Think Systemically to Create Districtwide Change

By Duffy, Francis M. | Journal of Staff Development, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Think Systemically to Create Districtwide Change


Duffy, Francis M., Journal of Staff Development


Think systemically to create districtwide change Creating Contagious Commitment: Applying the Tipping Point to Organizational Change By Andrea Shapiro 2003, Strategy Perspectives Paperback, 199 pages, $17.95 To order, call (919) 368-3505 Web: www.4-perspective.com

Reviewer's rating: 5 out of 4

Educators face an increasing need to transform whole school systems rather than improve pieces of systems. The whole-system approach to improving school systems has its roots in the systems approach to improving organizations - a philosophy that recognizes that piecemeal approaches to improving organizations always fail.

Piecemeal change to improve schooling inside a school district is an approach that at its worst does more harm than good and at its best is limited to creating pockets of "good" within school districts.

To transform an entire school system, change leaders must know what a system is and how it functions, they must be skillful in using a methodology designed specifically to transform their school systems, and they must apply principles of systemic change that recognize that change isn't a linear process. Andrea Shapiro's Creating Contagious Commitment provides a resource that addresses all these needs.

Shapiro's thesis is that author Malcolm Gladwell's "tipping point" principles ( The Tipping Point, Back Bay Books, 2002) can be used to create and sustain organization-wide change. I agree. The "tipping point" concept was created by the public health field with its study of how contagious organisms quickly spread through a population. A tipping point is defined as that unpredictable moment when everything begins to change and change rapidly. For this moment to emerge, certain conditions must exist.

According to Shapiro, some of the key conditions that must exist in an organization if change leaders want to create and sustain whole-system change include people who are powerful and vocal advocates for the change ideas, interaction between the advocates and others who are apathetic about the change, and an internal work environment that supports the change process and the change ideas.

One of Shapiro's most profound observations is that organization change is about the spread of an idea (or ideas). I would extend that proposition by suggesting that organizational change is not just about an idea or ideas. People also must understand and see the innate value of those proposed change ideas, and they must believe in their minds and hearts that the ideas can be made real and that they will be given the resources to make the ideas real.

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