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A good leader, therefore, must be capable of regulating distress by sequencing and pacing work required of change process. Unfortunately, this is not case in most change programme. Most leaders start new initiatives without stopping other activities or they start too many initiatives at same time. They overwhelm and disorient very people who need to take responsibility for work. (Heifetz & Laurie, 1997,p.180)
The people who are directly involved in a change programme have to be suitably trained to meet challenges. A good principal would ensure that staff’s potential is developed for many reasons. Firstly, if staffs are not trained well to undertake new responsibilities of initiative, programme will not be a success. Secondly, a principal who develops and empowers staff in concerned change programme will be more able to convince them to commit to it. By doing so, a principal can demonstrate leadership by sharing leadership with staff in school. Through empowering others, principal can also elevate his/her status and power. (Blasé, 1987)
A principal can also develop staff potential by opening up channels of communication within school. Setting up committees and encouraging peer learning could do this. External agencies with expertise in areas of change can also be consulted to help smoothen process of change.
A principal who is a people developer would benefit as “ solutions to adaptive challenges reside not in executive suite but in collective intelligence of employees at all levels.”(Heifetz & Laurie, 1997,p.173) Thus, by doing so, principal would have increased level of success of new initiative and also hearts of his/her followers.
The principal must constantly monitor process of a new school initiative. The initial enthusiasm that has been built up principal may wane due to lack of a good evaluation system .An effective evaluation system would allow principal to see flaws and to refine programme due to changing circumstances. A good evaluation system for a thinking programme would consist of classroom observations on teaching of thinking tools and feedback from those who are involved in change process. This includes teachers, pupils and their parents. This is important as constant feedback allows principal to refine programme due to changing circumstances. (Hargreaves, 1995)
To further enhance evaluative aspect of programme, principal could brainstorm with staff on criteria of what are considered to be desired outcomes of new initiatives. To be more specific, an effective change leader would spell out what are short and long-term desired results of programme and base evaluations on such targets. The evaluative process must be realistic and fair by including appropriate time frames for achieving them. This would calm down fears of teachers and to ensure that they would not resort to cosmetic measures in process of change.
A principal must also be self-reflective and be able to take criticism if programme is not moving according to plan. He or she must rely on teachers who are directly involved with pupils to give honest feedback. Though, this may raise questions of credibility of principal’s initial plans, a good head would allow subordinates to point them for further improvements to a new initiative. This is especially so if head is seeking to create a thinking and learning organisation.
An effective evaluation system would also be used to ensure continuing momentum of a change programme. Most change programmes may start out enthusiastically but they usually lose steam at end. The ability to maintain initial enthusiasm and commitment to vision is, thus, an important criterion of an effective principal. He or she must be able to recharge interest of teachers by constantly reminding them and encouraging them to achieve desired outcomes. In a thinking programme, a principal could hold monthly meetings to talk about progress and to share success stories of programme to maintain interest of teachers. If interest and enthusiasm of staff to initiatives can be maintained throughout, more change programmes will be successful in schools.
During process of writing this paper, author felt that certain issues should be addressed. One of main problems seems to lie in pacing of new initiatives introduced by Ministry of Education. Due to this, a principal is stretched for time and effort in juggling with new initiatives. This, as shown in case study, usually leads to other good school programmes going through a roller-coaster ride of enthusiasm. The principal would then resort to cosmetic efforts to convince parents, visitors and Ministry that a programme is in place as in this case study. The author hopes that this is just an isolated case but feels Ministry should really look into issue of whether principals are overloaded with projects in progress before launching into another initiative.
Another issue connected to above is need to improve evaluation and appraisal methods of principals by Ministry. At present, evaluation tends to be inaccurate, as Ministry does not really know inner workings of school. There should be a 360 degrees Feedback Survey whereby staff (especially teachers); pupils and parents are to evaluate effectiveness of principal in leading a programme. It may be considered time-consuming but it will ensure that principals do not adopt cosmetic measures to hide weaknesses of any new programmes. This also allows schools to be opened to ideas and suggestions for further refinements of programme. In this way, Ministry will have a more accurate picture whether initiatives that had been introduced are articulated in a proper manner.
The author reiterates that success of leading a change programme in schools is largely dependent on principal’s ability to influence perceptions of teachers. Trust, thus, is an important ingredient that has to be built up by principal, as principal-teachers relationship will have an impact on other future initiatives. The paper has also included a self-evaluation questionnaire (Appendix 3) for principals who are in process of leading a change programme in their schools. In closing, author wants to emphasise that in order to reap full benefits, a change programme should be nurtured and not enforced.
Dr.Alvin Chan is an Innovation Research Specialist in Asia. Currently, Dr. Chan is the Senior Research Consultant at First Quatermain Centre of Collaborative Innovation (www.firstquatermain.com).Please email Dr.Chan at firstname.lastname@example.org.