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Critiical Issue: Buiding a Committed Team Critical Issue: Leading and Managing Change and Improvement

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ISSUE: Managing school change and improvement is one of the most complex tasks of school leadership. As Fullan (1993), Sparks (1993), and others point out, school leaders need to understand the change process in order to lead and manage change and improvement efforts effectively. They must learn to overcome barriers and cope with the chaos that naturally exists during the complex process of change (Fullan & Miles, 1992).

Principals and other key school leaders should help teachers and other stakeholders build effective teams by developing new organizational structures and creating a shared vision that focuses on authentic student learning (Newmann, 1993; Maeroff, 1993). Such inspired and informed leadership is critical to the success of schools.

OVERVIEW: Successful school improvement requires establishing a clear educational vision and a shared institutional mission, knowing how well the school is accomplishing that mission, identifying areas for improvement, developing plans to change educational activities and programs, and implementing those plans or new programs effectively.

It is essential that leaders of school improvement link to others in the school and district and connect the school's goals to the broader and deeper mission of providing high-quality learning for all students. Leaders also must consider equity issues when developing and implementing change initiatives - asking themselves, for example, whether a proposed program will improve access to higher-order learning tasks for marginalized students.

For school improvement efforts to be successful, teachers, parents, community and business partners, administrators, and students must share leadership functions. Likewise, the principal's role must change from that of a top-down supervisor to a facilitator, architect, steward, instructional leader, coach, and strategic teacher (Senge, 1990).

Jerry Bamburg's PictureJerry Bamburg, Ph.D., professor and director of the Center of Effective Schools, University of Washington at Seattle, discusses the role of the principal in creating the collective vision of a school. (Audio comment, 255K.) Excerpted from the NCREL monograph, Raising Expectations to Improve Student Learning (NCREL, 1994), by Jerry Bamburg. A text transcript is available.

Leading successful change and improvement involves developing and managing six critical components of schooling: (1) a clear, strong, and collectively held educational vision and institutional mission; (2) a strong, committed professional community within the school; (3) learning environments that promote high standards for student achievement; (4) sustained professional development to improve learning; (5) successful partnerships with parents, health and human service agencies, businesses, universities, and other community organizations; and (6) a systematic planning and implementation process for instituting needed changes. Louis and Miles (1990), drawing on several case studies of urban high schools, emphasize the importance of planning: "Substantial change programs do not run themselves. They need active orchestration and coordination."




DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW: Fullan (1993) points out that the change process can be chaotic and that leaders should not expect always to be systematic in their efforts. While planned change - including organized assessment and problem solving - can be useful, leaders often need to be able to cope with more informal, turbulent, and spontaneous change.

Some educators disagree about the degree to which change should be top-down versus bottom-up (see Fullan, 1993). Most agree that successful change requires both top-down and bottom-up efforts, but the best mixture of pressure and support is difficult to determine.

Still other educators point out that school cultures are extremely difficult to change, and therefore schools should change the curriculum and instruction first. Such changes could reshape the existing school culture.


Piccolo Elementary School, Chicago, Illinois

Lincoln Elementary and Meadowlake High School

Hollibrook Elementary School, Houston, Texas

Audubon Elementary School, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Cherry Creek High School, Greenwood Village, Colorado


Accelerated Schools Project, CERAS 109, School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-3084, (415) 725-1676. Contact: Beth Keller, assistant director of communications, bkeller@leland.stanford .edu

ACE, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1250 N. Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA 22314, (703) 549-9110

California School Leadership Academy, 313 W. Winton Ave., Hayward, California 94544-1198, (510) 670-4569. Contact: Laraine Roberts,

Center for Creative Leadership, Dr. Linton Deck, Director, Education and Nonprofit Applications, One leadership Place, P.O. Box 26300, Greensboro, NC 27438-6300, (919) 288-7210

Center for Leadership in School Reform, 950 Breckenridge Lane, Suite 200, Louisville, Kentucky 40207, (502) 895-1942. Contact: Marty Vowels,

Coalition for Essential Schools, Dr. Ted Sizer, Director, Box 1938,Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, (401) 863-2847

ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management, University of Oregon, 1787 Agate Street, Eugene, OR 94703-5207, 503-346-5044, FAX: 503-346-2334, e-mail:

National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), 1615 Duke St. Alexandria, VA 22314-3483, 800-38-NAESP (62377), FAX: 800-39-NAESP (62377). Contact: Gail Gross

National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), 1904 Association Drive, Reston, VA 22091-1537, 703-860-0200, 800-253- 7746

National Center for Educational Leadership (NCEL), Harvard University School of Education, Harvard University, 6 Appian Way, 444 Gutman Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138, (617) 496-4809

National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST), Center for School Reform, Teachers College, Columbia University, 525 West 120th St., Box 110, New York, NY 10027, (212) 678-3432. Contact: Dr. Nancy Lauter,

National Staff Development Council (NSDC), P.O. Box 240, Oxford, OH 45056, (513) 523-6029; fax (513) 523-0638. Contact: Stephanie Hirsh. E-mail: WWW:

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1120 Diehl Road, Suite 200
Naperville, IL 60563-1486, (800) 356-2735 or (630) 649-6500, fax (630) 649-7600. Contact:

Onward to Excellence Program, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NWREL), 101 S. W. Main Street, Suite 500, Portland, OR 97204, (503) 275-9594

Peabody Educational Policy Center, Vanderbilt University, PO Box 317 GPC, Nashville, TN 37203 615-322-8424 or 615-322-7372, Director: Dr. James Guthry

Program for School Improvement, Lew Allen, director of outreach, College of Education, 124 Aderhold Hall, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, 706-542-2516, e-mail:

Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University, 222 Richmond St., Suite 300, Providence, RI 02903 (401) 274-9548 or (800) 521-9550, e-mail: Phil

Research for Better Schools, 444 N. Third Street, Philadelphia, PA 19123, (215) 574-9300, ext. 280 (RBS offers Looking at Schools, a publication including instruments to assess various aspects of school structures)

School Development Program, Yale Child Study Center, 230 South Frontage Rd., Box 3333, New Haven, CT 06510, (203) 785-5759. Contact: Cynthia Savo,

Vanderbilt International Institute for Principals, Vanderbilt University, Box 514-GPC, 205 Payne Hall, Nashville, TN 37203 (615) 322-8000. Contact: Philip Hallinger, director, hallingp@ctrvax.vand


Michael Fullan, Dean, School of Education, University of Toronto, 371 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Canada, M5S 2R7; (416) 978-3223, expert consultant on the change process. e-mail:

Susan Loucks-Horsley, writer, researcher and consultant on the change process. The Regional Laboratory for Educational Improvement of the Northeast and Islands, 300 Brickstone Square, Suite 900, Andover, MA 01810; 508-470-0098.


This Critical Issue summary was researched and written by Kent Peterson, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Date posted: 1995
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