July 2013


  • The smart money
    Changes to how teacher performance is rewarded present some complex challenges and appraisers will need to tread carefully. Ensuring objectives are linked to impact is essential, says Duncan Baldwin. More
  • Mobile generation
    Rather than banning mobiles, some schools are now designing lessons around the technology in young people’s pockets. Liz Lightfoot reports. More
  • Race to the top
    The reasons as to why so few black and minority ethnic (BME) teachers achieve promotion to headship are easy to understand yet difficult to solve, but a new study shows that targeted training programmes do have an impact. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
  • Focus on change
    Change is a given in a turbulent world but not everyone will readily accept the need for it or will act on your plans for it. John Bennett offers some insights into how to overcome resistance and make change happen. More
  • Growth industry
    A professional development programme developed by teachers, has helped turn around the teaching and learning standards of one school, as Sharon Simpson and Louisa Gooch explain. More
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Change is a given in a turbulent world but not everyone will readily accept the need for it or will act on your plans for it. John Bennett offers some insights into how to overcome resistance and make change happen.

Focus on change

Before I became a head, I was a deputy for five years. The then-head was full of ideas, many of them good, but too often they did not really catch on and anyway, there was no point – he was off with the next idea. Even the governors described him as b being a “good starter (of new ideas) but not a finisher”. I ended up as the ‘middle man’, going between the head and the rest of the staff and trying to keep everyone on board.

Later on, when I became a head myself of the same school, I was very conscious not to repeat what I had seen my predecessor do and after a year or two in post, I happened to come across a book that proved to be really helpful. It was Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and succeeding under any conditions (2006) by John Kotter*, a professor at Harvard Business School.

The story is a simple allegory about a group of penguins (yes – penguins!) and it addresses some of the difficulties facing those who wish to bring about change. I recommend it to you as a short, light and rather different read. At the end, Kotter describes his eight-step process for successful change that provided me with extremely useful advice.

Kotter's eight-step process for successful change:


1 Create a sense of urgency. Help others to see the need for change and the importance of acting quickly.

2 Pull together the guiding team. Make sure that there is a powerful group guiding the change – one with leadership skills, credibility, communications ability, authority, analytical skills, and a sense of urgency.


3 Develop the change vision and strategy. Clarify how the future will be different from the past, and how you can make that future a reality.


4 Communicate for understanding and ‘buy in’. Make sure that as many others as possible understand and accept the vision and strategy.

5 Empower others to act. Remove as many barriers as possible so that those who want to make the vision a reality can do so.

6 Produce short-term wins. Create some visible, unambiguous success as soon as possible.

7 Don't let up. Press harder and faster after the first success. Be relentless with initiating change after change until the vision is a reality.


8 Create a new culture. Hold on to the new ways of behaving, and make sure they succeed, until they become strong enough to replace old tradition.

Reflecting on this helped me to understand why some of the changes I had tried to implement had not been as effective as they might. In essence, while being very enthused with a ‘new idea’ from time to time – and being convinced that it would help to take us forward – I had not given enough thought to the process needed to ensure that the change both happened in the first place and then became embedded in everyday practice.

'Stick in the mud'

In addition, from time to time, I had tended to become frustrated with a few ‘stick in the mud’ colleagues for resisting change; however, perhaps the difficulty was down to my failure to get and keep them on board by using a process like that which Kotter suggests.

I also found that I needed to give greater consideration to where each of my colleagues was coming from. The school had become very used to its own way of working and many, both staff and governors, thought that there was no great need for change.

Our exam results were okay and our well-defined rural catchment and general reputation, in combination with the difficulties being experienced by the neighbouring secondary school, ensured that we were always oversubscribed. Due to this and the fact that we were a pleasant place to work, with a friendly and open staff, many colleagues had been in the school for a long while and saw nothing wrong with the modus operandi.

There is a lovely model of innovation I came across once that helped me to put this issue into perspective. The innovators take the lead and are willing to try out new ideas; the followers do just that – follow the innovators; the laggards (love the word!) resist any change – and I had lots of those.

I also had plenty of those colleagues who tell you, “We tried that some years ago and it doesn’t work.”

Encouraging reflection

It became clear to me that I was failing in particular to address this group of colleagues’ concerns and to help them to accept and to gain ownership of the things that needed to be done. By following Kotter’s guidelines, I found that I was able to achieve far more than I had previously expected.

So much for institutional change – but I still had individuals who were ‘stuck’ and others who were capable of more. I needed to find a way of making them reflect on their own work and grow a better understanding both of their true potential and of the factors affecting their functioning.

So, after most training sessions, I and other senior colleagues would ask colleagues to complete an ‘action planning for change’ sheet. The task involved them thinking through the session and identifying an area of focus. This would be something that had struck them during the session and something that they thought they might focus on personally to develop it further.

The table below illustrates the ten questions that action planning for change involves.

Many colleague said that using this process helped personalise the session for them and it also meant that what had been covered was not lost to their memory as the pressure of the next day kicked in.

Ideas crowded out

I believe that this last point is a crucial one. During my time in education, I have attended many training sessions, both at my own school and elsewhere. Often the day has been interesting and full of good ideas.

Yet time after time, I have returned to work and the here and now have crowded out all those good ideas. Within a couple of months, the training materials have been conscribed to the pile of ‘good stuff that I never get to' and I have a guilty conscience, as the school's money has been spent and there has been no direct benefit to the students.

So a simple strategy, which ensures that the new work is not 'lost' and is applied to each individual present, has immense value.

I learned quite early in my headship that I had not given enough thought to the process of change and how to make it happen in my school.

Putting it right was not rocket science - it simply involved the systematic and planned use of a few very simple strategies.

Action planning for change:

Choose an area to focus on and then identify:

1 What is the problem?

2 What are the reasons for change?

3 Who are the key players in this change?

4 What are the obstacles to change?

5 What are the enablers for change? 

6 What are the critical success factors?

7 Who will be leading the plan?

8 What are the roles and tasks of each contributor?

9 What are the resource implications?

10 What are the desired outcomes? 

It is important to ask question 1 first, followed by question 10, and then to work through the remaining questions in order.

Focussed on change?

If you are interested in training relevant to this area, ASCL Professional Development offers a number of opportunities. Below is a selection, but please see the ASCL website for a full list of events www.ascl.org.uk/pd

  • Performance Management: Challenging change resistance effectively – Thursday 17 October 2013 in Nottingham
  • Coaching to Motivate and Develop Leaders – Tuesday 19 November 2013 in London
  • CPD Co-ordinators’ Conference – Wednesday 18 June 2014 in Birmingham