This final activity is about change management in education. It does however, beg the question why change at all? For example, when I presented plans for introducing AI to assist teachers with the more laborious tasks, such as differentiation, setting summative tests and homework, which are internal drivers for change. Some senior managers were reluctant to take on such commitments to changing the core way teachers operated.
Senior managers evidenced examination results in the GCSEs’ and A Levels for 2021 which were the best the group had yet seen. So, why upset the apple cart? Things are great the way they are. They had a point.
My response to this is, as educators, we have a responsibility to improve practise continually, making the best use of innovations when they arise in order to drive excellence. I believe this to be true because of the overwhelming evidence that prosperity is linked to a well-educated workforce (Berger, Fishera, 2013). Research indicates that economic success is directly related to the state’s investment in education. The number one tool a government has to building strong, sustained economic growth is the investment in high-quality education.
Economists identify three factors that lead to growth based on increased productivity:
- The first is capital deepening; using equipment that is more productive than earlier versions.
- Second is higher quality labour; a more knowledgeable workforce that is more productive.
- Third is technological innovation—the creation, distribution, and use of new knowledge.
These three productivity factors should serve as the basis for connecting education policy with economic development (Toner, 2011).
There is another more practical reason; the evolving needs of stakeholders (Brown, Eisenhardt; 2007), an external driver for change. Our groups competitors are employing and marketing AI, machine learning and online learning as a unique core resource that gives them competitive advantage (Johnson et al., 2008). As Gerry Johnson, Kevan Scholes and Richard Whittington point out, “Growth is not optional”.
Therefore, growth which requires change is essential. That begs a second question; how best to action change?
In the paper, ‘Successful Change management’, Oakland and Tanner state that key drivers for operational and strategic change are dependent on the link between objectives and improvements via core processes (Oakland, Tanner; 2007). These factors are, in turn, at the mercy of the actor’s readiness to change and their ability to action change effectively. Oakland and Tanner make the pertinent point that fully resonates with my experience. This is the tenure of CEOs, in fact all teaching staff in private international schools in China. Most teaching staff stay for just two years. Senior managers have an average of four years. Some leave almost as soon as they arrive. Such are the nuances of working in China. Tenure is also highlighted as a problem by Chadwick and Kew-Fickus (2017) especially when senior managers have spent most of their professional life as a teacher in a stable environment. The lack of experience in leading complex organisations along with the “transitory nature of senior management” can inculcate disjointed long-term purposeful planning.
A lack of longevity absolutely impacts on future planning. When considering technology upgrades, a five-year plan is required. If senior managers cannot see through system upgrades, they are far less likely to devote time and energy to working toward implementation. The same could be said for the teaching staff, who can take a less than professional attitude to any disruptive CPD that they believe will not benefit them with their future employer. There is no planning for the replacement of key players and that has affected the capacity to execute change. It has been my experience that because of a lack of vision, leadership from the top and an aggressive plan that dedicates the appropriate resources, our group has stumbled with the mission goal of implementing fit for purpose educational technology change.
As I wrote in my previous blog post, “Moving Beyond Enhancing Pedagogies; Frames of Reference”, leadership has a key role to play in pushing through change (Kotler 1995), (Senge, 1999), (Beer, Nohria, 2000).
Oakland and Tanner highlight four key drivers for change. The first being the leadership. The second being able to identify and define change. The third being how leaders coerce employees to embrace change, and the fourth being the use of external consultants to provide expertise.
I touched upon this fourth driver for change in the blog post, ‘Emerging Technologies and Implementation Issues’. The organisation I worked for in Brazil made full use of outside consultants. They were invaluable, although not always popular, in driving a culture of change. No one could question their expertise or their authority. They challenged staff constantly with theories that were difficult to internalise and integrate into teachers’ practise. The key to this strategy’s success was consistency. Consultants were used regularly and had the full backing of the owners, who were always present at the CPD sessions. This was critical to success and is echoed by Oakland and Tanner; (2007), when they say that management has to show “visible participation” for projects to be executed to the full. Their research identified costs as the defining factor in managers’ priorities. I think this assumption depends on what type of cost is at issue. The AI programs I have mentioned are not expensive and can easily be covered by the student’s manipulative allocation expense.
How the school managers within our group assess the success of change mirrors Oakland and Tanner’s findings in that there was a lack of focus, defined goals, and communication. This I felt to be particularly relevant in measuring the impact of Learning Management Systems and the efficacy teachers showed. This system’s introduction was a top-down development not supported bottom-up (Petko, Egger, Cantieni, Wespi; 2015). Hence, this program was, “Just seen as an add-on, creating more stress and the need to work extra hours” (Van Oel, 2007, p. 29). Johnson et al. (2020), demonstrate that strategies which are solely from the top-down can become somewhat detached from the circumstances of the situation.
Research by Petko, Egger, Cantieni, Wespi (2015) indicates that the success of change projects are dependent on a mixture of both top-down and bottom-up strategies (Fullan, 1994). The reality from my experience with this group of schools in China is that the LMS strategy was top-down authority driven with few of the benefits that process should deliver, such as funding and leadership. I feel senior managers believed their top-down initiative would instigate bottom-up responses, but this failed to materialise because of managers’ unwillingness to be seen to be driving the change.
In conclusion, when comparing my experience with the change framework proposed by Oakland and Tanner’s (2007) and taking into consideration the research by Petko, Egger, Cantieni, Wespi (2015), I would question the readiness for change the group of schools I work for has. I lean toward the view that senior managers have rushed to implement a confused program driven by external factors they do not fully understand. Therefore, initial enthusiasm has dissipated in line with senior managers’ visibility. As Oakland and Tanner (2007) conclude, the attitudes of staff to deliver change stem from, “beliefs and values, both of which are management’s responsibility to influence” and that “world class organisations require…world class leadership and commitment”. In my experience both statements are a truism there is no getting away from.
- Beer, M. & Nohria, N. (2000a) Breaking the Code of Change (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press).
- Beer, M. & Nohria, N. (2000b) Cracking the code of change, Harvard Business Review, 78, pp. 133–142.
- Berger N, Fishera P, (2013) WELL-EDUCATED WORKFORCE IS KEY TO STATE PROSPERITY. OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry (STI).
- Brown, S. L. & Eisenhardt, K. M. (1998) Competing on the Edge (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press).
- Chadwick S, Kew-Fickus O (2017),The planning cycle; A strategic conversation.
- Fullan, M. G. (1994). Coordinating top-down and bottom-up strategies for educational reform. Retrieved from http://www.michaelfullan.ca/media/13396035630.pdf.
- Futurelabs: Digital literacy across the curriculum. Cassie Hague and Sarah Payton 2010.
- Johnson et al, Exploring Corporate Strategy (2008).
- Gerry Johnson, Richard Whittington, Patrick Regnér, Duncan Angwin, Kevan Scholes, (2020); Exploring Strategy, Text and Cases, 12th Edition.
- Kotter John; 4 CHANGE PRINCIPLES: https://www.kotterinc.com/4-change-principles/
- Kotter, J. P. (1995) Leading change: why transformation efforts fail, Harvard Business Review.
- Oakland J. S, Tanner Stephen (2007); Successful Change Management.
- Petko Dominik, Egger Nives, Cantieni Andrea, Wespi Barbara (2015); Digital media adoption in schools: Bottom-up, top-down, complementary or optional?
- Senge, P. M. et al. (1999) The Dance of Change (London: Nicholas Brealey).
- Toner P (2011); WORKFORCE SKILLS AND INNOVATION: AN OVERVIEW OF MAJOR THEMES IN THE LITERATURE.
- UNESCO ICT Competency Framework for Teachers: https://www.oercommons.org/hubs/UNESCO
Van Oel, B. J. (2007). Steps: Study of the impact of technology in primary schools (final report. Part 5: Analysis of the good practices and case studies). Retrieved from http://steps.eun.org.