Leading change in K12 digital learning environments is complex, involves numerous stakeholders, and interconnected variables. Some schools or boards have 250 – 247,000 students; therefore, leading change is multi-faceted and requires significant planning and organizational readiness (“Toronto District”, 2014, para.1). In consultations with leaders in K12 education, I narrowed the focus of my discussions about educational technology (EdTech), to the implementation of 1:1 programs. The common points of concern were: funding, pressure to implement, and pedagogical issues. Kotter’s Eight-Step model is a strong choice to lead change in implementing EdTech initiatives or 1:1 programs; however, my research pointed to a need to add a ninth step, and ongoing tenth step. Kotter’s consultative and relationship-based approach aligns with adaptive and reflective leadership theories, whereby the role of leadership is focused on building human capacity and organizational readiness to implement digital learning solutions (Al-Haddad, & Kotnour, 2015; Castelli, 2016; Khan, 2017).
When addressing organizational readiness in this context, two issues need to be addressed by EdTech leaders to initiate change: “educational institution issues” and “learning and pedagogical issues” (L. Sandner, personal communication, February 19, 2020). I have attempted to use Kotter’s model to address both of these interconnected issues for this assignment. I have outlined Kotter’s Eight Steps, with the addition of Step Nine (Oversight Mechanism), and an ongoing Step Ten (Ongoing Professional Development):
Step 1: Define the Need
Kotter states, “CREATE a sense of urgency,” which prompts leaders to make decisions (“Kotter: 8 Step”, n.d., para. 3). This sense of urgency can result in pressure on leadership to make decisions surrounding EdTech purchases that are not based on consultations with teachers, who will be tasked with using the EdTech. Reflective, versus reactive leadership, is crucial at every stage of this process; however, Step One establishes a culture that will accompany the entire process.
Step 2: Build a Guiding Coalition
Building a guiding coalition involves relationship-based leadership practices that create consensus and a culture that will carry initiatives further in terms of organizational readiness (Kouzes & Posner, 2011). Part of the guiding coalition needs to address funding issues that focus on sustainability. Difficult questions arise, such as: Is too little money to invest in a truly useful ICT initiative better than no money?
Step 3: Form a Strategic Vision
Forming a strategic vision and initiatives in a K12 environment can take time and consensus-building in an already time-pressed culture. Lessons from aboriginal leaders in Canada and the United States demonstrate the power of consensus-building in forming sustainable strategic visions (Julien, Wright, & Zinni, 2010). The investment of consulting with different stakeholders, and reflective and adaptive leadership theories to frame practice, are invaluable.
Step 4: Enlist Peer-Leaders
Enlisting a volunteer army (“Kotter: 8 Step”, n.d., para. 3) of peer-leaders is a holistic approach that is essential to carrying all levels of the organization forward. A solution is to follow Huggins (2017) recommendations for leadership to focus on building leadership capacity in teachers in the school, through distributed leadership endeavours.
Step 5: Enable Action
Enabling action by removing barriers is rooted in reflective and adaptive leadership. In a flipped leadership model such as Latzke (2020) proposes, leaders are at the bottom of the pyramid, teachers in the middle, and students on the top. Prioritizing students’ learning needs is paramount to decision-making, clarifying logistical and pedagogical barriers that need to be removed.
Step 6: Generate Short-Term Wins
Generating short-term wins can be based on a transactional leadership model, or reflective, depending on the participants’ needs. Finding ways to measure students building necessary 21st century learner skills and competencies will articulate short-term wins. How do we measure important skills that are as intangible as critical thinking, and as tangible as writing with Word and Google documents and applying Internet-based research skills? The strategic vision established in Step Three needs to address how to measure successful outcomes that are short-term wins.
Step 7: Sustain Acceleration
Sustaining acceleration is best accomplished through peer-support, or peer-mentors, and ongoing professional development – Step 10 (L. Sandner, personal communication, February 13, 19, 2020; C. Varley, personal communication, February 12, 2020).
Step 8: Institute Change
Instituting change must revisit organizational readiness (Weiner, 2009). If organizational readiness has not been achieved and maintained in the first seven steps, the process of instituting change is doomed to stall, if not fail altogether. If organization readiness has been achieved, part of instituting change will be a consensus-building endeavour to establish an oversight mechanism.
Step 9: Oversight Mechanism
Establishing and oversight mechanism will hold people accountable to their commitment and role in change. It is meant to be supportive as well as a means to sustain meaningful and resilient change.
Step 10: Ongoing Professional Development
Ongoing professional development and support have consistently been identified as a missing pieces in many EdTech initiatives in K12 environments (L. Sandner, personal communication, February 13, 19, 2020). Teachers are often left wondering if the next greatest EdTech resource, system, or tool will be available the following school year! Leaders need to be transparent, communicative, and supportive in timelines for implementation and long-term visions of change (Sheninger, 2014).
It takes adaptive and reflective leadership theories and practices to negotiate, navigate, and lead the way for change in digital learning. Change models like Kotter’s Eight-Step Process can be applied to manage factors based on funding, pressures to implement change, and pedagogical shifts required to accompany digital learning initiatives. The additions of Step 9 and 10 to Kotter’s model make change in digital learning more sustainable, and most importantly – assist in transforming student learning to meet the needs and demands of 21st century learners and workplaces.
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