4 Steps for Implementing Change

Manage resistance and boost buy-in when you roll out new initiatives.

Topics: Early Career Principals, Principal Leadership, Principal Pipeline

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Manage resistance and boost buy-in when you roll out new initiatives.
By Robert F. Breyer
January 2020, Volume 43, Issue 5

During summer break, most school administrators are figuring out new strategies and plans to help their teachers and students achieve new levels. This also applies to winter break, when a new year brings the opportunity for educators to implement change in their schools. Inspired by everything from books and blog articles to seminars and Ted Talks, these principals come back to school itching to present their strategic plans to their faculty and staff, fully expecting them to embrace these ideas and run with them.

As a new principal, I have come to realize that’s not always the case. I liken it to playing chess. You’re constantly analyzing your options for each strategic move that you want to make, while simultaneously considering each possible counter move. But teachers are all different, with different points of focus. Some are just opposed to change altogether.

So how can you prevent plans from failing and ensure they’re fully implemented? Try out these four steps.

Step 1: Listen
Take time to talk individually with your staff to see what they need. Open a dialogue to learn about ideas they want to try to implement. What issues are they facing? What are their fears? What changes do they want to see? You must take the time to ensure that your ideas align with the culture that you are building in your school and that your staff will be willing to try them.

Step 2: Identify Pitfalls
Consider where you’ll be met with resistance. Who is going to fight you on every step of the plan? With which parts of your plan will people take issue? Are the issues large or small? If they’re large, get them out of the way before you start implementing a plan, even if it means pushing part of your plan off until later in the school year. Think through every scenario, complaint, hurdle, and questions that might arise and keep you from successfully implementing your plan.

Step 3: Get Buy-In
Often, the little obstacles that you identify can easily be overcome by getting buy-in from your staff. I will often invite them in to sit down and discuss ideas that I am kicking around. I pay close attention to their body language and expressions and take notes on their questions. Be flexible, and use ideas they come up with in your planning session. If you have one staff member who you expect to bring the most resistance, meet with them one-on-one to discuss the plan. Highlight the areas where you will need their expertise and support. Once you have their buy-in, others will follow.

Step 4: Answer Questions
You took diligent notes of questions your faculty and staff posed. Go back and answer all the questions. It will build trust and assure them that you have thought through every angle of this plan. Teachers will also appreciate the fact that you listened to their concerns and took the time to answer their questions. It’s a win-win situation.

Robert F. Breyer is principal at Cameron Elementary School in Cameron, North Carolina.

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