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Leadership: Secrets of Change
Jen Olson

Jennifer Olson, principal
Humphrey Elementary, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted

Six Secrets of Change:
What the best leaders do

I participated in a book study this summer, discussing Michael Fullan’s The Six Secrets of Change: What the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive. Fullan discusses six secrets to his philosophy for change:  love your employees, connect peers with purpose, capacity building prevails, learning is the work, transparency rules, and systems learn. In order to increase the chances of bringing about lasting change within an organization, we should be reflecting on the parts of the whole community. Here is a snapshot of his six secrets, right or wrong.

Love Your Employees. We have a duty to invest in our staff as well as our students. Enabling staff to find meaning, learn continuously and find personal satisfaction in making contributions that simultaneously fulfill their own goals as well as our organization’s goals, is where we will see the most marketable growth. In other words, create an environment where everyone feels valued, has purpose, and develops professional skills.

Connect Peers with Purpose. Our job as educational leaders is to provide direction for peer interaction that is purposeful and effective, and intervene when things are not working as well as they should. Connections should be about rallying around a higher purpose, and having knowledgeable conversations as we pursue and learn what works best. Peers’ enlarged identity and commitment are the social glue that enables the global thought process. It’s no longer ‘my classroom’ but rather ‘our school.’

Capacity Building Prevails. High capacity individuals possess and continue to develop skills and knowledge base, attract and use resources wisely, and are committed to accomplishing goals. What can we do to accomplish this? Hire and cultivate the talents of staff. Ask yourself “why would great people want to work here?” Motivation is a key component of high capacity.

Learning is the Work. The fourth secret focuses on teachers learning within the setting in which they work, and combining personalization, precision, and professional learning. Our most important job as educational leaders is to teach staff to become more effective. Modeling, continual practice, and additional support help move towards self-reliance. Should we look for whom to blame for a problem? No, our goal is to find out where the system failed and learn from it.

Transparency Rules. Transparency involves being open about results and practices, and targeting problems that recur. It also means being open about what practices are most strongly connected to successful outcomes. Transparency builds credibility and trust -- which provides learning opportunities between staff, connects them with common goals, and provides purpose and meaningful conversation. Are you noticing Fullan’s secrets are fully interconnected?  He openly acknowledges this partnership throughout his book. Success can and does occur focusing on only one or two of the six secrets. Without taking all of them into consideration, however, the success will be shortlived.

Systems Learn. In order for learning to take place, we as leaders need to remember these things:  take credit and some blame, project confidence, talk about the future, and be specific about the few things that matter and keep repeating them. As a whole, we can learn on a continuous basis. Our job is to be humble in the face of complexity, be committed, and continually seek knowledge.

My reflection of the read?  Fullan’s challenge to the reader is to view things from different perspectives, learn from past mistakes, be bold in our vision and cautious in our planning. Although his secrets are common sense, it was a good reminder to reevaluate who I am and the global communities in which I work. It is important for educators to support others, be honest and open to change, and admit that we don’t know everything (or as much as we’d like!). Here’s hoping you find your balance for a fantastic school year and that putting the secrets into action will inspire others to rise to the challenge.

(Published in the MESPA Advocate, September 2010)