How to make changes that are proactive—and lasting

Change is good, especially when it is done with a clear purpose and direction that stakeholders can support and be part of.
By: | October 29, 2019

Lorrie Owens is president of the California Educational Technology Professionals Association (CETPA).

Transformational leadership has become a widely used term and a recognized leadership strategy in industry over the past decade. What does transformational leadership really mean in the world of K12 educational technology? Why do we want to engage in transformational leadership practices? And when, in the course of our daily responsibilities, do we find the time to do this?

Transformational leadership in the realm of educational technology inherently means that the leader is moving beyond making changes that will last a finite period of time to making a transformation that permanently changes not only how your stakeholders do things, but how they think and feel about doing those things.

There are times when it is appropriate to focus on making changes. For example, when handling a crisis, there may be changes adopted during and immediately after the crisis that are crucial to the remediation of the crisis. A crisis is probably not the best time to initiate an organizational transformation initiative.

However, a number of factors, including a crisis, can inform and validate the need for organizational transformation. The key to understanding the basis of the transformation is that the leader is moving the organization towards adopting a different mindset on how to do something differently, rather than just directing stakeholders on how to do something differently. By changing the mindset, the leader can invoke a permanent change in the area in which the need for change has been identified.

The transformational leader understands when to move the organization from being reactive to being proactive.

There is a real chance, when only addressing the tasks or behaviors, that the impetus for the change will wear off over time, and things will return to the way they were before the change was introduced.

Changing the mindset

One personal illustration I think many of us can identify with when discussing the difference between transformation and change is weight loss. When we decide we need to lose weight, we embark on a program to eat less food and eat different foods.

However, when we reach our target weight, we many times return to our old habits. Why do we do this? It is because we initially addressed only our behavior (what we eat) and not our mindset behind it (why we eat). Those who are most successful in losing weight and keeping it off address the latter. It is only when we deal with the mindsets behind why we are doing what we are doing can we evoke true transformation.

It can be very easy, in educational technology, to get caught up in making changes, year after year, in reaction to the external changes around us. The transformational leader understands when to move the organization from being reactive to being proactive. How do we get to a place where we are not always simply reacting to external factors?

The first step is the leader must have a vision of what the organization looks like when it is in a proactive mode, and the vision must align with that of the larger organization. There can be no leadership without vision. One of the key indicators of an organizational transformation initiative that is doomed to failure is the inability of the leader to convey the vision to all stakeholders and to gain buy-in to that vision.

A common vision

Once the vision is successfully conveyed and accepted, the leader cannot be the driver of the initiative. The stakeholders are. A successful transformational leader is able to inspire stakeholders toward achieving the common vision. The transformational leader will guide stakeholders toward behavior changes that support the common vision.

But the motivation for changing behaviors comes from the stakeholders themselves. The understanding of why the behaviors must change is deeply ingrained into each stakeholder, enabling him or her to adopt the changed behavior on a more permanent basis, rather than just out of compliance with a new rule. Behavioral changes that are self-motivated and self-directed are much more likely to become permanent than those directed by punitive measures.

When we find ourselves getting stuck; when we find ourselves fighting the same battles over and over again; when we find that our methods are not keeping up with the demands of the outside world; when we see that our students, teachers and other staff members need something different than the status quo—these are all indicators that it is time for a transformation.

The first reason that many of our stakeholders shy away from transforming the organization is fear. True transformation is a leap of faith into that which we know can exist but doesn’t yet exist. Many people are afraid of that which does not yet exist.

Yet, it is imperative that we continue to push those boundaries. The concept of a 21st Century education continues to evolve. What we currently define as a “21st Century classroom” is different today—roughly 20 years into the 21st century—than it was at the turn of the century.

We are preparing our students for a very different world than the one we graduated into. Thus, there are times when a minor tweak here and there does not suffice. There are times when we have to totally transform what we are doing to best support our students. Organizational transformation efforts are not easy. But nothing worthwhile comes easily. But our students are certainly worth it.

Lorrie Owens is president of the California Educational Technology Professionals Association (CETPA). She will be a featured speaker at DA’s FETC 2020.

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