The “I” Word

Research and educational literature acknowledge and define multiple dimensions of leadership.  Authors draw on the educational research to describe in great detail the nature of educational leadership and what it takes to create synergy in a Christian school.  Although the terminology is as varied as the authors, the dimensions of leadership they describe are very similar.

© 2010 Dragan Sutevski. Creative Commons. Click here for full citation (#24).

© 2010 Dragan Sutevski. Creative Commons. Click here for full citation (#24).

A careful look at these dimensions of leadership will greatly help Christian school leaders wishing to create a culture of excellence within a Christian school.  Significant change entails more than adopting new attitudes and practices.   Creating a new culture is a monumental task; it even goes beyond implementation.

Significant change requires a change of sufficient magnitude to sustain quality practices over time.  Research shows that adoption and implementation are not enough to transform a school culture and sustain the change.  Sustained, significant change requires “I”nstitutionalization.  Yes, that really is a word.  Institutionalization.  

But what does it mean?

My first thought centered on putting someone into the care of an institution.   Perhaps you may think of the term relative to placing someone with a substance abuse problem under the care of an institution.  Or, maybe, you are of my generation.  Your thought likely focused on placing a mentally ill person into an asylum or institution.

However, institutionalization has another meaning.  Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it as  “incorporat(ing) into a structured and often highly formalized system.”  Another definition says that institutionalization “refers to the process of embedding something (for example a concept, a social role, a particular value or mode of behavior) within an organization, social system, or society as a whole.”

As a school leader desiring to bring change to a school system, one must grasp the importance of this concept.  Effective, transformative change in a school must go through at least three stages:

  1. Adoption – anyone with any experience in education can think of several “fads” that have been adopted by schools.  Examples could be open schools and classrooms, or maybe team teaching.  Some schools decided to try ungraded classrooms.  But adoption does not mean that the process ever took root and began to grow.  As a matter of fact, most schools that adopted these programs have since dropped them.
  2. Implementation – Some schools got past the simple adoption stage.  These schools fully implemented the plans that were adopted.  These schools expended resources, both personnel and monetary, to bring to pass their written goals.  In different locations, the implementation continued for different lengths of time.  But, alas, at some point, another adopted plan displaced the currently implemented program.
  3. Institutionalization – So, even after things are adopted and implemented into the Christian school, leaders must continue guiding the stakeholders toward sustaining change.  This transformation process of sustaining the most effective changes by weaving them into the school culture is call institutionalization.  

Once changes have been institutionalized within the school, they are no longer considered to be changes.  Now they are part of the makeup and fabric of the school.  They are now characteristics of the school.  The metamorphosis of this area is now complete.  An idea has been institutionalized.

What are some changes that your school has adopted that you would like to see institutionalized?  

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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.