How Education Leaders Can Promote Organizational Change

A school leader stands by a group of students.

Change initiatives have the power to transform and strengthen schools. They can address issues of equity and confront other pressing challenges that schools, students, and educators face. Bringing innovation into the classroom and ensuring schools teach skills students will need to thrive in the future requires vision and leadership. Whether shifting from teacher-centered instruction to interdisciplinary project-based learning, or reconfiguring instruction methods in response to public health crises such as the coronavirus pandemic, education leaders often must implement organizational change.

Mills College offers an online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership designed to cultivate the skills needed to successfully guide change in education.

What Is Organizational Change, and Why Does It Matter?

Organizational change in education aims to improve student learning and learning conditions, as well as address issues in areas such as instruction delivery, curriculum, and scheduling structures. Organizational change involves revising the use of materials, implementing new standards, introducing different teaching approaches or strategies, and cultivating new understanding and philosophies about education.

With evolving technology that offers newly possible, customized ways to support student learning and with the benefit of ongoing research about how students learn, it only makes sense for educators to embrace change.

Transformational change in education can empower schools to close achievement gaps. It can also ensure the relevance of what schools teach and how they teach it. When schools fail to make organizational change that responds to new research and the changing needs of diverse student populations, they miss out on valuable opportunities, and educational outcomes suffer.

Reform initiatives depend on transformation. As education leaders strive to make critical improvements by implementing culturally inclusive curriculums, restorative justice practices, and trauma-informed education, they must promote organizational change. Additionally, to meet the needs of historically marginalized students, educators must shift to new ways of doing things.

The Challenges of Organizational Change

The process of implementing change initiatives can pose significant challenges. Teachers, students, and parents can all resist them for a variety of reasons. Change is never easy. Few people want to put in the time and energy needed to adjust how they do things or disrupt comfortable routines. To make the required investment, people need to see a clear advantage in doing so.

The success of any change initiative depends first on buy-in from all stakeholders. Only when administrators, teachers, and students understand the reasons for the changes, the benefits they offer, and the risks involved will they be prepared to put in the required effort needed to adopt and adapt to those changes. While buy-in is an important first step, it’s only the beginning. Change initiatives call on sustained shifts in behavior. Getting everyone to stay the course over time can also pose difficulties, as it requires ongoing support and active communication from education leaders.

Other reasons change initiatives can fail to achieve desired outcomes involve poor preparation. The complexity of change initiatives can cause confusion. While teachers may understand and believe the goal of integrating more technology into their classrooms, for instance, they may not have a clear vision of how to accomplish it.

Effective Ways to Advocate for Organizational Change

How can leaders promote organizational change in education successfully? Mobilizing a school community to undertake a change initiative requires meaningful collaboration. It requires translating a vision of organization change into a concrete plan with measurable and achievable goals, clarity as to the plan’s implementation, and solid support along the way. Consider the following strategies that can help leaders tackle the challenges to transforming education and build schools that integrate programs that champion equity and best practices.

Build a Spirit of Collaboration

Teachers and students have long had change initiatives thrust upon them without consultation. To encourage cooperation and collaboration, education leaders should seek out input from stakeholders during the planning process. This builds engagement and creates a sense of ownership, nurturing a sense of collective responsibility.

The successful implementation of educational change requires leaders to view both students and teachers as partners in change. Inviting them to participate in the process of problem-solving and goal setting demonstrates respect and acknowledges that everyone has something to contribute.

Establish Clear Lines of Communication

Education leaders can prevent resistance and reluctance to a change initiative through effective and early communication about its purpose. Meetings that present specific information about overcrowding, health issues, or low family engagement can help establish what problem or problems need attention. In these meetings the school community can discuss potential solutions for the identified issues. From there, school leaders can organize focus groups to discuss the pros and cons of proposed solutions and organize subsequent meetings that offer updates on progress, create space for ongoing feedback, and present agreed-upon plans for moving forward.

Be Transparent

Change takes time and work. Education leaders need to provide school communities with realistic expectations about how long achieving a proposed change’s goals will take and how much work it will involve. While painting a rosy picture of quick, effortless results may secure initial cooperation, those once-cooperative people will lose faith and trust in a change initiative if they don’t see the promised progress. For this reason, transparency and honesty is key to successfully implementing institutional change.

Provide Necessary Training and Support

Change in education happens when educators have the resources, training, information, and professional development needed to support them through each step of the transformational process. If a change initiative expects teachers to deliver student data-driven instruction, teachers may need support such as software programs that efficiently collect student data. They may also require training to learn techniques for lesson planning using that data.

Explore Partnerships to Bring in Additional Expertise

Education leaders can benefit from outside expertise and perspectives when working toward organizational change. Whether joining forces with consultants trained in systems thinking or specialists in relevant fields such as child development or educational technology, exploring outside partnerships can bring in valuable insights and skill sets to school communities undergoing big transformations.

Become an Education Leader in Organizational Change

Change in education takes innovation and hard work. With the right leadership, schools can make the transformations needed to ensure justice and equity for every student. Learn more about how an online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership from Mills College prepares graduates to mobilize successful change initiatives that make a difference.

Advocating for Teachers: Strategies to Improve Teacher Retention

Effective Leadership Styles Used in Education

How to Be a Transformational Leader in Education


AGS, “Understanding and Leading Change Management in Schools. 2020 Guide: Everything You Need to Know”

Cisco, “Mastering Organizational Change Management to Drive Digital Transformation in Education”

ECNU Review of Education, “Organizational Change in Schools”

Education Reimagined, “3 Change Management Strategies to Lead Transformation”

Forskning og Forandring (Research and Change), “Why Is Educational Change So Difficult and How Can We Make It More Effective?”

Frontline Education, “Change Management in K-12: Six Change Management Models for K-12”

Frontline Education, “Change Management in K-12: What You Need to Know”

TeachThought, “5 Strategies for Managing Change in Schools”