The Learning Renaissance

Transformational Change: From Random School Initiative to Capacity Building and Whole-School Cultural Development



An initiative is needed in your school.

It might be needed to plug a deficiency identified internally, or, more alarmingly, in response to a critical report.

Most usually the desired outcome will be the focus of how you constitute a team to address the issue. The hierarchical nature of schools will probably mean that the heading for the initiative will fall in the in-tray of a particular senior manager. The need for urgent action will require the senior leader, and anyone delegated to a working party, immediately begin work on a report, an action plan and a timeline for implementation.

This is the recipe for a number of undesired outcomes to occur. The reason for this is that the outcome of such an approach becomes so much more important than the process for structuring the approach and the desired actions.

It ever there was a metaphor for the In-School Performance Variations we see in schools, this approach is it. Using this top-down methodology, we ensure that each ‘initiative’ or ‘project’ or Action-Plan’ is unique and does not dovetail with any other initiatives currently being run, previously completed, or contemplated for the future. This is the very definition of initiative overload.

It gets worse. A plan left to the devices of an individual senior leader will bear all his or her idiosyncrasies. Generally, they will look for the easiest way, in the shortest time and with the least results to achieve a given aim. For the individual teacher, supposedly implementing the result of the initiatives, their task is like constructing a mosaic in which there are no common shapes and colours and each piece is unique.

Senior Leader A is autocratic and requires no other participating voices in his team… he is mistakenly thinking that such ‘go-getting decisiveness’ is precisely what is required for his next step up into headship.

Senior Leader B will go with the flow until people come round to her way of thinking. She thinks she is being collaborative, but she is not. Neither is she efficient or effective.

As the senior leader ‘owns the project’ there is little room for team members to learn from the leader or develop their own skills. If anything, they should not be learning anything from the two above approaches, other than to do better in developing their teams when they get to a leadership position.

Of course, you may take the view that this in no way represents the paucity of change management strategies in your school. In which case, refer me to your whole school change management protocol, together with the structure of decisions made on recent initiatives and the supporting evidence which justified the decisions made. I’m not asking for the world here, in fact, no more than an external quality control/assurance body would want to see to satisfy themselves that the school was compliant with major legislation and had the capacity to improve within the team.

In my books, Future Proof Your School and Re-examining Success, the inconsistent approach to change management and staff development was overwhelmingly the top reason that schools failed to thrive, and staff became disillusioned. All that expertise was wasted, and all that management and leadership energy dissipated.

There has to be a better way.

Whatever your school’s current status, high flier, or struggling and difficult to move, every school will benefit from a more considered, consistent, inclusive approach to project management and staff development within projects.

Considered means that time is spent constituting the project effectively to ensure the most appropriate aims and objectives are secured for the time and resources available and that valuable cross-references are made to the experience and insights of previous projects/initiatives. A considered approach means that the most appropriate staff are co-opted to bring their own expertise to the process.

Consistency means that all staff develop a change management language and techniques which are the bricks and mortar of every project. This ensures that approaches, expertise and insights transfer seamlessly from one project to the next and a library of successful implementations can be accessed.

Inclusive means that the duty of the school to include and develop the leadership expertise of every staff member is properly addressed. Having a common approach to ‘how we plan things in our school’ means that there is a ladder of professional development available to all staff to service their development needs. This also ensures that there is a single language of project management and capacity building that pervades the whole school, and the influence of individual personalities does not jeopardise the development process.

In my current research on developing a project management course for students, I have found a way to achieve all the positive elements of a considered, consistent and inclusive approach to project planning, capacity building and cultural change which can be implemented in any school, irrespective of phase, context or culture.

This will:

  • Encourage evidence-based judgements.
  • Increase analysis and diagnostic skills.
  • Strengthen strategic thinking and planning.

If you are interested in hearing more about how your school can benefit from this approach, please contact me:



About educationalist04

I'm convinced we can, as a species, do much better than this if we set our minds to being much more positive and productive towards our fellow humans. The solution is learning - creating independent and autonomous learners who can problem solve, innovate and create a better more equitable and sustainable world. My books, Future Proof Your School and Re-Examining Success together with this blog, explore how better learning outcomes for all can be achieved.

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