How to Lead Change in Your School’s Culture

Leading School Change: How to Overcome Resistance, Increase Buy-In, and Accomplish Your Goals, 2nd Edition  
By Todd Whitaker
(Routledge/Eye On Education, 2018 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Laura Von Staden

Heraclitus said, “The only thing that is constant is change.” In our fast-paced, ever-evolving world, school change is certainly a must, but most people resist change, simply because it is change and it creates stress and discomfort.

In this second edition, Todd Whitaker defines three types of change that routinely happen in schools: procedural, structural, and cultural. While procedural and structural changes can be met with resistance, they are easier to make than cultural changes, which impact the heart and soul of education and require us to change the way we think about teaching.

Whitaker has focused on strategies to successfully navigate cultural changes, using some specific examples.

Essential strategies for cultural change

He breaks the book into nine main strategies, starting with chapter 2: Identify the change (make sure it matters) and continuing with

3: Make Sure the First Exposure is Great;
4: Determine Who Matters Most (a discussion of faculty member types and how to work with them);
5: Find the Entry Points;
6: Reduce the Resistance;
7: Harness the Power of Emotion;
8: Look Past Buy-In to Action;
9: Reinforce Changed Behaviors and New Efforts (vitally important for change and often lacking; we must positively praise effort and appreciate our faculty and their efforts);
0: Fit it All Together (make sure to include everyone on staff, not just the teachers.)

Whitaker concludes the book with an implementation guide to deepen comprehension of the strategies discussed and strengthen our ability to implement whatever changes are needed in our organization.

Specifics on steps and nuances

This book provides solid strategies for successfully leading change in a school environment, providing specifics on the steps and noting nuances that can make a huge difference.

Whitaker emphasizes the importance of making sure that the change matters, and carefully planning who will be involved to make sure that everyone taking part will experience a great first exposure. He notes how little things, like the arrangement of furniture in faculty meetings (meetings that must be in place before the change) can significantly increase the rates of successful implementation.

Probably the parts of Whitaker’s book that spoke the most to me were:

(1) His discussion of how standardization, while making us more intentional, has a cost – holding back the best teachers, who thrive on autonomy and cutting-edge practices; and

(2) His reiterations that we are constantly changing in order to grow, that education is more about progress than perfection, and that recognition of effort and appreciation of individuals is always important to humans – but it is absolutely essential in the business of education if we are to prepare our students for the future.

Overall, a great guide for school leaders.

Dr. Laura Von Staden is a Middle School Special Education Specialist in Tampa, Florida. She serves on numerous committees, both at her school and within her district, and works closely with the local university where she is a Professional Practice Partner and master mentor. Dr. Von Staden also facilitates both online and face-to-face Professional Development and writes curriculum for her school district.

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