How does change happen in schools?

 Photo by  Andrea Reiman  on  Unsplash

Peter Drucker is alleged to have quipped, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Seth Godin has gone a step further: Culture is strategy.

McKinsey must agree, because they urge leaders to “Build a change platform, not a change program.”

  • Change platforms require a long-term, ultra-focused investment in organizational culture.

  • Change programs come and go—when you plant something new in untilled, unfertilized, unwatered soil, the roots won’t grow deeply.

  • Change platforms are like healthy ecosystems with abundant biodiversity.

  • Change programs may look like beautiful flowers, but they probably won’t cause different beautiful flowers to sprout up, much less trigger an ecosystem shift.

For the McKinsey authors, change platforms are "socially constructed change,” not “engineered change.”

Which makes sense: you cannot engineer culture. You can only shape it together, with your team, with your community.

The Basecamp team admires educational design agencies that help schools to create change platforms and to shift culture. For example:

  • Leadership+Design offers human centered design experiences that “build capacity” in school leaders. They shift school cultures from “Should” to “How might we…?”

  • 180 Studio uses physical spaces and narratives to empower a school to imagine their ideal future of learning. They shift school cultures from “This is how…” to “What if…?”

And here at Basecamp, we obsess over helping schools to articulate their Mission > Vision > Culture “compass,” which empowers individuals and groups to explore different roads to the same destination.

Creating change programs is relatively easy. I have yet to encounter a school that lacked innovative ideas. But a change program, by itself, won’t make change happen.

Change happens when we create the conditions for everyone--teacher, student, alumna / alumnus, and others--to be changemakers.

That is, first and foremost, a question of culture. Which is further evidence that your culture is your strategy for change.

Can your school culture support a change platform? If not, how else do you expect change to happen?

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