Change management is approached through the lenses of theories, strategies or frameworks, models, and then adapted approaches to an organization’s culture (Biech, 2007). The change management theories that best align with my approach to leadership in a K12 digital learning environment are: systems theory, whereby all components and people in an organization are considered part of an interrelated system; and Theory O – revolving around organizational capabilities (versus Theory E – revolving around economic value) (Beer & Nohria, as cited in Biech, 2007). The long-term approach of Theory O, combined with its focus on “performance by fostering a powerful culture and capable workforce” (Biech, “Theories, Strategies”, para. 6-7) are particularly well-aligned to a K12 organizational context – at least from the perspective of a teacher. The perspective and financial priorities of a leader of provincial government (i.e. current Ford government in Ontario), Board of Trustees Members, executive management at a school board (i.e. directors, CIO), or school directors or principals with budgets to manage, with respect to a K12 educational environment may be very different than mine as a teacher. As an educator, systems theory and Theory O best align with my ethics and priorities that lead to change models that are holistic and learner-centred.
The change models that best align with my approach to leadership in this K12 space are Kotter’s Eight-Step Model and Biech’s Six-Step CHANGE model. Kotter’s Eight-Steps (1996) are consistent with systems theory and a holistic, adaptive leadership theory for change that resonates with my values and experience in K12 public schools:
- CREATE a sense of urgency
- BUILD a guiding coalition
- FORM a strategic vision and initiatives
- ENLIST a volunteer army
- ENABLE action by removing barriers
- GENERATE short-term wins
- SUSTAIN acceleration
- INSTITUTE change (“Kotter: 8 Step”, n.d., para. 3).
I also really appreciate the components of Biech’s (2007) Six-Step CHANGE Model:
- Challenge the current state
- Harmonize and align leadership
- Activate commitment
- Nurture and formalize a design
- Guide implementation
- Evaluate and institutionalize the change (“Overview of the CHANGE Model”, para. 1).
I recognize Biech’s step five of six, “Guide implementation,” as being a change model that is best adapted to take into consideration our current technological and societal contexts. “Implementation” is a step that uses language more aligned to technological systems, or educational technology. While the most basic language of “challenge, harmonize, activate, nurture, guide, and evaluate,” speak to more consensus (at its best) or community-driven mindsets, acknowledging a culture that needs to be reckoned with in the process(es) of change (Beich, 2007, para. 19-20). A framework such as McKinsey’s Seven-S Framework identifies hard and soft elements that are useful in trying to determine a design for change that connects with the culture of an organization (Biech, 2007). Understanding the culture of an organization is to recognize the unique challenges that are an inevitable part of change for that specific organization, unique challenges that theories and models can not necessarily predict or articulate.
The unique challenges in managing change for learning in digital environments are multi-faceted, based on psychological (cognitive and motivational), technical, and structural constructs (Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015; Weiner, 2009). One psychological perspective on the unique challenges for learning in digital environments is the multi-generational participants. Speaking about being part of an age-demographic born before 1985, Harris (2014) reminisces about life before the Internet. He speaks of a generation that knows life with and without the Internet, a “straddle generation,” he calls this group (p. 15). This is by no means to say that people born before 1985 are any less digital natives (Prensky, 2001) or digital residents (White & LeCornu, 2007) than people born in 2002; nonetheless, we have many different participants, with different life experiences, and technological backgrounds and perspectives, that are leading us into the future of digital learning environments. Therefore, one of the unique challenges that I see for managing change in K12 digital learning environments is the scope of organizational change that is necessary to build productive digital learning environments that instill 21st century learner competencies amongst K12 students. A second unique challenge is the many layers of participants from government, to school board trustees, executive school board administration, school leaders, and educators. We return to context! Who are the leaders? In what capacity are they leading, and how much control over resources and distributed leadership teams do they have? The role that leadership plays in managing change is momentous. Leadership needs to gauge, amongst many factors, organizational capacity, organizational readiness for change and the culture of an organization, before attempting to implement change types and change methods (Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015; Beich, 2007; Weiner, 2009). Students are ready — are the leaders?
Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: a model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(2), 234-262. Retrieved from https://doi-org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/10.1108/JOCM-11-2013-0215
Biech, E. (2007). Chapter 3: Models of change. In Thriving through change: A leader’s practical guide to change mastery. Alexandria, VA: Association for Talent Development. [Skillsoft version] Retrieved from https://royalroads.skillport.com/skillportfe/assetSummaryPage.action? assetid=RW$1544:_ss_book:22651#summary/BOOKS/RW$1544:_ss_book:22651
Harris, M. (2014). The end of absence. Toronto, ON: Harper Collins Publishers Limited.
Kotter: 8 Step Process. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.kotterinc.com/8-steps-processforleadingchange/
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5). MCB University Press. Retrieved from https://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf
Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(67). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-4-67
White, D. S., & LeCornu, A. (2011). Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9). Retrieved from https://firstmonday.org/ article/view/3171/3049