Case examples from international education (K-12)

Organizational Change in International Schools 

Change case example: creating school alignment through shared definitions

Change case example: creating school alignment through shared definitions

Imagine the following case: your school seeks to implement a new high-level definition (school-wide) e.g. of high-quality learning in various parts of the school (different division such as primary, middle, secondary school, or departments such as humanities, sciences, languages – e.g. because the leadership team feels that the schools approach is too uneven and varied, or because it is an accreditation requirement.

This has, indeed, been a priority for many schools in recent years. The focus has been on creating definitions of high-quality learning, as well as global citizenship and intercultural learning. From a school perspective, apart from meeting accreditation standards, the goal of these definitions has been to:

  1. create more consistent approaches throughout the school;
  2. foster alignment both vertically (across age groups) as well as horizontally (across subjects in one grade level); and
  3. creating more intentionality to “look” for learning opportunities that can be built around the core curriculum, or as part of units.

These definitions are high-level. This is a key challenge “in the engine room of the school”: to interpret them, detail them. For all teachers, it means reviewing and revising their annual planning in order to build in elements of learning that relate to these definitions and, in their totality, form a new thread of learning throughout the school.

Throughout the school, it needs a lot of coordination and discussion: ensuring that different parts of the school connect and speak about the same things. Ensuring that clear priorities are defined for age groups. It means prioritization on specific things, it needs “rules” of what needs to be done, trying to find the right balance to openness. After relevant definitions have been made, these have to be woven into the documentation of curriculum, to ensure that a new teacher coming into the grade 6 classroom can build on a solid documentation to understand and adjust his or her teaching to the school’s context.

To get a good understanding of the impact and scope of such a change you can leverage the “Mapping out change” canvas and work tool.


Organizational change in schools – frequent stakeholder characteristics

If you look at this from a Head of Department perspective and considering the composition of the team, some differences will be top of mind, from our experience:

  • you will have some members in the team, who are sprawling with ideas what can be done; and they will be doing a lot already. A challenge with this group will be to – without curbing their enthusiasm – ensure that they stick to a plan and don’t get frustrated about being “boxed in”. They will be critical that anything less than the maximum is too little after all and will not suffice the purpose of the school. They won’t like to see limits imposed on them because they have to coordinate with other teams
  • you will have some members, who don’t see the point why you need a definition. International schools are all about global citizenship and intercultural learning because they are so diverse. You will need to work on their understanding that (1) global citizenship is not about the 3F (food, festivals and flags), and (2) it is about developing consistency and intentionality throughout the school and not having learning experiences of the students depend on which teachers they had in grade 9.
  • you will have another group that is of the opinion that the core curriculum is already difficult enough (e.g. in an IGCSE programme) to get through and one should not add more to the menu so that one does not distract from the really important content (as it is grades on the final diplomas/certificates). They will be resistant to doing too much, as it is a distraction.
  • a fourth group is not resistant but in need of help, as the planning of such experiences is not their key strength. Maybe they need help in terms of systematic thinking, support in planning relevant experiences. They might also not be the strongest in documenting the curriculum and need to be pushed in order to complete their tasks on time.
  • Two further groups will likely be present, too: the traditionalists, who think that this is not relevant for learning (although they are also part of previous groups), and the silent group who is happy to do what is needed.

Each of those stakeholder groups in the above example can impact the foreseen change – be it in a positive, reinforcing, or in a resisting, negative way. In order to identify, cluster, engage and activate such stakeholder groups in a systematic, outcome-focused way, leverage the Activating stakeholders tool.


School leadership: thinking ahead across departments

As a Head of Department, you need to think forward at the same time: leading the discussions to a solution that can be implemented and is workable (not too complex), aligning with other departments so that what your team is aligns with the other teams, ensuring that the team moves forward the implementation in terms of planning, delivery and documentation, follow up as you are likely involved in appraisals, where you seek to, in collaboration with a divisional leader, push for following the commitments of the school.

The process is energy-intensive for all involved. Any changes that are being made later on can cause a repetition of the whole cycle and reworking a lot of documentation. Finding the balance between “experiments” and “final solutions” is one key challenge within such a change initiative.

Thinking forward needs a change action plan considering, not least, the school year and the rhythm of the school events and calendar. A crucial part of the plan is to be clear about the change interventions and measures you want to deploy (see tool) in order to make the organizational change successful.