How can school leaders implement changes that result in inclusive school environments?
Page 8: Communicate the Vision
Now that school personnel have created a sense of urgency, established a guiding team, and written a measurable vision statement, the school leader and the guiding team need to get everyone else on board. It is important to understand that many change efforts fail because the guiding team does not take the time to communicate the vision or gain the support of other stakeholders. However, gaining support or buy-in is not always easy.
Communicating To Gain Support
The best vision in the world has no value if it’s a big secret. The key to achieving buy-in among stakeholders is for each member of the guiding team to communicate effectively by using a communication plan that involves strategies such as:
Nothing will kill a change effort quicker than leaders saying one thing and doing another.
- Personally communicating with representatives of each stakeholder group within the school (e.g., teachers, teacher’s aides, custodians, students) about the vision
- Sharing the vision with representative stakeholders outside the school (e.g., parents, business leaders, civic groups, religious groups)
- Making sure discussions about the vision are clear, simple, and straightforward (e.g., a five- minute “elevator talk”)
- Using every vehicle possible (e.g., printed materials, email, school website, creative alternatives) to formally and informally communicate the new vision
- Being prepared to answer tough questions
The ability to answer tough questions as they arise—and to provide clear and straightforward answers—strengthens the case for inclusion. It also demonstrates that the team has carefully thought about what inclusion means for their school and what its effect will be on all involved. It may be beneficial to raise and address tough questions before they are asked. By being proactive, the team can head off resistance to inclusion before it becomes widespread. Sample questions include:
- Why should we change to a more inclusive environment?
- Why should we change at this time?
- What do these changes mean for me?
- What are the initial steps that will be taken to create an inclusive school environment? Why these steps?
- Who has been involved to date? Why?
- How was this particular team chosen?
- How long is this going to take?
- Modeling the vision and remembering that what leaders do is often more powerful than what they say
The team should describe what is included in the vision and how its implementation will affect stakeholders. The guiding team should solicit individual feedback, answer questions, and then listen, listen, listen. By actively listening to stakeholders’ thoughts and ideas, and by incorporating some of them into the vision, the team allows stakeholders to feel ownership of the vision thereby creating buy-in. Having collected stakeholder feedback, the team might decide that the vision needs some modification. As with any significant change effort, people may not instantly hop on board. Creating buy-in is a gradual process that begins with communication, as is demonstrated in the graphic to the left.
Evaluating Stakeholder Support
It is important for the guiding team to measure how well their efforts to achieve buy-in are going. This step does not need to be difficult or time consuming, but it is critical. Team members can use either qualitative or quantitative measures to assess buy-in, and the type of measure it chooses will often be influenced by the number of stakeholders in question. If the group is small, the team may choose to use a qualitative measure. For example, a guiding team member can talk to individual staff members and simply note whether each staff member supports inclusion. For a larger school, the team may choose to use a quantitative measure. For example, the team may create a measure that assesses support for inclusion and distribute (and collect) it during a faculty meeting.
Survey about Inclusion
Circle whether you agree or disagree with each statement below.
Without initial buy-in, there is no impetus to move forward. At a minimum, it is important to remember the rule of thirds as it relates to buy-in: One third of the staff will lead, one third will follow, and one third may not buy in. Instead of being discouraged by those who do not buy in, the team should focus on those who will help lead and those who will follow. In other words, if the team achieves buy-in from approximately two-thirds (67%) of the staff, they are ready to move forward. If the data indicate that the team has not achieved buy-in, they need to revisit and revise their communication plan. Even after achieving initial buy-in, though, it is important that the team continue to promote the vision of inclusion to maintain and perhaps gain buy-in from additional stakeholders.
Listen as Elaine Mulligan discusses two ways that the team can continue to promote the vision of inclusion for those who do not initially buy in to the need for change (time: 1:16).
Former Assistant Director, NIUSI-LeadScape
Arizona State University
Now that Ms. Lawrence and the guiding team have created a vision, they need to communicate this vision to the other stakeholders at Central Middle School. The team decides that this step requires a well-thought-out plan to present a concise and clear message to convince others to support the effort.
The CMS Communication Plan
Looking at this matrix, the guiding team concludes that they are not communicating well enough with several stakeholder groups. They decide to improve their communication regarding their vision by targeting community and business groups.
Based on the results of the data, the guiding team will review and update the CMS Communication Plan twice a year, or as needed.
As you work to create an inclusive environment, develop a communication plan to gain support or buy in from your school’s stakeholders. Make sure to include stakeholders inside and outside the school and to incorporate several methods for communicating the vision.