This blog post has been adapted from a previous blog post from 2018 written by the founder of Sevenstar, Dr. R. Mark Beadle. Due to the the wideranging changes that many schools are facing today, this topic continues to be relevent in the field of Christian Education.
We live in an era of exponential change, and with every change comes an element of friction. Christian schools need strong leaders to meet changing expectations, manage new technologies, and confront elements of culture that conflict with a biblical worldview—all within a finite budget. It is not hard to convince leaders of these facts. It is also important to affirm that some things should never change at a Christian school.
Formulating a solution to existing and emerging challenges is one of the most important job functions of school leaders.
I have had the pleasure of meeting with hundreds of Christian school administrators this year at conferences and on their campuses. Our conversations often lead to discussions of their biggest challenges, and I sometimes share advice on how to make positive changes.
So, what are some of the “challenges” Christian schools are facing? Here are just a few:
- Changes in Expectations
- Parents seem to want it all, but often are not able or willing to afford it.
- Teachers and parents alike identify technology skill development as an important workforce skill, yet most are concerned about too much screen time that could lead to unproductive technology use, poor health, and time-wasting habits.
- Project-based learning, soft-skill development, entrepreneurship, and collaborative group work are needed to prepare students for the jobs of the future.
- Changes in Technology
- Changes in Moral Beliefs
Formulating a solution to existing and emerging challenges is one of the most important job functions of school leaders. One powerful component of effective leadership that I often recommend is described by Michael Fullan in his book Leading in a Culture of Change. Fullan asserts that you cannot be effective without moral purpose, and that being guided by moral purpose is more important than ever for leaders in complex times. According to Fullan, having a moral purpose means “acting with the intention of making a positive difference in the lives of employees, customers, and society as a whole.” (Fullan, 3).
We know, as Christians, that real success only comes when we broaden this idea of moral purpose to include it being guided by God’s purposes. We must let the Holy Spirit guide us and walk with Him, not ahead of Him. We can then look back and see how He has used us and give Him glory. Thus, I include Fullan’s idea of moral purpose under the umbrella of God’s purposes.
Too many heads of school experience trauma partly as a result of understanding that change is needed, but then going about it the wrong way.
However, as Fullan also warns leaders, “Moral purpose without an understanding of change will lead to moral martyrdom.” (Fullan, 4) Too many heads of school experience trauma partly as a result of understanding that change is needed, but then going about it the wrong way. School leaders should learn at least one of the many good frameworks for successful change management, such as Kotter’s 8 Step Process for Leading Change or Fullan’s Model for Change Leadership.
In summary, here are thoughts for positive change management at Christian schools:
- The goal is not to innovate the most.
- It is not enough to have the best ideas.
- The single common factor to every successful change initiative is that relationships improve.
- Understand and appreciate the implementation dip.
- If you know a dip will occur in advance, you can plan for it and minimize frictions to make important positive changes.
- Redefine resistance as a potential positive force.
- We are more likely to learn from those who disagree with us.
- We should hire consultants or ask for input from those who will provide new ideas and challenge our old ideas.
- Re-culturing is the name of the game.
- Dr. Barrett Mosbacker has said, “Consensus is desired but not required.”
- Some leaders and teachers who will work to undermine a successful change effort might best serve elsewhere.
- Never a checklist—always complexity
- Fullan writes, “There can never be a recipe or cookbook for change, nor a step-by-step process. Leaders and members of the organization, because they live in a culture of frenetic change, are vulnerable to seeking the comforting clarity of off-the-shelf solutions.” (Fullan, 54)
Fullan, Michael. Leading in a Culture of Change (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004)