Saturday, August 21, 2010

School Leadership and "Second-Order" Change

In my last post, I considered school culture and how it provides a basis for the success of reform efforts.  When that positive culture has been established, what else does a school leader need to consider when implementing reform?

Marzano defines two types of change:  first order (incremental, everyday) change and second order (deep, sweeping) change.  In a factor analysis of multiple studies, the following responsibilities were determined to be key to second order change:

1) Knowledge of curriculum, instruction, and assessment -- understanding what the new practices are, how they are supposed to work, the research supporting them, and how they should affect student achievement
2) Optimizer – providing a positive vision for what change could look like
3) Intellectual stimulation – fostering discussion on theory and practice among teachers
4) Change agent – encouraging teachers to challenge themselves and move beyond their comfort level
5) Monitoring/evaluating – establishing an effective feedback system
6) Flexibility – inviting multiple opinions and adapting leadership when necessary
7) Ideas/beliefs – maintaining integrity  by behaving consistently with stated values and philosophy

A leader who is implementing second order reform is going to look very different from a leader who is working on incremental change.  Second order change can be scary and uncomfortable.  The school leader has to maintain integrity of vision and help staff push past their previous limits.  At the same time, the leader has to be acutely aware of the needs of individual teachers as they progress through the change process. 

In a discussion of the Concerns-Based Adoption model, Susan Loucks-Horsley explains that professional developers “have to be facilitators, assessors, resource brokers, mediators of learning, designers, and coaches, in addition to being trainers when appropriate” (1996).  This description also applies to school leaders, who must evaluate the constantly shifting implementation process and respond thoughtfully but decisively.  The difficulty of maintaining this type of balance for the time period it takes to bring about deep change—several years—may be a factor in the failure of so many reform attempts.


Loucks-Horsley, S. (1996). The Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM): A Model for Change in Individuals. Retrieved August 22, 2010, from
Marzano, R. J., McNulty, B. A.,  Waters, T. (2005). School leadership that works: from research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.  

Friday, August 20, 2010

School Culture and Change

We have seen it before: well-meaning leaders find a well-researched program to meet an important need.  They introduce it to the faculty, do their best to rev everyone up—and then the reform effort struggles for awhile before withering away.   What happened?  Perhaps teachers were stuck in their “caves,” doing their own thing.  Maybe there was direct hostility to the idea of doing things differently.  Or maybe everyone had seen so many reform ideas come and go that they just didn’t see the point in trying.

Even the most promising plan for change will fail if the school culture is not ready to embrace it.   If the idea is the seed, school culture is the ground in which it is planted.  If that ground is “toxic,” nothing will grow.

In his article “Positive or Negative?” Ken Peterson defines a toxic school culture as one that “lacks a clear sense of purpose, have norms that reinforce inertia, blame students for lack of progress, discourage collaboration, and often have actively hostile relations among staff” (2002).   In such a culture, staff learning, which is vital to successful school change, is greatly hindered. 

On the other hand, in a positive school culture, staff is open to trying new things because there is a high level of trust and collegiality.  Commitment and motivation are high.  These qualities provide fertile ground for positive change.

If the school culture is broken, before any substantial reform can occur, it needs to be repaired.  School culture is not a fixed attribute; it is created and maintained by those in the school, and it can be changed.  Peterson describes a school that began combining professional development with shared meals, nurturing bonds between staff members.  Along with rituals and celebrations, leaders can work to see that staff members have the resources they need, and opportunities for collaboration.

Working with staff to shape a positive school culture will go a long way toward preparing for lasting change to take root. 

Peterson, K.D. (2002). Positive or Negative? JSD. Retrieved from