The Illusion of Change

By Guest blogger, Dr. Anthony Muhammad, Author and Leadership Consultant.  He is the keynote speaker at our Complimentary VIP Leadership Summit event hosted by the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative. This event is being held on May 15, 2017. This invitation only event will offer an opportunity for school leadership to discuss transforming school culture to build teacher leadership and improve student outcomes. Please email for more information.

Anthony MuhammedChange is a very difficult process, but it is the catalyst to continuous improvement.  It tests our ability as professionals at many different levels.  Sometimes, when things get too challenging, we tend to look for short-cuts or we quietly surrender.  We live in a political climate that demands that we change, whether we choose to or not, but I have found that some organizations are good at creating the illusion of change, rather than being fully involved in the process of change.  There are a three key phrases which clearly indicate that an organization is not fully committed to the change process.

Phrase #1: “We are having conversations”

This phrase is a code for; “we have a lot of opposition to this idea and we are afraid to make people too uncomfortable and release an onslaught of political and social opposition.”  I recently worked with a school that has been involved with the implementation of the Professional Learning Community (PLC) process for three years.  They have created collaborative teams and they have designated time for those collaborative teams to meet.  They have created district-wide formative assessments that are administered four times per year.  These milestones were reached in the first year of the process.  So, I asked about PLC Questions #3 and #4 which address systems of student intervention and enrichment, and the room got very quiet.  When people finally began to speak, each answer began with the phrase “we are having conversations.”  If your district is “having conversations,” the change process has stalled.

Phrase #2: “We are in different places”

This phrase is code for; “we don’t have a universal system of accountability, and people who understand the intrinsic value of what we propose have embraced it, and those that are averse are allowed to disregard it until they ‘buy-in’.” Schools and systems that use this phrase are engaged in what I call “accountability light.” This is a diet version of universal professional accountability where group expectations and coherence are the norm.  Healthy school cultures make collaborative decisions and they hold each other mutually accountable for full participation.  When shared commitment is not achieved, a tiered-system of commitment emerges where implementation is based upon personal preference.  Partial commitment is the same as no commitment.

Phrase #3: “District initiatives”

This phrase is code for; “there is a huge philosophical divide between school practitioners and central office which has led to a stalemate.”  I have had the pleasure to work with thousands of schools on the change process and whenever practitioners refer to the change process as a “district initiative,” it is never good.  In essence what they are expressing is a feeling of imposition.  In the mind of the school practitioner, they are confronting real world issues and they have their fingers on the pulse of the needs of the school; and central office lives a world disconnected from reality and their priorities are unreasonable and unnecessary.   This is a clear indication of poor communication and professional disconnection.  If your district has a lot of “initiatives,” effective change is probably not on the horizon.

Literacy Leadership Teams and The Vital Role They Play

By Dixie Jones

Guest Blogger

It [Leadership] means generating ideas together; to seek to reflect on and make sense of work in the light of shared beliefs and new information; and to create actions that grow out of these new understandings.”   -Harris and Lambert 2003

It’s not too late!   The new school year is here once again.  As you look ahead to the promise of this year, don’t forget about your school-based literacy leadership team.  Hopefully this group has already convened and has a clear, shared vision of what is necessary to support student success and growth over the upcoming year.

If you do not already have a literacy leadership team at your school, how do you decide who should participate?  Consideration needs to be given to the unique perspective each member will bring to the team.  A well-designed literacy leadership team includes administrators, the literacy coach, a classroom literacy teacher from each grade level, and representatives from special education and literacy support personnel.   It is important that this team of professionals share a common vision of the desired goal of the literacy implementation and its development over time.  If this vision has not been established, it should be an initial agenda item.

This team makes decisions throughout the year that directly impact the literacy development of the students, teachers, and school.  In order for this to occur on a regular basis, monthly team meetings should be scheduled at the beginning of the school year.  It is student data and the interpretation of this data that informs the  team as they evaluate the literacy implementation at the school.  Part of the responsibility of the literacy leadership team is to decide on assessments that will most accurately reflect student progress over time with enough specificity to evaluate the strengths and needs of the students, teachers, and literacy instruction.  The data gathered provides insights into weaknesses and strengths of the instruction going on at the school, both in classrooms and interventions.  Careful evaluation and reflection on the student data is the foundation for decisions made regarding budget, professional development, schedules, interventions, and many other concerns.

I know, I know.  This is a tall order and it takes time and effort to meet with the literacy leadership team on a regular basis.  It sometimes seems easier to just make decisions without the benefit of everyone’s input.  That is especially true when the decision-making involves some hashing out of difficult issues.  It can be tense.  However, the benefits that come from having an active literacy leadership team at your school are enormous and are heightened when members of the team look at the issues through a lens unique to their situation.  This is important to making well-rounded decisions in line with the overall vision. The team serves as a compass, keeping the school on a path to the desired outcome.

We will continue to look at the vital role literacy leadership teams play in the implementation of an effective literacy initiative in an upcoming blog.


Harris, A. and Lambert, L. (2003) Building Leadership Capacity for School Improvement. Berkshire: Open University Press.