Why Is Change Necessary?

When district leaders embark on a change effort, they will invariably need a consistent and compelling way to talk about that effort so that all of the different stakeholders in the community will understand the purpose of district redesign.

Building the Narrative

Without a guiding narrative, district staff and members of the community are likely to fill in the void with their own explanations or, as is often the case, with their fears and uncertainties. A coherent and straightforward narrative gives clarity and definition to the work at hand, and—at its best—serves as an engine for the change process.

The narrative must answer two key questions: Why is change necessary? And what is at stake for the entire community, not just those who work in the district or who have children in the schools?

Fortunately, school districts do not need to answer these questions intuitively. A “frame” or story, which has been empirically tested for its ability to build public understanding for education that is student-centered, is available free of charge to educators. "Building Support for Student Centered Learning," provides concrete guidance for those who are trying to build public will for change. 

Disseminating the Narrative

In Salem, though we did not conduct any formal communications trainings, we brought the tested story with us by building it organically into our Scope of Work, the work team meetings, Steering Committee meetings and the Citywide Conversations.   This story has a couple of notable features. First, it is values-driven, meaning that it helps people of all stripes understand the rationale for change. Second, it reminds people that the future of the city and the future of the schools are inextricably linked; too often school and community are cast into separate siloes so it’s important to help the public see their interdependence. Third, it frames problems as collective aspirations so that the shame-and-blame-game that often ensues in communities can be avoided.

We noticed that, fairly quickly, people in and out of the school district began adopting the frame we offered, telling a new story about why the district was ready for change.  In addition, we had numerous opportunities to spread the frame when we prepared the superintendent for presentations at meetings and public events.

key takeaways

  • A strong plan
    Develop a strong communications plan, accompanied by a work plan to continue building momentum for change beyond the strategic planning process.
  • Collateral
    Create collateral—for example, a brochure that can be left in libraries, health clinics, and other public places –and that can be shared with parents, business and faith leaders, and even realtors in the community who can promote the schools with confidence.
  • Recruit ambassadors
    Select a group of ambassadors—students and adults—who can speak at civic and business meetings about district redesign. Offering an ambassadors training and providing a PowerPoint that they can adapt for different audiences will ease the burden for everyone and ensure that a small set of core ideas are repeated time and again.
  • Communicate continuously
    Communicate continuously about the need for change--through internal newsletters, op-eds, and other vehicles so that people will continue to understand and feel invested in the change process.