6 steps to effectively earning staff buy-in for new school initiatives
Implementing your new year's initiatives at your school can be tricky because it means changes are going to happen. And change can be a four letter word.
So how does a school leader—or Tech Director “convince” the school that a new Student Information System or updated admissions software, or even a more robust LMS (which means change for teachers, gasp) is a good idea?
Change is particularly hard for schools because historically there isn’t a strong culture of change. Independent schools often have rooted traditions, rituals, celebrations, and always the same breaks, schedule and holidays. This is why schools struggle with implementing effective change.
If there is not proper buy-in, changes can fail like what happened recently with one of the largest school districts in North America: Los Angeles Unified School District. They decided to shorten the winter break from three weeks down to two and a half, and each year thereafter shorten it more until it was back to the usual two weeks. The calendars were set, but there was no buy-in from teachers for this initiative, and months into the school year, the break got changed back to three weeks because the teachers, and their union resisted so strongly.
Some common school initiatives for 2024 include:
- Increase quality enrollment
- Decrease admin work
- Strengthen alumni network
- Foster better communication between parent-students-faculty
To achieve these changes, it involves planning, and usually new technology—which brings out a growing fear of not just change, but a resistance of new technology as well.1 Here’s an effective six-step strategy to communicate and implement change in your school and meet your new year’s goals:
Being honest and transparent with your school staff is sometimes the fastest way to gain buy-in for change.2 Honesty says you trust your school staff with the truth. Share the problem and the potential solution. For example: Academic success is declining in the last semester, we need a tool to help foresee patterns before grades, test scores, and attendance continue to decline with select students. Or, Enrollment could be better, we need to streamline the process to help capture more quality applicants—our school is amazing, we need to keep it that way! Sell the change, don't tell the change. No one responds to unexplained orders—we’re talking about educators here.
Appeal to the pain
Let’s say your school is looking to adapt a new admissions software that would allow for easy online forms, and less data entry. Appeal to the pain by reminding your staff of all the times they tried to decipher parents' messy handwriting and the hope that they imputed at least their email addresses correctly. Share what the outcome could be: if that process was more automated you could spend more time recruiting, and conducting interviews etc. Who likes data entry? Maybe the pain is parent-teacher-student communication and constant emails teachers are fending off about what’s my assignment, what’s my student's grade, and implementing a system that could solve that problem. Covid was a great example of rapid school-wide change, because everyone understood the why and then endured the how with zoom and online learning, etc. Nietzsche said it perfectly, “They who have a why can endure any how.”
Have a resistance plan
Be ready with examples of the pain and problems and how this change will solve them. Make time for questions and feedback. Make the change feel more like a discussion than an order, and emphasize your school is one team working towards one goal—making the school the best it can be! The change, especially if it’s technology related, can feel like the tech director vs. the head of school. I was in a sales meeting with a director of technology and the head of communications. The tech director didn’t want to move forward with the new platform, but the communications person pushed and pushed. The project moved forward, but took almost a year to launch because of the tech director’s resistance. It was painful for everyone. Get everyone on the same team and page first.
Form a committee
This may feel like the more people voting on a change, the less likely it’s going to happen. However, forming a committee of people (not always school leaders and directors) who will directly be affected by the change, will help sustain the change and make people feel like they have a choice. This will result in better teacher buy-in. The committee can help interview and vote on new vendors. Going back to the admissions software example, having an admin from the admissions team on the committee, as well as someone in the tech department would help bridge the two departments to find one solution.
Find your cheerleaders
Every change needs a cheerleader. A quick way to do this if you’re implementing new technology and need buy-in, is asking your sales person for some references and success stories. If your school is trying to introduce a new LMS for example, maybe have just one teacher start using it. More will follow as other teachers will see the success of the program.
Remember the “R”!
The pillars for successful change management are sometimes described with the ADKAR acronym. This stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement.3 The R being most important, to reinforce and sustain the change you’ve worked so hard for. How does a school leader do this? Share the newsletter with product updates with your staff who are using the new technology, have regular check-ins with your staff, and promote success stories like: we just had the first online enrollment application submitted, and the interview scheduled online too!
Tell don’t sell the big picture of the change and how it will positively impact your school staff, and promote your school’s mission and vision for the new year. Change doesn’t have to be a four letter word. Follow these steps to implement positive change for your school in 2024.