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Transformation Lessons: Home Improvement

Have you ever totally transformed a space in your home or classroom? Have you successfully transformed a school culture? What did it take to accomplish the transformation? Today we will explore the stages in transformations. Each stage is critical to the larger picture.


A few months ago I transformed a room in my basement into a home office. I had been using a small spare bedroom as an office space. The space was limited and crowded. It was difficult for the room to serve two purposes. For the longest time I thought the only way to accomplish having a dedicated space to my work was to just move to a larger house.

Unfortunately, because the process happened so fast, I do not even have before pictures. You will have to visualize! Picture in your mind a basement storage room, a very cluttered store room. Contents include books, lots of books. Some shelves and storage containers. Bare walls and very disorganized. Nothing you’d even want to show to guests.


basement 1Basement 2basement 3

I am extremely pleased with the after! I now have a dedicated space to do my work without disrupting the rest of the house! Since I love to make analogies, I decided to do a little research to see if I could match my steps to a transformation process in education/business.

An internet search lead me to the 8-Step Process for Leading Change by John P. Kotter of Kotter International. I was familiar with his work, have his book, Leading Change, and use the major change chart that often has his name attached to it. I decided to use the 8-Step process for this post. My plan is to take my room transformation project and tie it to the change process in the school setting. This post serves as a very brief interpretation of the steps, not a complete review! In this post we will take a look at the first 4 stages!


 STEP 1: Create a Sense of Urgency

Analyzing data is one way to create a sense of urgency. My data came in terms of space and money. I needed a designated office space for my private consulting business without the added expense of moving to a larger home or adding on to my existing house. Kotter mentions, “Craft and use a significant opportunity as a means for exciting people to sign up to change their organization.” The idea of finding space in my home without spending a lot of money was exciting. I’m a Trash to Treasure/DIY nut. Due to limited time, I needed to motivate myself to complete the project from start to finish in one weekend! I am pleased to say I only spent $33.00 (clearance price) on a picture I had my eye on for some time! Everything else was repurposed and rearranged!

Schools often start with data and a sense of urgency, BUT is it framed in a way that EXCITES people to sign up to change their current reality? Or does the urgent data, brought to our attention, leave us anything but excited. How we frame data is critical. As school leaders/teacher leaders we need to be mindful of our message when using data to create a sense of urgency. I learned three things early on in my career as an educational consultant about data from a publication called Beyond Islands of Excellence: What Districts can do to Instruction and Achievement in All Schools. Pages 20 – 21 describe how successful districts utilized data. They made sure the data was safe, useable and they made use of the data.

The safety part is critical and often overlooked. We do not want to shame teachers with data. They work hard with their students everyday and often take any view of data very personal. One way to make the data safe is to analyze by a grade level (in public) and provide teachers with their own class set of data privately. The choice is theirs if they want to share their data with other colleagues.

How do you use data to create a sense of urgency that causes excitement and a willingness to work toward change? 

STEP 2: Create a Coalition

Once I discovered a space for my home office – the old (JUNKY) store room – I started to clear the space. The task got large and my time was limited. I accepted that in order to complete the task in a timely manner I would need assistance. My coalition consisted of my parents. My dad is a matriculate painter. I asked him to help me paint the room with left over paint from other parts of the house. Not only did I want to get my room painted quickly, but I wanted to observe my dad and gain some of his expertise. Mom served as our supervisor. Due to the nature of the room – basement with no windows – available light sources were limited. Mom was as a second pair of eyes collecting data, of missed spots, along the way!

Coalitions can be formed at the school level.  These coalitions do not have to be a “top down” type of approach. Building school-wide consensus is one step in building a strong coalition. I find it ironic that a synonym for coalition is partnership. Jim Knight’s Partnership approach tie nicely here as well as his plans for making an Unmistakable Impact. Change is never easy. But if staff feel supported, rather than criticized, they can rise to the challenge. Schools can develop structures for staff and students so that they know that any type of change/learning will be met with the support needed. Instructional coaches can play a role in building coalitions by developing strong, trusting working relationships with staff members.

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead

What are you doing to build your strong school-wide coalition to support change in your school/district? 

STEP 3: Communicate the Vision (Create)

In the case of my room transformation I really didn’t have to communicate the vision, but I did have to create it.  I vowed that the room would be transformed with resources I had on hand. I set my time line (one weekend) and mapped, in my mind, the end product – but was flexible enough to change as needed.

Kotter mentions communicating the vision, but in the school setting, and others, it is beneficial to create visions together, rather than just communicating it. We’ve all witnessed too many change initiatives fail because there wasn’t shared vision and or consensus. Top-down doesn’t work in education or business. If the work is expected to be carried out together it needs to be developed together.

Currently I hear of many schools adding instructional coaching programs, yet talk of teachers not having buy-in. My questions is … Have teachers had a voice in the development of the process? Not, as an after “voice”, but hand-in-hand in the initial development? Teachers are going to show signs of hesitancy to any type of “new” program that they didn’t have a true voice.

What change initiatives are taking place in your setting right now? How were they developed? Did stakeholders have a role in the development? If individuals are expected to be a part of the change, don’t they deserve to play a role in the development of the vision?

STEP 4: Empower Action

Barriers in any change initiative need to be removed. In my room transformation project the barriers came in the form of physical elements – the stuff that occupied the room. Like many educators, I tend to save stuff, lots of stuff. You never know when something might come in handy! But over the last few years I’ve started to part with my vast supply. To clear the room for a final time, I put some things in designated storage spots in my basement and donated the rest. The only items I saved were items that would go back in the room (shelves, filing cabinet, desk)

Removing barriers at the school level is also very beneficial. The way we frame and think about barriers matter. School staff can feel empowered when this support is provided. Often, the main barriers can be discovered by listening to and communicating with school staff. A helpful resource is Jim Knight’s newest book Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected and the The Reflection Guide to Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected. Both books will help you hone your communication skills by becoming a better listener, establishing emotional connections and trust, asking good questions, and engaging in true dialogue.


What are your barriers in school change? How are you removing them in order for the change to take place? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts about steps 1 – 4. What rings a bell with you and your work with school change? What advice would you give to others? Let’s spend some time connecting with each other via the comment section.

An update on the room … I LOVE IT! Even my virtual coaching clients have commented on the space! You can read more about my virtual coaching offerings here and in my blog post titled My Goal is for YOU to SHINE!  I have discovered that I need to purchase one more item – a space heater. It has been a little chilly in the winter! I’ll be watching for winter clearance sales!

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