide” the rest of your colleagues in the direction that you believe the school and/or focused issue needs to go in.

The working party should come up with ideas as a team and then this can lead into the development of your vision. Tasks can be delegated within the group – perhaps some people will undertake research, others might be given other tasks to complete such as pupil voice, lesson observations or whatever it is that you deem appropriate for your chosen area of focus.

Develop a vision and approach

Vision is a buzz-word permeating education. Apparently we all need it. So, if you’re going to deliver change you will need a vision. But it does make sense.

So to create your vision, make it clear and concise. What is the urgency behind the change? Why does the change need to take place? What will change look like? What will an improved situation look like?

Perhaps involve your guiding coalition in the development of the vision. It doesn’t all have to come from you.

If it is relevant, it could be that your vision is shared with other stakeholders first to get some feedback – for example, with curriculum leaders, pastoral leaders or sometimes even the whole staff. Colleagues might be able to input into your vision. It would be worth considering whether other stakeholders need to be involved at this stage, such as governors, parents and the students.

Furthermore, do you need to develop any new documents? Policy documents for the staff handbook, school website or department handbook? Posters for classrooms outlining new rules/approaches to homework, behaviour or queueing up for lunch? New detention slips to be used as part of your new behaviour policy?

And will colleagues need additional training or CPD? If so, who will deliver this? When will this training take place and how will it be costed?

Communicate the vision

Once you have created the vision, make sure you have the forum to present it – perhaps on an INSET day, or maybe during a staff briefing.

Consider, too, how you will deliver the presentation. How many INSET sessions have you sat through that you did not engage with? What makes an interesting and engaging presentation that might make people take notice? Can you get your colleagues to do something, rather than just asking them to listen in this session?

Follow up your presentation in writing so everyone has a copy of the vision and you have evidence you sent it to them. If you do have any new policy documents or procedural documents at this stage, it would be useful to distribute these now.

Devolve power/empower others

This next step will depend on how big the project you are trying to deliver is. However, it is important that you devolve power and/or empower others. This is imperative in terms of getting the vision/change implemented.

So, do you need to enlist the support of curriculum leaders, or pastoral leaders? Do you need to empower classroom teachers within your department?

If your vision links to the setting of homework in a new system, for example, it would be useful to empower curriculum leaders to help to ensure that the policy is implemented in each department, otherwise it will be a lot of colleagues for you to monitor and support.

If your vision is linked to a new pastoral monitoring system, then year leaders are important to empower in order to help to support and guide form tutors. The success of this stage comes back to your vision and how clear you were in the first place.

Short-term wins

You can’t do it all at once and you can’t change things overnight. Barry might need a bit more time. So decide: what might your short-term wins look like? Is it growing your guiding coalition? Will it be targeted certain departments to get on board quicker than others? Will it be students appreciating the change?

Whatever they are, it is important that you celebrate these wins. Make sure you thank colleagues for their support and efforts. Make sure you highlight the positive contribution the change is making.

Consolidate gains, further change

Make sure you consolidate the achievements you have made. This could be a key moment when things could slip. There still needs to be a sense of “urgency”, so don’t let the importance of your point of change disappear into a plethora of other initiatives and school development points.

Do you need to speak again at the next staff meeting – even if you have to take the graveyard shift after the lecture on data, the debate about the new bins on the school field, and whether the new school uniform should have a pattern on the blazer...

Do you need to undertake some staff voice, pupil voice or ask parents what they think about the developments you have made?

Embed change in the culture of the school

The change you wanted seems to be taking hold. The final stage of embedding change is often easier said than done. Various sources will tell you different things, but it takes roughly a month to embed change and create new habits. It is important that you continue to empower people to continue to implement change, both during and after this period.

  • How do you support the curriculum leaders or year leaders to support you in the embedding of change?
  • Do they need further guidance, some additional training or CPD, or perhaps support with a colleague who doesn’t want to change a working practice?
  • How might you hold people to account?
  • How will you and colleagues support people who are not engaging or finding it difficult?


Change shouldn’t be a negative word in education. However, I am certain that many teachers feel that there is so much change happening that it is hard to keep up. Even with the best will in the world, it is difficult for colleagues to accept and embed too much change when their plates are so full – and we must remember and respect this.

Your colleagues are working hard on day-to-day tasks – don’t expect too much too quickly. I would argue that people like Barry are created through too many initiatives and changes that do not stick, are not sufficiently justified in terms of student outcomes, and are quickly lost at the sight of another new and improved idea. This creates cynicism towards “change”.

So, if you are going to make a change, ask yourself whether this change is going to have a positive impact on students. If you can show that the answer is yes, then you can have the conviction to see it through and bring your colleagues with you.

  • Martin Matthews is an experienced secondary school teacher in Cheshire. Read his previous articles for SecEd at http://bit.ly/2Fi0G15

This is an interesting article with useful ideas. I would suggest that it's worth referencing Kotter's model of change as it this list is so similar to his own? I know it's not an academic piece but do think that when drawing so much on a particular source that it's good practice to reference it.
Posted By: ,

Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin