13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Andrew A. Hoover
- Published on Amazon.com
According to Evans, the goal of this immensely readable and practical book is to help school leaders "implement change in ways that truly `take'." He has divided this project into three parts. In the first, he describes the nature of change; in the second, the dimensions of change; and in the third, the dynamics of leading innovation. Evans' book is perhaps different from others in that he looks at change from where most schools are, not from where he believes they should be. In so doing, he describes what it means for schools to grow and improve given the very human constraints that define an educators' world.
In describing the nature of change, Evans sees a need to move away from common organizational assumptions rooted in Taylor's scientific management practices to assumptions that are more aligned with the nature of today's organizational reality. Given that the environments in which organizations operate today are no longer stable, but turbulent, change strategists must alter the way they seek to improve their organizations. Taylor's legacy assumes efficient organizations are stable, rational, hierarchical, and product-oriented. Evans argues that this "rational-structural" paradigm is less useful than the "strategic-systemic" paradigm, which assumes that efficient organizations are fluid, adaptable, open, and process-oriented. Given that cultures (school cultures as well) are fundamentally conservative, changing schools means changing school cultures. The problem is change challenges peoples' competence, creates confusion and causes conflict. Effective change strategies must harness people's competencies, seek coherence, and work productively with conflict.
In describing the dimensions of change, Evans argues that change must be desirable and feasible. He includes a useful table of tasks of change (p. 56), which describes "unfreezing" the school's culture by increasing the fear of not trying, making change meaningful to the change agents, developing new behaviors and ways of thinking, revising existing structures and norms, and generating support for change. In one of his key chapters, Evans addresses the issue of the "reluctant faculty" and offers an analysis of the faculty member in midcareer (the average age of teachers in the US is forty-five). In part, midcareer educators are where they should be: their personal roles (partner, parent, community member) in life have become important, and the material rewards of work have become necessary expectations. Yet for many, educating young people has become less challenging and the rewards and recognition for what they do have become less frequent. These faculty are isolated and unfreezing them is a significant challenge. Schools must offer more new opportunities for leadership, appropriately recognize and reward teachers at all stages of their careers, and seek new ways for teachers to develop professionally and personally. Additionally, to undertake effective change, schools must assess their organizational capacity by examining six school specific contexts, which Evans describes in some depth: (1) Occupational framework (2) Politics (3) History (4) Stress (5) Finances, and (6) Culture (pp. 119-143).
In the last section of the book, Evans focuses on leadership as a key dimension of innovation. Given that effective reform in today's schools requires trust and consensus, authenticity is the key quality for school leaders - be they teachers, administrators, or parents. Major change, he argues, almost never arises from the bottom up, it comes from purposeful leadership. Purposeful leadership means generating consensus around a school's core purposes and demonstrating tireless commitment to them. Purposeful leadership builds followership and with followership comes change. (Evans offers an exploration of six ways to build optimal participation on pages 246-252.) Leaders should emphasize the positive, keep the path clear (when you add, take something away), and be flexible with timelines. The leader can't ask others to change unless s/he changes first. And, leaders must challenge "unprincipled resistance" from staff who violate group values. Schools, like America's top corporations, must reward people for trying innovations, and avoid punishing failure.
This book, more than most I've ever read, is true to its title. Evans is humane, intelligent, insightful, and realistic. This book continues to enrich me each time I re-read it.