Category Archives: Politicking school change

Politicking School Evolution

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

On first glance this might appear to be an unusual topic to include in the digital evolution of schooling. You’ll not see mention of it in any school planning document.

But the reality is that every school, small and large and indeed every organisation seeking to evolve digitally needs leaders skilled in the politicking of change, ready to apply those skills whenever the opportunity arises. The organisational change literature (Kanter, et.al, 1992) suggests up to 20% of a leader’s time can be spent directly or indirectly in politicking the desired change. It could be much more.

In most instances one is looking at small ‘p’ internal politicking but there could well be times – quite pronounced in some settings – where the school leadership needs to astutely engage in large ‘P’ politicking and to work with the professional politicians in advancing the school’s evolution.

It is appreciated state school leaders across the Western world as public servants are invariably prohibited from the latter type of ‘collaboration’ but as any who have worked in school administration for some time appreciate there are ways of safely activating supportive politicians as sponsors of a change.

If one is to successfully lead the digital evolution of a school, either as principal or as a member of the leadership team one needs to be skilled in the art of politicking the desired change and the protection of one’s back. The latter is important.

It is critical the leader secures the requisite support and endorsement at each key stage of the evolutionary journey and nips in the bud any moves that could distract the school from realising its shaping vision.

That entails very good people skills, astute social networking, the securing of sponsors and promoters of the change, the generation of a strong reserve of social capital, respect, the close daily monitoring of the school’s total operations and an appreciation of when it is necessary to secure the endorsement of various parts of the school’s community before making the next step. That endorsement doesn’t always have to be formally minuted but it is always helpful to have at least an email record of any agreements for possible future reference.

It also entails – when the circumstances dictate – the principal being willing to make unilateral decisions. Hansen in his excellent study on Collaboration (2009) talks of ‘disciplined collaboration’ and the necessity of leaders ‘assessing when to collaborate (and when not to)…stressing the ‘goal of collaboration is not collaboration, but better results (Hansen, p15, 2009).’

The latter is often forgotten.

It becomes particularly pertinent as the pace of the digital evolution accelerates, natural nonlinear growth impacts and the school realises ever more unintended benefits.   There is scant time or indeed interest in scrutinising every step and a willingness to let those at responsible make the decisions provided they are consonant with the school’s shaping vision.

The pathfinder school experience strongly suggests, particularly in the early stages, the evolution can be two steps forward and one step back. One is most assuredly not looking at a clear linear, A to B to C evolutionary path even with the best of planning and politicking.

It is easy to forget that in going digital schooling is embarking on one of its most momentous historical changes, and is doing so in a historically remarkably short period. It is very likely that none of the school staff or parents has ever had a digital schooling, and as such has a clear understanding of what is entailed.

It is an immense change to politick, to manage and have accepted as the new norm.

It is thus imperative that one sell the school’s evolution not only with the staff and the educational decision makers but also with the school’s student, parent and wider school community – with one’s clients –and ensure as best one can the clients are supportive of the school’s evolution and growth.

Virtually all the parents have only known the traditional paper based mode of schooling and while generally supportive of the digital they will retain a degree of ‘digital paranoia’, will at times default to the traditional ways and interestingly will likely expect the school to ‘fix the problem’ even when the responsibility has supposedly been shifted to the parents. In brief even when giving an endorsement, such as supporting BYOT many parents will not grasp the full implications of that approval.

The challenge is amplified when each year the school takes on a new student parent cohort.

You’ll soon find the students, even the very young will be your greatest political allies, particularly when you empower and collaborate with them, and ensure they are taught how the 24/7/365 use of their digital technologies can enhance their holistic education. There are few things more powerful politically than having a total student group able to articulate to parents and visitors how the digital is improving their learning.

Experience suggests it will take time for the digital transformation of schooling to be fully accepted, but that acceptance can likely be accelerated by genuinely collaborating with all the ‘teachers’ of the young – the staff, the students, their families and the wider school community – respecting and recognising their contribution, empowering them and having all appreciate the macro workings and aspirations of the school such that all can assist with politicking the evolution.

  • Hansen M.T (2009) Collaboration: How to Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results, Boston, Harvard Business School Publishing
  • Kanter, R.M., Stein, B.A. and Jick, T.D (1992) The Challenge of Organisational Change NY Free Press