Leading Organizational Change in American Schools Research Paper

Pages: 10 (3912 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 15  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Doctorate  ·  Topic: Leadership

Leading Organizational Change in America's K-12 Schools: A Literature Review

Creating positive changes in America's schools is a key responsibility of educational leaders. Researching best practices via the relevant scholarly literature can assist those seeking to manage and improve the learning environment in America's K-12 schools, in contributing to the creation of a thriving instructional atmosphere. By integrating the knowledge of 'what works best' into their curriculum planning and decision-making processes, educational leaders can help to bring about the positive changes that the American school system so critically needs.

Best Practices and Related Theories

Using various types of proven best practices will create a positive learning culture in which education for students (and teachers) becomes less of a chore and more of an adventure. For example, according to Brookfield (2005), the best types of instructional methods promote critical thinking, which is a skill that is needed throughout the life span. As such, the promotion of lifelong learning requires critical reflection on the part of the teacher as well as on the part of the student. Critical reflection is not merely an assessment tool, but it is also a way to promote best practices and ultimately, a positive learning environment.

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Applying best practices to create a positive learning culture also requires some application of theoretical concepts. For example, many teachers seek to motivate their students to learn by using what is known as a "constructive approach." This involves building on the students' past knowledge to create an ongoing learning cycle. The underlying philosophy of the constructive approach is that "the essence of learning is the constant effort to assimilate new information" (Webb, Mertha & Forbis, 2007, p. 217).

According to Webb et al. (2007) constructivism is based on the notion that building on the information that has been previously learned is the best way to facilitate learning. They believe, as many educational leaders do, that application of this theory in the classroom can improve the lifelong learning process by promoting the 'building blocks' approach to knowledge that favors understanding over mere memorization.

TOPIC: Research Paper on Leading Organizational Change in American Schools Assignment

Constructivism is just one example of a theoretical concept that teachers can apply to their classrooms. However it is one of the most established and validated educational theories, and therefore definitely warrants the status of a 'best practice'. This is because, firstly, in order truly learn the materials (as opposed to merely memorizing them), students must be involved in interesting, interactive and applicable activities. Secondly, instruction methods and materials must be tailored to meet the unique needs of the students. Constructivism is applicable to both these beliefs because constructivism presumes that the learning process requires the active processing of information, and that this will in turn lead to the construction of true understanding rather than simply the gaining of information (Webb et al., 2007).

In regard to specific approaches to classroom instruction, research shows that the following objectives will help to guide the process successfully:

1) To identify essential instructional knowledge, skills and attitudes to improve student achievement (Keyes at al., 2003).

2) To introduce students to an array of instructional tools that will meet their diverse needs, build upon their current knowledge, integrate technology and promote critical reflection (Raban, 2001).

3) To design and implement an assessment process that reflects the diversity of student learning and also allows teachers to evaluate and re-evaluate the effectiveness of their model and methods (Sadker & Zittleman, 2007).

4) To improve content instruction by tailoring decisions to meet individual student needs and to maximize enthusiasm for the learning process (Keyes at al., 2003).

It is important to remember that schools do not operate in a vacuum. There are many stakeholders involved, including not only the students and teachers, but also their parents and the wider community (Cooper, et al., 2004). According to Keys, Sharp, Greene, and Grayson (2003) the demands of teachers in the 21st century are becoming increasingly complex. These demands are not being met due to a host of unresolved problems that include: "poor management, budget deficits, unsatisfactory buildings, staffing problems, low levels of pupil attainment on entry, behavior management problems, high rates of pupil exclusion and unauthorized absence, low levels of parental involvement, falling rolls and high pupil turnover, and lack of public confidence in the school" (p. 2). It is the educational leader's responsibility to help reverse these trends and mindsets.

Implementing Change and Overcoming Resistance

Once best practices have been identified, educational leaders are then faced with the challenge of implementing change with the minimal amount of disruption or resistance. Barriers to implementing ideas and change have tended to reflect such things as a lack of adequate resources to implement ideas (Sadker & Zittleman, 2007), a lack of commitment and motivation in those required to implement ideas (Gilley, McMillan & Gilley, 2009), resistance to unfamiliarity (Kotter, 2010), communication and procedural obstacles (Clifton, 2006), perceived risk associated with implementing ideas (Roby, 2009), and political undercurrents generating lack of cooperation in the organization (Bolman & Deal, 2008). The important thing is to uncover what resistance is likely to arise and what the reasons for the resistance are likely to be. With this information the educational organization can look for ways of implementing ideas so that the resistance encountered can be reduced.

John Kotter (2010) developed an eight-stage model regarding how to successfully manage change:

1. Communicate a sense of urgency.

2. Create a vision.

3. Communicate the vision.

4. Form a powerful coalition.

5. Empower others to act.

6. Plan short-term wins.

7. Consolidate change.

8. Institutionalize new approaches (Kotter, 2010).

Kotter (1996) reports that such a model is necessary because most organizations fail to properly introduce and manage change early on, which creates a snowball effect that makes change increasingly difficult to manage as time progresses. By creating a sense of urgency, Kotter asserts, people will be sure to take the change seriously. Effective communication is especially critical.

In every organization, there are certain dynamics that influence the organizational culture in either a productive or a non-productive manner. It is ultimately the leaders' job to assess and understand those dynamics so that they can be channeled in a positive direction (Gilley, McMillan & Gilley, 2009). Most experts agree that the manner of communication used between leaders and subordinates has an extremely powerful influence on the organizational culture, the morale of employees and the overall success of the organization (Bolman & Deal, 2008).

According to Madlock (2008), "in order for leaders to persuade people to follow their vision, they need to communicate effectively by appealing to the interests of the followers. In that competent communicators must employ communicative resources such as language, gestures, and voice" (p. 63). This means that there is an art to effective communication; it is not just about telling people what to do and having them do it. Communication is about negotiating, it is about listening, it is about persuading with charisma and it is about reciprocal, two-way, open lines of dialogue (Bolman & Deal, 2008).

Of course, communication, even when done properly, can evoke conflict -- especially if in a situation in which people are resistant to new ideas, programs or processes. Managing conflict can be particularly challenging for leaders in times of change. This is due to the natural resistance people have to change based on their fear of the unknown or unfamiliar (Billsberry, 2009). Therefore, effective communication is essential for decreasing the anxieties that can come from a lack of information or misinformation. If leaders do not communicate charismatically and openly with their staff members, especially when major changes are about to occur, the organizational culture will weaken (Grint, 2005).

Applicable Models of Leadership

Principle-Centered Leadership

One way to avoid the weakening of the organizational culture in the American school system is to employ Stephen Covey's model of "Principle-Centered Leadership." This model is based on three primary concepts. The first as that leadership principles are not able to be forfeited; they are enduring and permanent. The second is that the desire for personal growth is paramount. Finally, the third is that leadership principles are the key to effective organizational management. The principles that Covey is referring to in each of these concepts are described as follows: "Principles are self-evident, self-validating natural laws. They don't change or shift...Principles apply at all times in all places. They surface in the form of values, ideas, norms, and teachings that uplift, ennoble, fulfill, empower, and inspire people. Principles, unlike values, are objective and eternal" (p. 69). This sense of permanence adds a feeling of stability to the often tumultuous change process.

Without a sense of enduring principles, conflict can occur not only between individuals and groups, but within themselves. This occurs when their expected role is not in alignment with their perceived role. For example, a leader may perceive her role as telling everyone exactly what to do, how to do it and when to do it. However, his expected role is not actually that of a micromanager but as a transformational leader who expects his… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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