Schools are going through a process of transformational change that is reflective of changes that we are seeing in society. At the Future of Learning summer institute in 2011 held at Harvard Graduate School of Education, participants were engaged in an exploration to think about the impact of mind/ brain research, the digital revolution and globalization on the future of learning. Maria Langworthy (2010) has researched the connection between innovative teaching and learning practices, and the growth and development of 21st century skills in young people. Sir Ken Robinson (2011) talks about the need to place far greater emphasis upon creativity and innovation in schools and highlights how the pace of technological change is wired, citing examples such as the launch of Skype in 2003 and Twitter in 2006. However, little has been written about what will be required from leaders in education to lead and manage the some of the changes mentioned above.  Growing school cultures that are able to thrive amongst wired and transformational change is a complex challenge.

Leading change is an area that has been subjected to significant research in recent years. There has been increasing literature and research on leadership in schools and an increase in training programmes to prepare individuals to lead effectively. This has come to no surprise since a clear connection has been made between the performance of schools and the quality of leadership and management (McKinsey and Company, 2010 p.5). The influence of leadership is second, only to the quality of teaching (The Scottish Government, 2011 p.2) as the Scottish Government considered how to raise standards in schools. A key element of the role of a Headteacher is leading and managing change (Scottish Executive, 2005 p.5) as schools work to prepare young people to be successful in a changing world with different demands.

When schools or other organisations embark upon transformation, implementation of new ideas or other change initiatives this has a direct impact upon stakeholders. All change initiatives demand resources and require an investment of time for those involved. Change will bring an emotional reaction by some and a sense of discomfort for many. Yet, research is clear, most change initiatives fail. Beer and Nohria, and Sirkin, Keenan and Jackson (Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Change, 2011) are just some of authors who would support this statement. However, it is not clear in the readings how failure is defined. This highlights the need to focus upon the leadership of change through the implementation of a new initiative and reflect upon how change initiatives could be more successfully implemented than they have been in the past.

There is widespread literature on the leadership of change and a number of different models or steps that are designed to ensure the success of a change initiative. Although this substantial literature exists the failure of the majority of changes initiatives continues. Kotter (1996 and 2010) is well respected and regularly referred to by other authors writing about change. He has been writing about the concept for over thirty years and it is not difficult to connect what has been written by other authors with the work of Kotter. Kotter has crafted an eight stage process to approach change or transform an organisation. This approach is fairly linear and it could be argued that change is more complex than this step by step process and a non linear stance should be taken (Rowland et al 2008 p9). A thread which runs through all eight steps of the process is communication. This could come in the form of communicating with others the need for change, engaging a coalition, communicating a vision and articulating successes and changes in behaviours. Garvin et al (2005) reinforced this view when they identified that a common factor of organisations that had transformed effective leaders constantly demonstrated actions that supported the verbal or written vision which had been communicated. This highlights the importance to walk the talk.

The eight steps that Kotter describes are preceded by eight errors that are common to change. The first error that Kotter explains is not establishing a great enough sense of urgency. According to Kotter over half of the companies that he has worked with are unsuccessful at this stage of implementing change. The research that Kotter shared is not supported by in-depth data. This raises a question about the quality of data used in Kotter’s work and the work in other change literatures.  It is not possible in the scope of this literature review to provide a comparison with other works to understand all individual eight steps that Kotter proposes when implementing change. However, it is certainly worthwhile to take a deeper look at how different authors propose you start the change process.

Kotter (1996) suggests that it is common for organisations to fail at creating enough of a sense of urgency. He suggests that leaders in organisations may not spend enough time to ensure that this sense of urgency has been created. Kotter does not explain how leaders could measure urgency although he does state that 75% of managers should supportive of the change or at least sense the need for change. In order to create this sense of urgency this is clear when an organisation is failing. This is a situation when a pace-setting approach could be successful (Goleman 2002 p74).

Kim and Mauborgne (Harvard Business Review 2011 p82) identifies the need to create urgency or reasons for change. There is consistency with Kotter (1996) when they explain the importance of key managers reflecting and understanding the need for change. Kim and Mauborgne think that leaders of change require move beyond communicating the need for change and suggest that key managers should have a firsthand experience of the issues which exist. This would provide an emotional experience for key managers to reflect upon and connect with. Fullan (2011) is an advocate of learning from experience and in his most recent works Fullan (2011) is focussed upon change in an educational context although a limitation of his work is that he explores change in the context of some national systems but is yet to explore the context of international schools. Fullan (2011) does not propose a linear approach but instead gives seven interrelated elements of change leadership. These are:

1) Being resolute

2) Deliberate practice

3) Sustained simplexity

4) Motivate the masses

5) Collaborate to compete

6) Learn confidently

7) Know impact

There are different approaches that have been proposed in change literature. Kotter’s (1996) eight stage processes are:

1) Establishing a sense of urgency

2) Creating the guiding coalition

3) Developing a vision or strategy

4) Communicating the change vision

5) Empowering broad-based action

6) Generating short-term wins

7) Consolidating gains and producing more change

8) Anchoring new approaches in the culture

Steps seven and eight are consistent with the Sigmoid Curve (National College for School Leadership) when it is identified that change is continuous and the timing of when you start a new change initiative is significant. It is suggested that a new change or system should be planned while the existing system continues to show success. The aim is that when the existing system starts to go wrong then the new system is already being supported and has started the upward curve. When Kotter (1996) states strategies that could be used to create a sense of urgency these consistently focus upon identifying what is going wrong in an organisation. Kotter does not mention gaining the views of employees although this is what Palmisano (2004) suggests as a strategy. By collecting feedback from employees Palmisano (2004) considers this to be an effective strategy and supports this with research into the transformation of IBM where s sense of urgency was created by engaging a large group of people in a reflective process. The steps that Palmisano (2004) articulates to lead change are:

1) Gather employees’ input

2) Analyze employees’ input

3) Identify obstacles to living the value

4) Launch change initiatives to remove obstacles

Kotter (1996) is an advocate of a linear approach in comparison with Fullen (2011) and Rowland et al (2008) are advocates of non-linear approaches. It should be noted that there are ten years of difference between the publications of the ideas. Most of the change literature deals with transformation although it should be understood that major change is made up of multiple smaller projects (Kotter 1996).

When reflecting upon the literature of change the much of the discussion is around the concept of leadership. Goleman (2002 and 1998) builds upon his previous work to explore the different emotional intelligences that successful leaders require. He discusses how effective leaders will use different leadership styles in different contexts and can move fluidly between these ways of working. He suggests that a first step to change is for a change leader to cognitively look within and discover what you wish to be like as a leader. This is an ongoing reflective process as the ideal continues to shift as a consequence of being shaped by different experiences. Almost ten years later Fullan (2011) articulates the importance of practice driving theory. As change leaders examine their own practices they can look for patterns with the work of others, draw conclusions and develop new theories. The message from the works of Goleman and Fullan is that through experience and a continued cognitive process we learn and our ideas, practices and dreams change. This brings me back to the work of Rowland and Higgs (2008) who suggest that change is changing, becoming increasingly complex and non-linear. In the same way that Lopez-Pastor et al (2011) explore the challenges of bringing practice and theory together through action research for teachers in order for change leaders to work in the way suggested by Fullan (2011) there could be a need to move in a similar direction and establish systems for school leaders to develop a school culture and the necessary systems to aid collaborative inquiry at all levels in a school.

In a study by McKinsey and Company (2010) their findings are clear that there is a connection between high performing school leaders and high performing schools, and that leaders are required for schools to improve. In their research the common practices and beliefs, attitudes and personal attributes of effective leaders were identified and the findings are consistent with recent literature of change leadership (Fullan 2011, Kotter 2010, Rowland et al 2008 and Schmoker 2008). Effective school leaders (McKinsey and Company 2010) role model behaviour and practices which can impact the behaviours of others (Fullan 2011, p.4), build a share vision and are self-aware and learn.

In the McKinsey and Company (2010) research findings it is also identified that effective school leaders are spending increased amounts of time on instructional leadership. It is suggested that school leaders should be involved in crafting the teaching and learning programme. In a time of increased complexity and change (Rowland et al 2008) and the need for leaders of change to learn from experience and when practice drives theory (Fullan 2011) effective school leaders are spending increased time on instructional leadership and reporting that they continue to enjoy teaching (McKinsey and Company 2010).

Effective leaders build a shared vision and set high expectations for performance (McKinsey and Company 2010). The necessity of achieving the support of key managers is reinforced in the change literature of Kim and Mauborgne (Harvard Business Review 2011 p82), Fullan (2011) and Kotter 1995. Garvin et al (2005) explains the significance of change being reinforced in the positive sense by effective school leaders and Kotter (1996 p11) notes failing to create short-term wins as the fourth reason why most change initiatives fail. He continues by noting that this is significant since transformational change is a long and complex process.

It is possible that there is a tension between collaborative inquiry in schools as a method to improve teaching and learning in a way which is sustainable and increases the capacity for change, and the need to articulate a clear vision through an extensive school improvement plan that seeks transformational change (Schmoker 2008).  Langworthy (2010) identifies that there is a strong relationship between research and innovative teaching practices and it could be the case that teachers become overwhelmed with a large number of change or improvement priorities.

Through the Innovative Teaching and Learning Research (Langworthy 2010) a series of supportive tools have been developed for schools and can be accessed through the Partners in Learning Programme. Included are school surveys that can be used to analyse the frequency of innovative teaching and learning practices in a school. It would be interesting  if the scope of the research was widened to explicitly include leadership practices that facilitate teacher innovation. For example leaders could reflect upon the frequency of time spent recognising innovation, developing teams, observing learning and thinking amongst students, conducting professional inquiry, discussing the future of learning with other educational leaders, discussing and reflecting upon the most suitable strategies to bring about change.

The Hay Group (2011) has identified six megatrends that will need to result in changes in how leaders think and behave if their organisations are to be successful. The six megatrends are:

1)       Globalization 2.0

2)       Climate change and environmental impacts

3)       Demographic change

4)       Individualization and value pluralism

5)       Digital lifestyle and work

6) Technology convergence

Boix-Mansilla et al (2011) provides a convincing discourse on global competences and how these can be developed amongst students through engagement in schools. Boix-Mansilla et al also highlights how the inclusion of global competences or similar ideas in a school’s mission and vision actively promotes and reinforces the development of global competences. There are connections between the work of Boix-Mansilla et al and those presented by the Hay Group (2011). For example the Hay Group identifies the need for leaders of the future to have an increased emphasis towards recognising and understanding different cultures. A second connection is the highlighted significance of the importance of exploring, learning and knowing different world languages. The full list of new leadership competencies from the Hay Group (2011) can be seen below.


Leaders need new forms of contextual awareness, based on strong conceptual and

strategic thinking capabilities.

They need to be able to conceptualize change in an unprecedented way, again based on conceptual and strategic thinking.

Leaders need to exhibit new forms of intellectual openness and curiosity.


Overall, leaders will need to be much more sensitive to different cultures, generations and genders.

They will need to demonstrate higher levels of integrity and sincerity and adopt a more ethical approach to doing business.

They must also tolerate far higher levels of ambiguity.


Leaders must create a culture of trust and openness.

As post-heroic leaders they must rethink old concepts such as loyalty and retention and personally create loyalty.

Collaboration – cross-generational, cross-functional and cross-company – will be

their watchword.

They must lead increasingly diverse teams.

In conclusion I would be an advocate of the identification of the key competencies, actions, ways of thinking and values required of those who have been trusted with the responsibility of leading schools through transformational change. The next step is to design effective tools that can be used to measure the effectiveness of school leaders, leadership teams and promote improvement. Through technology we have a wonderful opportunity to connect school leaders across the world. It is our responsibility as leaders to pave the way and connect with others from different cultures and communities in order to better understand the needs of tomorrow. Part of the beauty of education is that for the majority we come into schools to help young people develop into knowledgeable, respectful and active global citizens who contribute positively to the communities and world around them, and lead fulfilled and joyful lives. In amongst all of the change I believe that we should never lose sight of why we have chosen to work in such a noble profession.


BOIX-MANSILLA, V., & JACKSON. (2011). Educating for global competence: preparing our youth to engage the world. New York, Asia Society.

CSIKSZENTMIHALYI, M. (2008). Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. New York, Harper Perennial.

FULLAN, M. (2011). Change leader: learning to do what matters most. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

FULLAN, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

GARVIN, D. and ROBERTO, M. (2005). Change Through Persuasion. Boston, Mass, Harvard Business Review.

GODIN, S. (2008).Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. New York: Portfolio.

GOLEMAN, D. (1998). Working With Emotional Intelligence. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

GOLEMAN, D. (2002).The New Leaders: Emotional Intelligence at Work. London: Little, Brown.

HAY GROUP (2011). Building the new leader: Leadership challenges of the future revealed. Hay Group.

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW’S 10 MUST READS ON CHANGE. (2011). HBR’s 10 must reads: On change. Boston, Mass, Harvard Business Review.

“ITL RESEARCH.” ITL Research. N.p.,nd.Web. 10 Dec. http://www.itlresearch.com/

KOTTER, J. P. (1995). Leading change. Boston, Mass, Harvard Business School Press.

KOTTER, J. P. (2010). Leading change: why transformation efforts fail. Boston, Mass, Harvard Business Press

LANGWORTHY, M. (2010). ITL Research Pilot Year Executive Summary. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

LOPEZ‐PASTOR, V., MONJAS, R., and MANRIQUE, J. (2011). Fifteen years of action research as professional development: seeking more collaborative, useful and democratic systems for teachers, Educational Action Research, 19:2, 153-170

MCKINSEY and COMPANY (2010). Capturing the leadership premium:

How the world’s top school systems are building leadership capacity for the future. London, McKinsey and Company.

NATIONAL COLLEGE FOR SCHOOL LEADERSHIP. Working strategically with stakeholders. London, National College for School Leadership.

OWEN, C., & CUMMING, J. (2001). Reforming schools through innovative teaching. Deakin, A.C.T., Australian College of Education, Enterprise and Career Education Foundation.

PALMISANO, S. (2004). Leading change when business is good Boston, Mass, Harvard Business Press

PERKINS, D. (2003). King Arthur’s Round Table: How Collaborative Conversations Create Smart Organizations. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons.

RILEY, K. A., & LOUIS, K. S. (2000). Leadership for change and school reform: international perspectives. London, Routledge/Falme

ROBINSON,K. (2011). Out of our minds: Learning to be creative. Chichester, West Sussex: Capstone Publishing Ltd.

ROWLAND, D., & HIGGS, M. (2008). Sustaining change leadership that works. Chichester, England, Jossey-Bass. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10300683.

SHAGOURY, R., & POWER, B. M. (1999). Living the questions: a guide for teacher-researchers. York, Me, Stenhouse Publishers.

SCHMOKER, M. (2004). Tipping Point: From Feckless Reform to Substantive Instructional Improvement Vol. 85, No. 06. Bloomington, Phi Delta Kappan.

SCHWANN,C., & SPADY.W. (1998) Why Change Doesn’t Happen and How to Make Sure It Does. Educational Leadership 55: 45-47.

SCOTTISH EXECUTIVE (2005). Ambitious, excellent schools: standards for headship- November 2005. Edinburgh, Scottish Executive.

SHEAR, L., MEANS, B., GALLAGHER, L., HOUSE, A., and LANGWORTHY, M. (2009). ITL Research design. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT (2011). Teaching Scotland’s Future: Report of a review of teacher education in Scotland. Edinburgh, The Scottish Government.

WAGEMAN, R. (2008). Senior leadership teams: what it takes to make them great. Boston, Mass, Harvard Business School Press.

WILSON, D. (2005). Learning at work: research lessons on leading learning in the workplace. Cambridge, Mass, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s