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It’s another year of change: Can you answer these questions?

Here's how to make sure you don’t roll out an initiative without foresight and planning

[Editor’s note: This is the 13th installment in Jennifer Abrams’ ‘Personal Development’ column for eSchool News. In her columns, Abrams focuses on leadership skills for anyone working in a school or district. Read more about the column here.]  

Here we go: another opening, another show. The school year has started. The new ideas are ready for rollout. The excitement is present.

Are you ready? The roll out of new curriculum, the alignment of assessments, the instructional strategies that we will do with more fidelity, the intentional overlays of social emotional learning practices, the opportunity for something new… the list continues.

It is essential to think before you speak. Before you roll something out. The great idea that we all should be thinking about, the wonderful new program that will help our students, the workshop strategies you learned about this past summer—none of it is wrong. It might be what’s needed to improve a student’s year. We need to make sure that we don’t roll out any initiative without foresight, planning, and the answers to these questions.

Do you have responses to these questions? Are they ready to say aloud and put into writing?

  1. What is the challenge you are addressing?
  2. What was the process for looking at the challenge?
  3. Who was involved?
  4. What values undergirded your choice to make this decision?
  5. What were the criteria upon which you made a decision?
  6. What exactly was the decision? What will the change be?
  7. Who needs to make changes because of this decision?
  8. In what time frame do we need to make these changes?
  9. What supports will be in place to help us move forward?
  10. When will we loop back to review the decision?
  11. Who do people talk to if they have concerns?

These are just the beginning of the questions that those responsible for this change will need to know and be able to answer, but often this isn’t the reality. Everyone involved in the leadership around this change should know how to answer these questions.

But what if I don’t get to choose the initiative and I am still responsible for the rollout?
If the state has determined that your school is going to use proficiency-based grades, or your school board has decided the focus this year is on math and you need to roll out the new math curriculum and you didn’t have a say, you still have a responsibility to see where this decision came from and to understand its origins.

While it might be that no one sought your advice or input and now it is an emergency for you and your colleagues, it still is something to research, understand, and implement. Why? Because your colleagues will look to you as the person to thread the needle for them; to articulate where this challenge came from and how this initiative will be a part of the solution.

And while you work toward being in a sphere of influence so that next time something is rolled out your input might be asked for ahead of time, understanding the framing of this challenge will help shape the communication and implementation plan for this initiative going forward. You have the responsibility as a leader to know what challenge this initiative is solving and to communicate this thinking to your colleagues. Are you ready?

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