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4 Essential Tips to Navigating Change in a District

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January 12th, 2017

Tall ships are quite a majestic sight to see.

Imagine sails being stretched by the invisible wind and the crew actively tending to their posts as if in a well-choreographed dance with each other and the ship. As the seas change from calm to turbulent waves, the crew is able to anticipate the needs for a successful voyage.

Imagine the crew before they had embarked on the voyage and the amount of change that was required for them to go from land to sea navigation. For their transition to be successful, they needed to understand why they were going to their destination, how they were going to get there, what skills were required of everyone, and when and how to work with others during the voyage.

Sound familiar?

Whether preparing to voyage across the sea for the first time, or implementing an initiative in a school district, change is inevitable. Understanding essential steps is required to successfully navigate change.

Have a Vision

No matter the size of the initiative, do those affected by it understand why the change to that initiative is happening? Imagine the crew of the ship embarking on a journey with no idea why they are there or where they are going.

If there is a clear purpose (vision) and goals (how to get there) established, then the crew won’t be confused. Better yet, if the crew (aka stakeholders) had a hand in helping to shape the vision and goals, it’s less likely they’ll be confused and more likely they’ll be invested in the success of the voyage/initiative.  

Keep the Communication on Repeat

The crew/stakeholders have been involved in creating the vision and goals. Preparations are underway to begin the voyage. As they get into the details, someone may ask about a particular detail that hadn’t been considered. In addition, new stakeholders have joined the crew and need to be brought up to speed. Pretty soon, confusion and anxiety begin to take over and the vision begins to lose its focus.

The solution? Communicate again why the team is doing what they’re doing (vision) and how they’re going to get it done (goals)—and be sure to communicate it regularly. Those that are new certainly need to hear it for the first time. Others will need to feel reassured by gaining clarity. It’s human nature to not remember everything we read or hear, so repeated communication is a must.

Invest in Training and Ongoing Development

There’s no doubt that giving stakeholders training on the skills they need to begin a new initiative is necessary. But it’s not sufficient. Think about the frustration that people feel when they start to apply their newfound skills only to realize they have forgotten part of the process.

Not providing self-directed support nor ongoing training will only increase the anxiety caused by the lack of skills necessary to navigate the change. In fact, studies have shown that people forget up to 90% of what they were taught if it’s not useful within a week. Providing ongoing training and opportunities to dig deeper with fellow stakeholders will certainly lead to successful application of newly acquired skills for the initiative at hand.

Foster Collaboration

Imagine navigating new waters aboard a ship in isolation from the rest of the crew. It would be impossible to realize the vision of the voyage alone.

Professional knowledge of stakeholders increases as does coherence when, in this case, teachers collaborate. Particularly when schools encouraged collaboration on using data, it was found that “data use was most effective in schools where staff had access to usable data and then worked together to calibrate expectations, review concrete evidence of student learning, and participate in instructional decision making.” Without a culture of collaboration, stakeholders will feel isolated and alone. Collaboration is the heartbeat of any successful change.

Whatever your part is in navigating through change, be sure to always and repeatedly communicate the vision, provide ample and repeated training/support, and foster collaboration. When you do, any further changes will be met with as much confidence as the ship’s well-choreographed crew working together on the voyage toward their destination.

“It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.” – George William Curtis


Illuminate Education is a provider of educational technology and services offering innovative data, assessment and student information solutions. Serving K-12 schools, our cloud-based software and services currently assist more than 1,600 school districts in promoting student achievement and success.

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