How to Engage the Heart for Successful School Improvement

Change is never easy. Ironically, we counter it almost every single day of our lives and yet the accompanying struggles and stresses that are often a part of the change process, still seem to always take us by surprise.
Never more so is this the case than in schools where very often the emotional responses to change and school improvement can cause individuals to lose sight of the fact that change is just as much a relational process as it is a strategic and operational process.
Successful change involves engagement of the heart, just as much as it does engagement of our cognitive faculties. When the heart is engaged, the stories that individuals then tell about the change process within their schools is more humane, generative and hope-centred.
Research carried out by Dr Belinda Harris (one of the workshop hosts for our up and coming “Education for the Soul” Conference) suggests that there are three emotional conditions necessary for school improvement or three `heart’ conditions which are central to the process of change…

1. Emotional Fitness

The first of these is defined as `emotional fitness’, whereby creating a climate of trust in the school is essential to foster positive feelings of involvement and ownership.
When fears, anxieties and even resistance are articulated and accepted as normal and healthy responses to change, teachers are more likely to trust that their efforts will not be ridiculed or dismissed. Communication and positive relationships are central components of emotional fitness allowing staff to realistically assess and confront their own strengths and weaknesses in order to achieve personal growth and change.

2. Emotional Literacy and Depth

The second condition can be defined as emotional literacy and depth, whereby time and space is actively provided for self-esteem and positive relationships to develop. Within this context, constructive feedback is a means to enhancing self-awareness and shared reflection is encouraged.
The aim of emotional literacy and depth is to deliberately enhance the quality of communication and relationships between staff and other stakeholders and to build self-reflection into the fabric of school life.
The emphasis here is on improving the intra-personal, inter-personal and social processes within the school. Where emotional fitness and literacy in depth combine, the third condition of emotional alchemy is possible.

3. Emotional Alchemy

This is where teachers are more willing to take bold and creative steps forward to improve their practice, to take on leadership roles and to engage others in research and theory making.
In essence, this means a high degree of emotional exposure and trust, which is at the heart of successful and sustainable school improvement. An essential aspect of successful change is the optimal development of interpersonal and emotional energy.
This is achieved by harnessing and maximizing the creative talents of all those within the school and, where possible, outside it. It is achieved by building trust and tolerating ambiguity, dissonance and difference.
Leaders have a prime role to play in this process; they can orchestrate the conditions for school development to succeed but they need to recognize the limitations of rational approaches to change.
Through respectful, honest, direct communication, relationships with colleagues, students, parents and Governors can flourish.

The emotional work, however, is not cost neutral and it requires courage, patience, humility and resilience on the part of those leading within organisations and on everybody’s part. At its simplest, emotional alchemy calls for leaders to invest more time in building and nurturing relationships; at its most profound, it suggests a radical re-conceptualisation of what is meant by organisational change and improvement.

It calls for the normative and inherently reductionist theories of change and improvement to be replaced with more holistic, humanistic and experiential forms of intervention and understanding.
Most importantly, it calls for leaders to recognise the limitations of approaches to school improvement that factor out the very emotional conditions that are most needed to transform their schools.


The 7 Habits of Highly Effectively School Leaders

Over the last decade or so, we have worked with hundreds of Senior School Leaders to help them maintain a clear focus on both their professional and professional visions.

In that time, we’ve discovered seven habits of effectively School Leaders that can help School Leaders lead effectively, keep their hope alive and keep hold of their vision for both themselves and their pupils.

This is particularly for those School Leaders who want to find out more about the steps that they can take to enable them to fulfil their ‘heroic project’ of “setting minds of fire”, but without sacrificing their own wellbeing.

To download your free copy of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective School Leaders”, please follow the link below…



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