Research School Network: How Not to Implement Change By Tom Salomonson, ELE Charles Dickens Research School & Assistant Head, Dulwich Hamlet Junior School


How Not to Implement Change

By Tom Salomonson, ELE Charles Dickens Research School & Assistant Head, Dulwich Hamlet Junior School

by London South Research School
on the

Teachers are a reflective bunch, hardwired to constantly evolve their practice. Many crave the next new hit’ technique which might offer a marginal gain in learning. And schools, being run by teachers, reflect this character in their make-up: they are in a state of flux, constantly striving for improvement.

But the problem is that managing change in your classroom and managing change in an organisation are wildly different. In fact, managing organisational change may be the most challenging task a leader will face.

The EEF guidance report on Implementation
brought to mind a litany of failed initiatives. I hope, by sharing my errors, you might be be spared my blushes.

No problem, I’ll do a staff meeting”

I dread to think how many times has been my answer to a problem:

Observed that children lack fluency with mathematical vocabulary? Do a staff meeting.
Noticed that teacher assessment isn’t fit for purpose? Do a staff meeting.
An EEF guidance report has highlighted significant problems with your use of Teaching Assistants. Erm… Staff Meeting?

Now, I’m not saying that Staff Meetings are not part of the solution. Of course, they can and should be. But it’s the knee jerk see a problem, fix it’ response which perhaps we need to move past. What the EEF guidance highlights is the importance of treating change as a process not a one-off event.

Right plant in the wrong soil

As a novice middle leader, after a hard day’s work, I would often spend a bit of wind down time doom-scrolling EduTwitter. 140 characters can lend itself to hyperbole and occasionally, I would try to implement the shiny new change that everyone is talking about” the very next day. My poor team.

The EEF use the gardening analogy. In this analogy, the plant is the change you want to implement. Some time will need to be spent planting, watering and providing on-going care like pruning and these equate to the launch, delivery and sustain phases of your project. However, for your plant to grow successfully much more time will need to be spent on preparing the soil and exploring which plants would work best. Typically, schools undervalue the preparation phase of the process. For effective change to occur, a period of careful reflection is necessary, looking at evidence and evaluating potential solutions in a systematic way.

A lack of preparation

As an (overly) enthusiastic middle leader, I was implementing team wide change at an alarming rate. Many of the initiatives were successful and have since become whole school practice. However, on reflection, many of these were deviations from the strategic plan laid out by senior leaders.

It is incumbent on senior leaders to channel the energies of their team. This should be done by instigating working parties for change, utilising enthusiastic staff members as key drivers of change and encouraging staff who are keen to make changes to run trials with pre-agreed impact measures.

Practice that morphs

My introduction of retrieval practice in maths was initially successful. The foundations for change were in place, lots of time had been spent in the explore phase, preparations had been careful and deliberate with a scale up strategy built in and, after successful delivery, I entered the sustaining’ stage with confidence.

However, the initial modelled intervention (5‑a-day) morphed, sometimes losing sight of the core purpose. Some began to use it to teach new content; others spent too long drawing out answers using questioning; whilst in one class, it became an opportunity for pupils to discuss rather than engage in recall.

I had failed to clearly articulate the active ingredients.’ What parts of 5‑a-day were tight’ and should not be altered and what elements were loose’ and open to teacher interpretation.

Ticking the metaphorical box

Now your delivery is done, sit back and reap the rewards… if only.

School leaders can struggle to find time for older initiatives. Although the time you need to devote to a project reduces over time, your attention is usually required for some time afterwards. I wish the former me had used two key tools here. Firstly, de-implementation. When convinced you have identified the correct solution to the most important problem then what else can you stop doing to make space? The second tool is a simple planning document. At the start of each term, I consider priorities from our SDP for which I have responsibility. I then place them on the quadrant diagram below. Each week, I assign my priorities for the week and I have found that this prompts me to be more active with older’ priorities.

We are now much closer to a whole school effective change ethos, though I doubt I’m completely done with the mistakes.


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