Chapter Ten

Implementation II


Implementing significant change is a once-in-a-generation activity. A partial success leaves little room and resources for a “second wave” that fills in the gaps. As we noted in
Chapter 8, flaws in implementation mean that many big-ticket programs have produced limited results – sometimes none. This is why we want to give careful consideration to implementation of our recommendations, limited as we are by our commitment to keeping geographical, cultural and political considerations as broad as possible.

As we have mentioned, the kinds of changes we are recommending are already being implemented in various places, but usually only in a single “alternative” school rather than on a broader scale. Scaling implementation requires careful consideration and planning if we are to achieve lasting, system-wide improvements. To this end, we will now lay out the important considerations for the implementation of these kinds of changes in an education context, followed by a suggested example pathway.

General considerations for a pathway to change

There are many models of implementing change. We will build here on one developed by Harvard Business School professor John Kotter, more fully explored in his 1995 book Leading Change.128 We have chosen Kotter’s model because, of the best models, it seems the easiest to adapt to the issues of implementing system-wide change in education. Our aim is not to be prescriptive, but suggestive, bringing out salient points that should lead any discussion.

To create lasting change, Kotter says, it is necessary to:

  1. Create urgency – an incitement to aim higher than “business as usual,” and aim higher now. It involves transmitting the recognition that the world is changing fast, and that opportunities are opening up for our community of children. Fostering community conversations through the media, existing schools and social networks is an essential part of the preparation. Kotter’s view is that we should aim to bring around three-quarters of the “management,” in this case, stakeholders such as parents, media, teachers and school and community leaders, onside by this process before proceeding to step two. Note: negative motivations – that learners are now being disadvantaged by our inaction – are to be avoided, if possible.
  2. Form a powerful coalition – not necessarily gathering those with existing power, but assembling a team of people who have skills, respect, charisma, motivation and political influence – and have bought into the vision For change. The team members should be from every area and level of the organization. That means teachers, parents, community leaders, etc., as outlined above.
  3. Create a vision for change – lay out a clear, easily communicable and memorable vision of what the change will achieve. It can be summarized in one or two sentences, and will be the take-home message from, say, media reports and consultation meetings with parents and community leaders. The coalition will then create a strategy to bring that vision to reality.
  4. Communicate the vision – it is important that the vision be transmitted within the learning community as well as outside, and spoken about in everyday situations rather than just in specially-arranged meetings. At this stage, old-style values must be invisible. Preparing for the exam-free future, for example, means celebrating local learners’ exam results as an indicator of how ready learners are to embrace the future, how well they learn, and how that facility for learning will soon be creating even brighter futures for them. Training and reviews of learning professionals’ performance should begin to reflect this future context too. Note: at this stage, people will voice their concerns about the proposed changes, and these concerns must be sensitively, empathetically and comprehensively addressed.
  5. Remove obstacles – at this stage, the coalition should be hiring “change leaders” whose role will be to identify specific implementation strategies, check for barriers to change (and remove them if possible), reward those who are making change happen (but not punish those who have not yet bought into the vision) and continue the process of persuasion towards uptake of the vision.
  6. Create short-term wins – the coalition must create visible successes that are impossible to dispute, and achievable before it can be claimed that the desired change has failed to appear or is impossible to achieve. This requires the identification of a slew of short-term targets. When made public, these wins can provide an invaluable boost in motivation for all concerned. Examples might be an improvement in (appropriately measured) student engagement or a reduction in absenteeism or dropouts within three months of the program’s first implementation; another could be a collation of letters of support from local people, or an increase in applications for teacher training places. They must be carefully chosen to limit the potential for them to “backfire” and be used to undermine the process of change.
  7. Build on the change – system-wide change is a long term project and early successes do not mean victory is assured. Scaling up initial projects is an essential part of the second (and third and fourth…) wave that moves towards completion, and has its own challenges. It is important to review and refine changes that have been implemented in order to prevent amplification of once small problems when the changes are scaled up. Vigilance is the watchword here. Reviewing the project’s goals, and setting new ones is also important. Keeping change leaders fresh helps – bringing in new people, moving people into a variety of roles over time, for instance. This ensures no one stagnates or runs out of ideas, and that motivation keeps change rolling forward.
  8. Anchor the changes in the culture – once the mountain has been climbed, there is real danger of slip and fall. Vigilance must be maintained. Even those people brought in to the system after the changes have been established must be given the opportunity to recognize what has been achieved and must buy into the vision even after it has been realized. The key leaders of change should be recognized and celebrated to give motivation and aspiration to future change-leaders within the organization. The story of success is important, and should be regularly re-visited.

Having outlined these steps, let’s see how they might apply in the system-wide improvement of learning.

An Example Implementation Pathway

Throughout this Blueprint we have endeavored to avoid prescription, since we are speaking to a wide variety of geographical, cultural, and economic contexts. Applying what we have recommended will require further thought and planning in each jurisdiction. However, taking into account change management wisdom and the experience of successful system-wide change implementations, here is what a typical implementation pathway might look like in 10 steps:

  1. Identification of the ideal scale of implementation – including goals, scope and timespan. Once this has been identified, a conversation with media should begin;
  2. Announcement of vision – coupled with an announcement of a long-term commitment of an appropriate sum of money for, say, 10 years in conjunction with a media engagement program to explain the vision and set out fora for public involvement and buy-in;
  3. Publication of a set of goals – including justifications, assessment criteria, milestones and financials such as likely cost and source of funding;
  4. Recruitment of human resources – to instigate the program of changes;
  5. Development of recommended curriculum elements – by a sub-group of appropriately sourced learning professionals, community members, learners, higher education representatives and employers;
  6. Design and implementation of the required teacher training programs;
  7. Formation of stakeholder groups – to support the new learning system, together with a public awareness program to share vision of imminent change for the better;
  8. Creation of protocols for system monitoring – including assessment, feedback and improvement.129
  9. Reassessment of human resource requirements – followed by a second wave of recruitment and training and creation of networks for sharing ideas and achievements;
  10. Implementation of a pre-launch review – that considers the following questions:
    • Is the desired change clearly defined? How complex is it? How difficult is it?
    • Are the key change-makers fully committed to the program? How skilled are they? Do they have the necessary resources in place? What is the nature of the support system, what are the competing demands on attention, and have they been minimized? 130
    • Is the top level (for example, but not necessarily, the ministry of education) able and equipped to lead and support the work? 131
    • Is there community support for change?
  11.  Program roll out – if the answers to the review questions are satisfactory, and communication and support networks are in place.

Living Blueprint

As a further contribution towards making these changes sustainable, WGSI is instigating an online Living Blueprint that mirrors this document but can be updated to reflect new learning, experiences and challenges. In line with our findings on sustainable change, we feel it is important that the recommended measures evolve. As Andy Hargreaves puts it, “detailed documents that freeze policies in text become outdated and overtaken even as they are being written, by changing communities, new technologies, fresh legislation, research insights, and unanticipated problems.” 132 is an attempt to unfreeze our recommendations. We would like those who share our vision, and decide to act on it, to join with us in networking to ensure wide access to the emerging knowledge and skills that will significantly enhance learning in 2030.


128. Kotter, J. Leading Change.

129. Lessons learned from the successful implementation of change in Ontario are outlined in the International Academy of Education report “System-Wide
Improvement in Education”; “Finland: Slow and Steady Reform for Consistently High Results,” an OECD analysis of the way change was implemented in the Finnish education system.

130. Establishing policies, accountability measures and limited professional development is not enough. The Ontario strategy was to employ 200 people at the Ministry who linked to a leader in each of 72 school districts and to the teams leading implementation in every school. This took 1% of the elementary and secondary budget

131. This requires consideration of the characteristics of an effective ministry, laid out in the Appendix of the IAE report

132. Hargreaves, A. “Hargreaves on Education Policy.” 

“Finnish education expert, Pasi Sahlberg, says the much lauded transformation of the Finnish education system came “at a reasonable cost.” So reasonable, in fact, that 98% of the cost of education at all levels is covered by government rather than by private sources.”

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