Change Management - Challenge Map
Challenge Map

Systems Change

Change Management

The Challenge

Districts working to implement new initiatives often face obstacles related to change management – the people side of change. It can be difficult to get buy-in from school- and district-level leaders, teachers, and other staff on new programs and ways of working. New initiatives may require a paradigm shift, and districts often get pushback from those who have a strong attachment to “the old way,” or are otherwise resistant to change. Beyond buy-in, new initiatives require staff to learn and enact new practices, which can be burdensome for busy educators, especially if they lack time or incentives. While there are always some enthusiastic early adopters of innovation, districts are working to meet resistant people where they are and support them through the transitions necessary for adopting needed changes.

In the Words of District Leaders

One of the first things is people are going to have to start rethinking is what is academic achievement means at this point in time. This is something we are wrestling with...on a daily basis.

“Like any change, we use the analogy of a marathon. People start at different points and then they quickly spread out. So it’s kind of that innovation and sustainability paradigm, and kind of the bell curve. You’ve got early adopters and then all the way on the other side, you’ve got the laggards. And, in trying to bridge the chasm to make that next leap in innovation. So I think it’s meeting people where they are, but then also pushing them to the extent we want to in terms of moving forward and progressing.”

Ideas from the Field

  • Repeated, ongoing conversations with teachers is important to many districts. This includes using books to spark discussion, and in many cases using instructional coaches to push for new mindsets.
  • Another approach puts principals in the role of instructional leader in addition to administrator, responsible for professional development in their own school building.  Having the patience to see this approach through initial pushback and resulting personnel changes has been crucial for many districts to see actual systems change.


Check out the following research-based resources for more information about change management:

Successfully Implementing Transformational Change in Education –  From Battelle for Kids, lessons learned about the importance of effective change leadership and strategic communications.

Mastering Organizational Change Management to Drive Digital Transformation in Education – From the Center for Digital Education, what the next-generation learning environment should include and how to apply principles of organizational change management to realize these environments.

Research: How the Best School Leaders Create Enduring Change – From the Harvard Business Review, research findings to help school leaders successfully navigate turnarounds.

Change Management: Key Theories to Consider when Extending Reach – From Opportunity Culture, this brief summarizes the key elements of eight major strands of change management from job redesign to turnarounds.

Conditions for Success & Scale: Coherent Vision & Process – This topic page of The Learning Accelerator’s Blended & Personalized Learning at Work website offers 49 specific strategies and tools to help education leaders implement change in a way that maximizes benefits to students and other stakeholders.

Look Both Ways: A framework to help education leaders navigate through competing approaches to system-wide change – Based on interviews with 35 district and CMO leaders across the country, as well as a national survey of nearly 100 other education leaders, The Learning Accelerator’s framework highlights seven common decision-making challenges and presents real-world examples that show how other leaders managed these tensions.

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