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Putting the student in charge of their learning requires a transformation in education. Learn how one K-12 superintendent approaches these changes.

Today’s students are demanding change and want a voice in their educational journey. They expect to be challenged through real-world experiences and, more importantly, they crave opportunities to collaborate with others. Their instincts are sound as, in fact, such educational approaches foster competencies foundational to their long-term success. Schools shackled to the status quo are failing to sufficiently evolve to provide this and future generations of students the experiences and opportunities they demand and need to be college, career, and life ready. 

Many schools are eager to change and have a well-developed strategy for transformation and a culture that exudes change, innovation, and enthusiasm–three rockstar characteristics that can transform any school culture. Innovative and high-performing schools have a “do whatever it takes” school culture. Transformative leaders have a daily “to-do-list” that is focused on removing constructs that impede student learning and success. Far from being paralyzed by a fear of failing in the change process, they are inspired by the prospect of uncovering better ways of serving students and unleashing additional human potential in their team. Transformed schools almost have a “Dancing to Change” mantra, which embraces the art of change and uses change as an opportunity to do something big for students.

Transformative school leaders, teachers, and staff members embrace change and view the status quo as an impediment to student success. The need to change catalyzes innovation. When change is combined with innovation, students are given spectacular learning experiences, learning spaces, and out-of-the-box opportunities that will lead to success. School leaders, teachers, and staff members in transformative schools weigh the call for change against how that change will help ALL students to succeed. They have an innate ability to remain focused on their vision, even as resistance to change grows or becomes louder by stakeholders shackled to the status quo. 

There will always be resistance to change because change is hard and requires a certain level of commitment; it requires people to roll up their sleeves, get dirty, and embrace missteps as opportunities to learn, refine and evolve. School leaders, teachers, and staff members who succeed in evolving a school’s culture and practices have discovered ways to counter the argument that transformation is nothing more than tedious and exhausting. Organizational transformation requires a change in both mindset and culture. When school leaders and their team of educators are seen by stakeholders, especially by students, parents/guardians and other school stakeholders, as open and enthusiastic about change, they become more responsive to change themselves. They, too, are compelled by the benefits of dancing to change. Certainly, change can be hard for school leaders, teachers, and staff members, but it is also challenging and requires a leap of faith for students, parents, and other school stakeholders.

To keep everyone engaged and moving with the transformative winds, communication is essential. Crisply conveying the vision, the destination and the rationale is critical for transformative leaders. The more effectively school leaders, teachers, and staff members exhibit positivity throughout the change experience, the more likely others will be to follow and accept it.

If school leaders, teachers, and staff members perceive change as boring, then it will be boring. Mindset promotes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Likewise, if the school’s culture is averse to change, then change will be difficult, if not impossible. Given a choice between dancing to change or being negative and boring, why not dance? Transformative school teams recognize that change is strategic, not tactical. They also appreciate that strategic change is far from rigid; in fact, better, more sustainable buy-in can be achieved when it is flexible, liberating and even fun. Educators in transformed schools know that enthusiasm is an essential ingredient throughout the transformation process. Effective leaders know how to recognize and leverage the strategic mindset and optimism of change agents within their organization. Such catalysts ensure that the energy and excitement to transform is nurtured and sustained.

A strategic approach to change helps to ensure that student success remains the focus, but school leaders, teachers, and staff members must make learning fun, innovative, and inclusive for all stakeholders. After all, as educators, we should ultimately strive to create learning environments in which educators model the competencies and lifelong learning approaches that our students crave and instinctively know they need for the long-term.   

Brian Creasman

Dr. Brian Creasman’s Twitter profile says he has the best job in Kentucky! As superintendent of Fleming County Schools since 2014, he has the privilege of leading, learning and collaborating with students, staff, and the best community each day. Over his career, he has been fortunate to serve as a teacher, assistant principal, middle school principal, high school principal, and assistant superintendent. Recognized as a National Certified Superintendent by AASA, Brian's areas of interest include school and district transformation, teacher leadership, student voice, and empowering others to do BIG things for students. Brian is the 2020 Kentucky Superintendent of the Year and a nationally recognized author — having co-authored The Leader Within: Understanding and Empowering Teacher Leaders, Growing Leaders Within: A Process toward Teacher Leadership, Can Every School Succeed? Bending Constructs to Transform an American Icon, and ConnectED Leaders: Network and Amplify your Superintendency.