The Five Freedoms Project

Equip (or, equip people with what they need to see their new ideas through)

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The Five Freedoms Project’s first three foundational skills of leadership — self-awareness (Reflect), systems thinking (Connect), and shared decision-making (Create) — are necessary and insufficient by themselves. In an organizational context, each continually influences and shapes the others. It is through the combination of these abilities that educators become more effective leaders, and there is no strict and surefire order one should follow in order to cultivate these skills in himself and in others. As with everything else, human beings refuse to behave so predictably.

However, when these three skills start to take root in individuals and the organizational culture of which they’re a part, a palpable shift takes place. Transformational change, and the collective will needed to achieve it, becomes possible. This does not mean transformational change will necessarily occur, only that the proper conditions will have been created.

At this point a fourth leadership skill — equipping people with the understanding, motivation and skills they need to continually work with the forces of change — becomes necessary.

Working with the natural forces of change is very different from “managing change,” just as co-creating a common vision is distinct from getting people to “buy in.” In one approach, schools and the individuals who inhabit them are managed like machines, and people are given pre-packaged “solutions” that contain no community input; in the other, people and organizations are seen as complex, living systems, and the inherent creativity and commitment of the people being asked to change is what drives all decisions.

The fact that so many schools struggle to change core behaviors or processes is particularly troubling when one considers that, in essence, learning itself is change. But the greater truth is that people don’t resist change. They resist being changed.

Knowing what will be easy and what will be difficult when it comes to whole-school renewal is essential for working with the natural forces of systemic change. And although there is no single way to be successful, there are different stages of the change process that can guide your community in its work together.

Generally speaking, human beings must experience organizational change in three areas — the mind, the heart and the voice. Before we are willing to change anything, we must first understand why the change is necessary and what it will require of us (mind). To participate in a major change initiative, we must feel motivated in some way to contribute (heart). And to follow through on our individual and shared visions of an ideal learning community, we must have the skills and capabilities to not only demonstrate new behaviors, but also ensure greater alignment between our internal passions and our external actions (voice).

Often, what happens in school renewal work is we pay attention to some, but not all, of these stages.Teachers are asked to adopt a new teaching style before they fully understand why the change is taking place. Schools in search of more parent participation fail to explicitly consider what it will take to motivate greater numbers of adults to get involved. And students are encouraged to play a more active role in school governance before they’ve been equipped with the skills they need to do so effectively and responsibly.

Addressing all of these needs still doesn’t guarantee major change will take place. It does, however, greatly increase the likelihood that people will participate in the co-creation of a more equitable, high-functioning school culture. That’s why understanding how to work with the forces of change is the fourth foundational skill of leadership.

Take the time to know “who’s there.” Make the connections that help you “see the whole board.” Remember that “people only support what they create.” Ensure that people are equipped with the understanding, motivation and skills they need to work with the forces of change. Reflect. Connect. Create. Equip.

There’s one foundational skill left. And it’s perhaps the most important — and difficult — to honor.

To download a PDF of the Prologue (from the forthcoming book American Schools), click here.

American Schools will be available for purchase in October 2009. To reserve an advance copy, send an email request to info@fivefreedoms.org.