4 Components for Bringing Change to a School

Would you like to change the culture of your school?  Perhaps you would like to change the way things operate within your school system.  Maybe you would like to develop a systems thinking mindset within your school unit.

© 2010 Antonio Picascia. Creative Commons. Click here for full citation (#20).

© 2010 Antonio Picascia. Creative Commons. Click here for full citation (#20).


What can a school leader do to raise the quality of the school?  How can a school leader lead change in a school so that parents and students receive great value from the educational experience?

What can be done to bring about this type of change?  Senge (1990), in his work The Fifth Discipline, presents four components of any changed system.  In pursuit of the fifth component—systems thinking—he identifies four components necessary to achieve change or bring synergy.

Component #1 Personal Mastery

As implied in the term, personal mastery refers to the disciplined personal growth and learning of individuals with the learning community.  The implication here is that the learning is a proactive process, not one of waiting to react to circumstances.

Two things are important to remember—1) Individuals need a continued clarifying as to what is important to the learning community, and 2) individuals need to be involved in continuous learning, not assuming that they have achieved mastery.

The drive to close the gap between what is known and what needs to be learned is creative tension.  The essence of personal mastery is learning to generate and sustain creative tension.

Component #2 Mental Models

Mental models refer to the mindsets or mental pictures that one has about any situation.  Often new ideas are shunned because they don’t pass the “that’s the way we’ve always done it test.”  Mental models determine how we think, how we view the world, and how open we are to new ideas that can bring change and synergy an organization.

Mental models are often subconscious, unseen in the recesses of the mind.  These tacit models cause one to react within a framework of previously understood protocols.  Thus, mental models often resist change.

Component #3 Shared Vision

Shared vision will change relationships.  It will change a ministry.  It will promote harmony.  It is the first step to rebuilding trust.  It will create a common identity for a Christian school staff.

Shared vision and understanding is absolutely essential in successful institutions.  Individuals within the ministry must be able to define and accept their role in accomplishing a shared vision for the school.

A shared vision is a common caring about the education of students.  It implies a passionate pursuit to carry out the work of the Lord.  Shared vision will unite people to achieve a goal not attainable when the vision is not unified.

Component #4 Team Learning

The task of rebuilding a school culture requires that the entire school team—school leader, faculty, pastor, school board, students, parents, etc.—learn new ideas that lead to change within the school.

Collective inquiry is the engine of improvement, growth, and renewal (change) in the Christian school.  Continuous improvement of all stakeholders is a vital component of the change process.  Each member or member group within the ministry must be on board for team learning to be effective.

It is important that stakeholders remember that team learning that leads to re-culturing a school is a process that is done by the members of the learning community, not done to them.

Systemic Change

Effective change is not a natural phenomenon.  It comes as a result of carefully designed and implemented strategies.  The school leader must understand the need for change, develop strategies for bringing change, gain consensus among team members, and make adjustments during the unfolding change process.

Which component is most needed in your school?  Where do you think you need to start?  

You can leave a comment by clicking here.


DuFour, R. & Eaker, R.  (1998).  Professional Learning Communities at Work.  ASCD:  Alexandria, VA.

Earwood, E. & Suiter, P.  (2012).  A Scent of Water: Bringing Life Back to the Christian School Movement.  Ambassador International:  Greenville, SC.

Senge, P.  (1990).  The Fifth Discipline.  Doubleday:  New York, NY.

Edward is the founder and managing editor of Focus on Christian Education. He also serves as the Executive Director of the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools.

Please note: we reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Mr. Earwood,
    Love what you said about having a shared vision. In your experience, do you think a shared vision at a Christian school is blurred when the faculty members are from other denominations. For example, a teacher may see the dress standard as “legalism” because they are from a less traditional church, and therefore, they don’t see the necessity of enforcing it. I’m sure you can think of other examples of issues more important. But do you think teachers are better at sharing a vision when they come from “like-faith” and “like-minded” churches? Just wondering.

    • Matt Ticzkus

      Jim, this is a great question and one that each Christian school wrestles with. I look forward to hearing Edward’s thoughts on this. It would seem to me that there would inevitably be some kind of conflict that arises (even if it is just minor things), but whether it impacts the shared vision or not, I guess it would depend on what the “vision” is. Thanks for commenting!

    • Edward Earwood

      In my experience, most schools do not employ faculty that are by “denomination” too far askew from the school’s position. So I will answer with that perspective. Shared vision is the goal for the school community (community includes administration, faculty/staff, parents, students–all stakeholders). Indeed, sometimes shared vision is a bit fragile; however, I think that in the illustration that you offer, perhaps vision is being viewed a bit narrowly. I realize that some Christians (including faculty) can view particular standards as “legalistic;” but this is just part of achieving a shared vision. We must develop such cohesion on major issues, that some of the less important issues do not become the focus. In other words, teachers can teach at a school without embracing the dress code as a personal standard if the teacher has a shared vision for the school and is supportive of the school and its standards. Perhaps a good illustration is the military. Do we really think that all military officers embrace the military’s dress requirements? However, these same officers see the big picture and realize that the dress standards are simply part of the overall process of the military. Embracing the dress standards is not necessary to have shared vision; supporting the standards while serving as an officer is. In the same light, we will have those that have shared vision with our school but will not see every standard just like we do. Effective school leaders should discuss these ideas with staff; it is part of the process of getting everyone on the same page. Shared vision does not necessitate that everyone has an identical set of personal values; it does, however, necessitate that everyone recognize the need for interdependence with fellow staff to achieve the mission and goals of the school. If shared vision is reduced to trying to accommodate every standard within a school, it will likely never be accomplished. There are just too many varying ideas out there.

      • Thanks, Ed. I get your point. Shared vision is a “big picture” deal based on core values. I used the example of the dress code only as an easy situation, but you still answered the point. I’m all for drawing my circle bigger in Christian education, and I think most evangelicals could agree on some of those big picture things. I appreciate your response. Keep up the helpful posts!

        • Edward Earwood

          Thanks for your question, Jim. Glad that you are reading some of the posts. Always easier to write when you know that someone is reading and gleaning. I appreciate you taking time to respond.

  • Edward Earwood

    Several comments that I have heard in the last couple of days have made me return to a thought-provoking poem by Edwin Markham. An excerpt from the poem suggests an idea that many Christians struggle with implementing. Please know that I do not advocate abandoning our Christian values or distinctives; however, I must say that I often observe that we Christians exclude when we could, without compromising our core values, include. Here is the excerpt:

    “He drew a circle that shut me out-
    Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
    But love and I had the wit to win:
    We drew a circle and took him In !

    If we will think before we act and react, if we will carefully examine what we do and why we do it, we will be much more effective in achieving shared vision.