How do we bring about change?
Being a subject leader or curriculum coordinator is a tough job that doesn’t always grab the headlines but it represents a significant challenge especially when implementing change.
A subject coordinator needs support and cooperation from colleagues in order to ensure continuity and consistency across the school. In an ideal world, this coordination runs slickly but collaboration and cooperation are far from guaranteed and it is not uncommon to meet with a fair amount of resistance and conflict.
Subject coordinators working in a collegial organisation aren’t necessarily going to get a smooth ride from colleagues because challenge is what teachers are good at. Challenge is healthy and any new initiative or idea needs debating and discussing and everyone accepts that.
But what happens if you work in a school where the staff are on their knees, depleted and running on empty? Coordination feels like a battle.
Schools are learning communities and many are positively buzzing with support but even in the happiest of schools you will encounter conflict and some of it unpleasant. This is no surprise as feelings can often get in the way and tired, frustrated and overworked staff get tetchy. Some schools have to cope with more than their fair share of petty battles and interpersonal conflicts which makes a subject leaders job ‘challenging’.
The ‘C’ words
In order to manage and ideally avoid unnecessary conflicts, it is useful to have in mind some ‘c’ words as these can guide our responses and positively contribute towards healthy working relationships. These are: consensus, consent and compromise.
Myth: you need consensus to move forward as a school.
Reality: No you don’t.
Achieving a consensus across a school is unusual. There won’t be many aspects of school life where everyone agrees so thinking that you need a solid vote and unity is a bit of a pipe dream.
If you want to introduce a new idea or change a policy then don’t expect agreement but expect a few spikes and scratches. If you get consensus, wonderful, just make sure you are sitting down.
If there is something that is going to move a school forward then it is consent. Establishing acquiescence is extremely important and subject leaders have to display remarkable powers of persuasion to encourage staff to agree to what is being proposed.
This involves spending time working with individuals one-to-one, small groups, year groups, key stage teams and the whole staff and convincing them to give something a go.
The challenge of achieving consent is to move the ‘stick in the muds’ from not wanting to do something to eventually singing and dancing about it. Concord and concur are the other ‘c’ words to be aware of.
In all likelihood you won’t necessarily get consent without a bit of give and take and this is where compromise is important. Securing whole-school agreements means that you may have to tweak your approach, adjust your proposal or shift your time scales.
The aim is to get a working agreement because without this there won’t be progress. Building consent means a lot of negotiation, not giving in and creating something that can work for everyone.
What to do
The ‘c’ words can help you contextualise any initiatives, policies, plans and proposals you are keen to share but what else can you do?
There are some more ‘c’ words to help us:
The first phase of introducing any change, big or small, is to explain why it is important for the change to occur and the intended benefits. This needs a ‘handle with care’ approach and there should be adequate opportunities for colleagues to voice their concerns and contribute their thoughts, views and opinions.
Ideas might meet some initial scepticism because they lack detail so don’t assume that your colleagues will understand your ideas without further unpacking and explanation. Aim to explain as clearly as possible what you are suggesting and take time to do this informally.
Missing out on this stage and you will damage the change process before it has even properly begun
2. Cloud spotting
Listen for the rumbles. Be alert to the opposition and look for the rain clouds by spotting which members of staff aren’t keen. Listen to their worries and concerns and learn more why people aren’t happy to consent.
You are not alone and you shouldn’t be expected to take all the flak. Your head teacher, deputy and governors are there to help so use them as sounding boards, get their advice and count on their support. Lone ranger subject leadership is long gone so ask committed colleagues to talk to the doubters as well.
Staff meetings can be daunting if you meet any opposition but come from a position of what you can give to the school. Consider calling in expertise to help staff with curricular changes or using new approaches. Call for reinforcements and share the meeting with senior leaders.
Collaboration is key so having a pilot group of colleagues to test changes before they are fully embedded is an effective way to ensure that more staff ‘buy in’ to what is happening and why.
Change is typically best received when it is applied in bite sized chunks. Most change can be broken down into stages that can be reviewed along the way.
7. Calculate and compute
Vigilant monitoring of the entire change process is vital in order to be able to measure its impact and evaluate its success. Colleagues need to be kept up-to-date about how things are progressing, the results that are happening and whether the change programme has met its objectives.
It is important that staff understand whether the change has had the desired effects on pupil learning and what is to be done if further work is needed.
Chop And Change
Subject leadership is not for the faint-hearted but it does provide some golden opportunities to develop personal relationship skills and build on your knowledge and understanding of human resources.
The hardest part of being a subject leader is working with fixed or dubious colleagues who don’t want to budge. Consensus is unlikely but consent can come through compromise and a working formula can be achieved but only through a lot of hard work, tact and diplomacy. It’s the ideal training ground for senior management.
The key is to encourage others to support a decision that is in the best interests of the whole and to avoid at all costs personalising any issues otherwise it turns into a them and us or you and them scenario.