Encouraging Faculty to Direct Change

Roger Fuller

Despite the perceived mythology of the principal’s role in school leadership, there are clearly times when standing aside is the most beneficial aspect of good leadership.

In the book Leading Change, John P. Kotter writes about an eight step process of facilitating change. It was clear that Milken needed a change of process and a change of procedures. While we did not create our change process modeled directly on Kotter’s categories, those provide a useful lens for reflecting upon the process within our school.

Establishing a Sense of Urgency

The school has experimented with different ways to engage in social and experiential education for its students, ranging from traditional Shabbatonim to “Intensive Days.” One essential dilemma always concerns how best to cover ongoing classes when faculty are either on a trip or Shabbaton. This is a dilemma for faculty, for students and for the administration, as instruction is interrupted, records regarding coverage must be maintained, and inevitably there are conflicts among staff and faculty regarding who should go, who should stay, and who should cover. It was this unending interruption which created the urgency to develop a plan and process to meet multiple needs simultaneously.

An important decision, made by the Principal of the Middle School, Dr. Sarah Shulkind, was to move Middle School trips to the week after Pesach vacation. While the primary reason for this concerned creating time for Middle School students to engage in simultaneous trips to Washington, Israel and Catalina Island, this decision paved the way for subsequent change in the Upper School.

Creating the Guiding Coalition

In many ways the guiding coalition existed before the immediacy of a needed change. Faculty and administration had been talking about the issue of continued interruption for several years. However, under the leadership of the then Director of Student Life, Mr. David Lewis, a group of teachers coalesced and began the visioning and dreaming process, including an afternoon retreat at my home where the vision was developed to bring trips and the benefits of travel into a single week’s experience. At the same time, the group decided to experiment with Intensive Days, days when while one class might be having a Shabbaton experience, all other classes would also be engaged in experiential learning.

Developing a Vision and a Strategy

Over the space of three years, the vision and strategy evolved and changed. The experiment with three days of Intensive Days solved the problem of class coverage and substitution, yet it also created an expectation that Intensive Days were not “school days,” and that attendance was optional. Additionally, Intensive Days required intensive planning, for the task of moving 600 students around the city of Los Angeles and its environs is, well, intensive. The demand to prepare three days of curriculum planning for three grade levels with appropriate logistical and instructional support was burdensome.

It soon became apparent to the “Trip Week” committee that a dedicated trips week would be both easier to plan and easier to support, and would create the expectation that all students would be involved in some trip of some fashion. Using the Hebrew word tiyulim for trips then became both a focal point and a rallying point. Additionally, the framework of Tiyulim Week would involve a degree of student choice. The group also knew that the week after Pesach would be the time for Tiyulim Week as it provided appropriate planning time and would serve to minimize the interruptions to ongoing instruction. There is no “formal” instruction during Tiyulim Week; however, the faculty gained a week of instruction by moving the trips week to post-Pesach.

Communicating the Change Vision

Decisions regarding moving Middle School trips was made in the 07-08 academic year. By spring, it was apparent that a change in how the school implemented experiential education was needed. As principal of the school, I held several meetings with the department chairs and faculty groups, and the urgency of the decision was discussed. It was necessary, for example, for the Athletic Director to move all games and practices in order to allow all students equal access to the tiyul being offered.

Empowering Employees for Broad-Based Action

While several of Kotter’s suggested steps for planning and change are important, this single step is the most important, and for us it happened in a rather formal way. Like any school, authority and power tend to belong to the administration—a normal and expected reality. By September of 2008, it was apparent that experiential education planning was very important to two faculty members, Mr. Pavel Lieb and Rabbi Yechiel Hoffman.

In October of 2008, I asked these two faculty members to present the plans and concepts and vision to the faculty as a whole, remarking that this was now their project. From that single moment, change began to occur in fascinating ways. The faculty began to develop courses, they created talk among the student body, subsequent focus groups were held, and the plan was announced through the advisory program.

Every teacher was asked if they wished to submit a course proposal. By this time the faculty and the student body had altered the strict definition of tiyul into the concept of “course” which also contained a trip. Faculty ideas were reviewed by the Tiyulim Task Force, outlines were written by the interested staff, and students were also invited to submit “course” ideas. This Task Force met several times to outline a change process and create appropriate timelines and guidelines for course and program development.

Generating Short Term Wins

After the teachers generated a workable plan, the next step was to present to parents and the community, since after all, we were asking them to be involved in a different kind of learning for which they had to pay extra. This was an important framing concern—what would each tiyul cost?

By January of 2009, we produced a course catalog and a web site so that all students and all parents could see course proposals. Given the idea that Grade 7, 8, and 9 were on class trips, that one third of grade 10 was in Israel, and that one half of grade 12 was on the March of the Living, we calculated that the tiyulim trips would service 250-280 students. We then asked students to sign up for Tiyul at approximately the same time that they were choosing classes in advisory for next year. The process involved bringing the concept of “signing up” into the same chronology. To help facilitate all this, we developed a database in FileMakerPro which could track sign ups,registrations, and money paid.

Because in most cases, students were given a range of choice about tiyulim, their buy in increased, and an elective process ensued. The range of tiyulim being offered was large, from a student-led initiative for Habitat for Humanity, to a teacher-led initiative about understanding the role of Judaism in the writing of comic strips, to other teacher-led initiatives on exploring the Santa Monica mountains. One tiyul was restricted to students who are taking a unique integrated and interdisciplinary course in American Studies, and three tiyulim were canceled due to low enrollment. The total program involves 800 students in six grades with trips being offered to Israel, Washington, Catalina Island, and the local Los Angeles area.

Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture

As the program begins, as the program continues, and as it develops in the future, the real beneficiary is the culture of the school. The faculty has learned that they can envision, articulate, and implement change in programming on several different levels. Despite the perceived mythology of the principal’s role in school leadership, there are clearly times when standing aside is the most beneficial aspect of good leadership. In many ways, the school has learned a “self-organizing” principle discussed by Wheatley (2000) as she writes, “If we are to develop organizations of greater and enduring capacity, we have to turn to the people of our organizations. We have to learn how to encourage the creativity and commitment that they wanted to express when they first joined the organization.” ♦

Roger Fuller has been the Upper School principal of Milken Community High School since 2000 and is completing his PhD in Leadership and Change from Antioch University. He can be reached at [email protected].
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Summer 2009