4 ways to introduce change in an international school

Change is never easy - if you're going to bring in new ways of working at school, this is a handy checklist to guide you

Annie Finch-Johnson

How international schools can embrace change

"Change", "remodel", "revamp"…words we all hear in an educational context all too often – and never more than in the year just gone.

Yet change is inevitable in life. This has been even more prominent in the past year with Covid-19 making us adapt and change structures rapidly to meet the needs of our students.

Embracing change in international schools

So if we cannot avoid change, how can we better embrace it and implement it in our international schools? Here are four things to consider to avoid falling foul of the latest fad.

1. Cultural views

A good first point to consider is your school's cultural and religious context.

In many countries, for example, some pastoral issues are not taken into consideration or accepted, such as LGBT, use of sanitary products for girls and sexual health methods and discussions.

In addition to taking into account country and religious views, the school will also have its own culture and may have a set way in which it wants to be focused or perceived.

Some schools will prioritise and promote a culture of academic excellence, while others may want to be more pastoral-based and focus on wellbeing as their primary focus.

It is important to reflect on whether your change will align with cultural influences and to be aware of possible issues that may arise during planning – rather than post-implementation.

2. Your rationale and why is it worth it?

When presenting your idea for change, you need to make sure that your rationale is solid.

It may sound obvious perhaps, but, as educational consultant Michael Fullan has said, many changes lack "capacity building" that outlines the clear purpose – causing them to fall short.

He says that in order to build capacity, you need to be identifying development of knowledge, resources and motivation within the change – ie, show clearly why the change is worth it.

What evidence do you have to support your change – eg, have you done something similar in another school? And why and how does it apply to the school's mission/culture? It is important that you are prepared for these sorts of questions to avoid stumbling at the first hurdle.

The final thing (and probably one of the most important) to consider in this area is how much time will it take and how much money

Remember, you may only be in that school for one contract lasting two years – people around you need to know why they should invest in something that when you leave might just disappear with you.

Make sure you have your figures straight and timings considered.

3. How will you monitor your changes?

It’s all well and good making a change – but how will you measure if it was worth it?

Have you got yourself a Kanban chart, a tick sheet, timing schedule, etc? How will it look once it is in place? Are there other staff that will help you run this? How will you make sure this is implemented effectively and efficiently?

If you can’t answer these questions, you need to think about how you can by keeping track of any data that may come from your implementation to ensure that you are analysing how the change is moving forward and its success – or not.

It sounds simple, but one of the most forgotten areas when planning for longevity in your change is the process of reflection. So make sure it’s part of your planning.

4. How will your change affect staff?

One of my favourite change ideas comes from Kubler-Ross, who talks about the morale and competencies people go through when experiencing bereavement.

She states how we transition through these phases during bereavement, starting with shock and then on to denial, frustration, depression – and these feelings can manifest when confronted with change, too.

With change situations, other phases included "experiment" (initial engagement with the new situation), "decision" (learning to make one's own way in the new situation) and "integration" (the change of view/action that is now integrated).

This work has been used to interpret and manage change in many organisations, along with strategies to support these emotions such as maximising communication when people are frustrated.

Do you recognise any of these phases within yourself when you have experienced a change?

It is important you think about these aspects when planning to implement a change and understand how you are going to address these fluctuations. This will also support you in being prepared for any unexpected pushback from staff when you discuss a new change.

Think about how many staff this change will affect: just your immediate team or others across the school?

Remember, too, that people may go through these processes at different stages and sometimes in different orders.

Overall, implementing a change that you are passionate about is an exciting time; just remember to take into consideration all areas to avoid falling short.

Annie Finch-Johnson is a head of year and physical education teacher at Markham College in Lima, Peru. She tweets @talkpastoral

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