- On 2016-07-06
- case for action, change, middle leaders, narrative, urgency
[SlideDeck id=’227′ width=’100%’ height=’330px’]In Step 1 Designing Middle Leader Vision Statements we explored the first element of how middle leaders can plan to lead their team effectively. Once the middle leader has, in partnership with their team, created an inspiring but simple vision statement for their team, the next step is to create a Case for Action.
In modern schools change is always occurring. Whether it is pedagogical, curricula, well-being, or any other area, there is change occurring. It is a constant feature of our education system. One of the core roles of Middle Leaders is to lead this change. They work with their team of teachers to enact the requested change. Unless the teachers and middle leaders are connected to WHY this change is occurring and have bought into it then the change is not likely to occur with any depth or sustainability.
Middle leaders can establish a sense of urgency through a Case for Action Narrative. This narrative
- aims for the heart (not only the head)
- is driven by a belief in a noble vision or goal
- inspires determination to act and win now
The case for action addresses the need for change and paints a realistic, convincing and attractive picture of what the future could look like when the vision is realised. It highlights the difference it would make to tackle the desired area and also the ineffectiveness of not taking action.
Designing Case for Action Narratives
There are three parts to a Case for Action narrative:
- Describe the reality in the area – the things that are working, the challenges, and the gaps
- Describe the predictable future if no action was taken in this area
- Describe what could be possible if action, based on the vision, was taken
The case for action begins with identifying the current reality in the area. You can flesh out the picture of the current reality by answering questions such as:
- What are the aspects of the area that are working?
- What are the aspects that are not currently working?
- What are the current gaps or challenges in the area?
- What are the effects on students, teachers and the school of this current reality?
Don’t pull any punches as you answer the above questions. Make sure you identify both the great things as well as the challenges. The intent is to create an authentic picture of how things are now in the area. You could also use actual data to prove your points. Remember though that the purpose of the first part of the Case for Action is to highlight the current reality.
The second part of a case for action narrative describes the predictable future if no action was taken. This paints a vivid picture of why staying with the status quo is a problem. If we are going to create urgency then the case for action narrative needs to show that action is critical NOW.
When brainstorming what to write for this part imagine what the PREDICTABLE future would be. Mostly it is more of the same. You will continue to operate as you have always done and you will continue to have the same results and challenges. In an ever-changing world this is a big problem not only for schools but also for parents and students. Education is increasingly a competitive market and staying stationary is no longer an option if the school is going to survive. Parents and their children are more likely to leave a school if their child’s needs are not being met.
By continuing to do the same thing with the same results has an impact on students, teachers and the school over time – what could that be? Your description should paint a compelling picture that aims for the heart.
The final part of a case for action narrative describes what would be possible if action was taken. The actions that would be taken would be aligned with the vision statement created previously. What would be the impact on students, teachers, learning, the school culture, and the long term future of the school? Again create a compelling and vivid picture. Describe it in such a way that when people hear what is possible they want to be part of that vision. It should draw them in and inspire or breathe life into them. When people hear what is possible they can see how they can contribute to having it happen. It compels action.
Examples of Case for Action Narratives
- Currently in Maths
- The teachers are streaming children for maths to some extent. They have been doing point of need teaching via a clustering approach but are now expected to move to handle various abilities in the one class
- Teachers don’t feel as if they are doing justice for the kids. The capable kids needs are not being met nor those who struggle with Maths
- The year 6 team is struggling with the rationale from the Year Level Coordinator in moving to the PYP approach which is requiring Numeracy be tied into the everyday classrooms
- Some students feel they are not good at maths and give up
- If no action is taken then predictably
- The situation in Maths classes won’t change
- Teachers will feel they aren’t doing a good job
- Students will develop a fixed mindset about their ability in Maths
- Maths results will stagnate or go backward
- If we acted on systemically differentiating maths for all ability groups then:
- Students will see the value of Maths
- Teachers would feel more confident that they are reaching the upper and lower group of students
- Student results would improve
- Classes would be more engaging for students
- Student learning confidence and competence would improve
- Currently in religious studies
- certain topic, areas and biblical stories are re-hashed each year
- due to external pressures on the school it seems like religious studies is the first to go when the curriculum needs to be covered
- Christian ethos is present but not authentic religious studies. It deserves to be taught / learnt well since we are a religious school
- Some teachers appear to be doing well
- Most of the teachers are accredited to deliver religious studies
- I have been sending out emails asking if teachers need any support but not getting much response
- The overall scope and sequence has been developed for religious studies
- If no action is taken then predictably
- Religious studies will continue to be sidelined and not valued
- There is a danger the school could become a secular school in practicality and lose its point of difference
- Teachers will do whatever they want to do without oversight
- Students will become bored with doing the same topics every year
- If we acted on the vision of guiding young people with small steps and successes so they grow profoundly as learners and realise their potential in the area of their religious studies then:
- Students will see the value of religious studies in their lives
- Students would be engaged in the classes and in exploring their spirituality because it matters to them
- They will see how they can use what they have learnt and explored in religious studies in making life decisions and contributing to others
- We would be designing engaging curriculum that authentically addresses issues pertinent to the students.
- The school would value religious studies and that it is a powerful point of difference for parents and potential students.
- Currently in the junior school
- Quite a negative environment amongst the staff
- There appears to be a lot of clique groups. The general perception is that the “in clique” are treated differently
- Some staff experience being in the outer and can feel isolated and alone
- Ran a Relationship Building session at the start of the year and held 2 workshops over the pupil free days. During Term 1 did lot of stuff to show that I valued the staff and this was received well.
- Some original “clique” teachers experienced being burnt and now starting to turn to me
- Lot of people genuinely happy to have a voice now from what I have been doing
- If no action is taken then predictably
- The negative environment will continue and some staff will continue to feel isolated, alone and on the outer. They will then go through the motions in working in the school rather than being innovative or creative.
- Over time some staff will leave because they aren’t being valued and appreciated since they aren’t part of the clique group
- If we acted to have staff realise the power of positive relationships in empowering learning and leadership then
- Processes and protocols would be established that would lead to a positive environment
- Staff would feel valued and appreciated
- Staff would feel heard and that they have a voice
- Learning would improve within the school because people would be willing to innovate and be creative
- A positive work environment would arise
- People will want to work harder and contribute to the learning community because they are fulfilled by being part of the community.
Context for doing this
In John Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change he identifies that the first step in leading change is to convince others of the importance of acting immediately. He points out that “Leaders may underestimate how hard it is to drive people out of their comfort zones, or overestimate how successfully they have already done so, or simply lack the patience necessary to develop appropriate urgency”. School structures are inherently resistant to change as they, in many ways, rely on consistency and the status quo to be successful.
One of the greatest enemies to developing great schools is being good (e.g. “we are doing a good job”, “we are a good school”, “I am a good teacher”). Being “good” is a conversation from the comfort zone. Greatness requires constantly examining where one is against your goals working to having your vision become reality. Over time “good” tends to devolve into “good enough” and then mediocrity.
If people are to be compelled and encouraged into urgent action then they need to know WHY. They need to know the criticality of taking action now. Kotter pointed out that usually the urge is to skip to the doing rather than spend the required time it takes to get a significant number of team members urgent. This is not about getting people to work harder or be busier it is about getting people clearly focused on making real progress towards the vision every single day. Leaders who know what they are doing will “aim for the heart.” They will connect to the deepest values of their people and inspire them to greatness. They will make the case for action come alive with human experience, engage the senses, create messages that are simple and imaginative, and call people to aspire. The case for action narrative is the first step to creating urgency.
- Leading Change, John P. Kotter, Harvard (2012)
- Review of contemporary research on middle and teacher leaders, Dr Maureen O’Rourke and Dr Peter Burrows, Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership (2013)
- Extraordinary Leadership in Australia & New Zealand: The five practices that create great workplaces, James Kouzes and Barry Posner with Michael Bunting, Wiley (2014)
- Hardwired Humans: Successful Leadership Using Human Instincts, Andrew O’Keeffe, Roundtable Press (2012)