An E-newsletter on EXCELLENCE in Leadership

April 2021 | Volume 9, No. 8

Leading Organizational Change NAD Principals’ Handbook Excerpt

One certainty in the role of school leadership is that there will be change. Many books have been written on the leadership of change, specifically school change, and an effective principal will become knowledgeable about this subject.

Change may come about as a result of:

  • Data about student achievement that demonstrates needed changes in curriculum and/or instruction.
  • Action plans developed through the accreditation self-study process.
  • Study of best practices that enhance student achievement.
  • A board-voted comprehensive strategic plan

When leading change, the principal will be most successful when including various stakeholder groups. Specifically, the board should be involved and should vote support for changes when appropriate.


Strategic Planning

  • Which stakeholders should be involved?
  • Where are we and where do we want to be?
  • How will we get there?
  • What will we need to get there?
  • How will we know when we’re there?

A Conversation About School-wide Change

An Interview with Jeni Schmidt, Vice Principal for Academics at Columbia Adventist Academy

and former Lead Teacher at Rio Lindo Adventist Academy



Q:  How did the school improvement journey begin?

It was the principal’s vision to improve the academic program. He really wanted to “up our game,” ensuring that students got the best education possible. He understood that the school would benefit overall as people heard and saw a clear improvement in the students learning experience. The hiring of a new staff member with primary responsibility for leading strategic improvement was key.

Q:  What was the school improvement goal that came into focus?

In the beginning, we were novices, really, in best practices and educational research. A consultant was invited to engage the faculty in reviewing data, practices and identifying critical areas for improvement. As a group, the teachers and administrators identified classroom practices as the area we wanted to improve. We believed that an intentional, collaborative process and a transition to standards-based teaching and learning would lead to more rigorous instruction.

Q:  What were some of the first steps in your improvement journey?

Well, I mentioned the first two. Providing personnel to lead, a staff member with much of their job assignment given to strategic improvement, and engaging the right consultants to lead the staff in thinking and planning for improvement. We had more than one consultant, and each led in different tasks. Beyond learning about the educational change process, we had a lot to learn about standards-based education.

Q:   What “investments” were made to ensure a measure of success?

The personnel assignment and using consultants did take some time and money, so grant writing was also a part of the portfolio of things to do, and the results were very helpful. Time was needed for bi-monthly PLCs and more professional development days.

One of the recommendations from consultants was to use lead teachers. That’s when I got more involved. As lead teachers, we made classroom observations and led in reflective follow-up conferences. I cannot overstate the importance of lead teachers. Because we were not administrators, teachers didn’t feel “evaluated.” Having us as lead teachers in and out of the classrooms became the norm.

Q:  How did you engage interest and support from the teachers?

Because we had identified our initial goals of improving classroom instruction as a group, there was better buy-in. This is not to say it was perfect. Someone had told us that when new initiatives in education come along that about 1/3rd of the teachers embrace it, 1/3rd reject it, and 1/3rd wait to see if it “sticks!” There is truth in that observation.

Each spring, we updated our improvement plan and brought in a new group of teachers to do that work. This was intentional to create buy-in as all had a chance to be heard and to contribute. Then when we presented an annual report to the board and to parents, that teacher group was tasked to assist with the public reporting.

Also, as you might expect, surveys of stakeholder groups were vital to getting feedback and gaging support.

Q:  What were three clear “take aways” from your experience?

  1. Systemic change takes time. To address change appropriately, it must be rolled out over time. Addressing a significant change in school culture cannot happen overnight. We have been “doing” school in traditional ways for years. It is what are stakeholders know. True systemic change requires re-educating students, parents, teachers, and administrators.
  2. Every teacher can learn. This was an important lesson for me personally. It was frustrating when some teachers would balk at change. It seemed like they did not even try. In time I realize that each teacher is in a different place. Just like I believed that every student can learn, I had to embrace the idea that every teacher can learn. As a lead teacher, I needed to figure out how to take them from where they were. That being said, if a teacher chose not to embrace change, he or she became uncomfortable being a part of our community of learning and usually chose, on his/her own, to find another school that fit their traditional methods of teaching.
  3. Change does not have to cost a lot of money. I know this must sound disingenuous coming from someone who had significant grant money available, but I believe it to my core. Change happens when two or more teachers desire to strengthen their craft. Then, through reading, teacher research, and peer collaboration, they move forward through trial and error to building their practice. This is perhaps the most exciting and rewarding work possible. Other teachers in the building take notice and do not want to be left behind.

“Listen” in on this dialogue about one school’s journey to improve student learning across campus at one Adventist boarding academy.

Quotes to Ponder

"People don't resist change. They resist being changed!"

– Peter Senge

"Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up."

– James Belasco & Ralph Stayer

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

– Peter Drucker

“When you compete against everyone else, no one wants to help you. But when you compete against yourself, everyone wants to help you.”

– Simon Sinek

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."

– Leo Tolstoy

“In schools the main problems is not the absence of innovations but the presence of too many disconnected…piecemeal, superficially adorned projects. We are in over our heads.”

– Michael Fullan

I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.

– Georg C. Lichtenburg

AAA Roadside Assistance

By Dennis Plubell | Vice-President for Education—North Pacific Union Conference




You have identified the goal for improving your school on the next leg of your journey to excellence. You have done the research and outlined a strategic improvement plan. You have a leadership team to help drive the project. You have created interest and developed support with the staff and board. Students and families are expecting things to change. But when the journey in organizational change hits the unexpected and slows or stalls, who will provide “roadside assistance?”

The routine checklist of an organization’s change journey must include a check-in with others in the organization. Effective change leaders always seek other perspectives. In times of significant change, checking in with trusted peers, mentors, and conference or union educational leaders will provide needed assistance. The broader and higher view can be missed by the principal consumed in busy day-to-day school operations. Also, the personal investment in the change process may skew the principal’s perspective.

With detours, speed bumps, and other roadblocks always in the offing, use your organizational leaders to provide AAA assistance (Access, Ask, Align) for your school improvement journey.


Establish a regular time to connect with your leaders personally. Use this access to share your “grows and glows.” Give them an accurate update of where you are in the process of continuous improvement with data to support your report. The more transparency you provide about your journey, the more support you will receive with key stakeholders, and the better the end result will be.

Access to organizational leaders also occurs in group meetings. It may seem that their topics are outside of your context but challenge yourself to stay engaged. It is hard for hard-charging administrators to resist the multitasking temptation! However, by leaning in and listening to other agenda items with intent, you might discover new ways to fund, equip, schedule, train, and assess the strategic steps in your continuous improvement journey. You might learn from leaders and peers around the conference how to share the load, so you do not have to do it all yourself!


Along with a different and somewhat removed perspective, conference leaders also bring a larger pool of experiences to share. This knowledge, along with insights into various leadership styles (yours included), can help identify detours or wrong turns and suggest ways to move forward. But you need to ask. Ask questions that will confirm your thinking or expand your options beyond what you might be seeing on your own. Ask what they think the implications of your change plans will be for your school and other schools.

A key question to ask is, “what am I missing?” You may have an idea for a new schedule, implementing PLCs, or launching standards-based learning. Regardless of the idea, you will get good feedback if you invite leaders to “poke holes in your plans.” It is essential, of course, that you walk into such think-tank conversations with an open mind and leave your defensive responses at the door. But ask!


A laser focus on your current improvement journey goal is essential. Stick with the actions aligned with your goal and do them well before you move onto the next thing. Because different schools across the conference have adopted different initiatives, it does not mean you should. School improvement is a journey, not a competition!

If the conference initiates a new program that is not a policy mandate, it is okay to discuss a delayed implementation for your school if the initiative is not aligned with your current improvement journey. Communicate that you see value in the idea and commit to creating a timeline when the new proposal will fit best at your school.

For successful organizational change at your school, lead like a learner, and seek the advice and counsel of your organizational leaders. You will go farther when you use their guidance, take risks, fall forward, learn, and grow. It makes the journey to excellence a true learning experience. It makes the journey of continuous school improvement much more productive and enjoyable.



Issue Coordinator

Dennis Plubell

Vice-President for Education

North Pacific Union Conference

Newsletter Editor

Berit von Pohle, Editor

Director of Education,

Pacific Union Conference

Ed Boyatt, Editorial Advisor