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Finding Change in Community:

The Future of Leadership at Yew Chung International School of Beijing

Alana Martin


University of New Brunswick

February 13, 2017

It is Monday. The students in sixth grade enter their classrooms at their private

international school. They settle in rows in a blandly decorated classroom,

Finding Change in Community

lethargically completing another worksheet on types of chemical changes. Other

students sit yet another math test, regurgitating their knowledge of data and statistics.

Another day passes and, for some children, their excitement and passion for learning

drains out of their minds a little bit more. They did not tap into the creative center of

their brains and they perhaps went through their entire school day without being

challenged to think or express an opinion.

This, unfortunately, is the state of many schools around the world. Many

students are being taught in a traditional way that does not suit their modern learning

styles. Countless schools have struggled with the demands of standardization and

achieving results while obsessively focusing on reading, writing and arithmetic,

limiting access to many other subjects that promote creativity and cultural literacy

(Hargreaves & Shirley, 2008). Many schools remain suspended in time, not adapting

to new pedagogical advances that present exciting and opportunities for students

(Alismail & McGuire, 2015).

How is it that education has gotten to this place, seemingly stuck in the

industrial age? Our students are citizens of an exciting new world of fast paced

change and globalization. They are preparing for careers in technology and innovation

that require skills that are not developed in traditional school settings. This future is

far removed from the industrialized world where schools were originally developed.

Schools must adapt to the needs of the 21st century student by providing opportunity

for developing critical thinking and collaboratively solving problems based on real

world problems as well as using new technologies (Alismail & McGuire, 2015).

This paper will discuss how the current state of education has important

implications for leaders who wish to achieve dramatic change in their own schools.

This essay specifically provides me the opportunity to reflect on the imminent

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changes at my current school, Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS),

and the implications for the current and future leaders, myself included. To provide an

understanding of the change, here is a brief background of the current situation at

YCIS. After four years as a teacher leader in various roles, I have been promoted to a

middle leadership role, tasked with the job of evolving our current lower secondary

school, comprised of grades 5, 6 and 7 from its traditional structure, into a the Lower

Secondary Learning Community. There will be increased subject integration,

something that did not exist in the subject specific classes of lower secondary before,

and a focus on project based learning and personalized learning. The teachers will be

situated in a shared teacher collaboration room in order to nurture the growth of

community and to increase communication between staff members. Assessment

practices will also be examined and there will be increased opportunities for teachers

to build common assessments linked between subject areas. Looking forward, the

classrooms will be renovated in 2018 in order to provide an open and flexible learning

space without the traditional walls of the current corridor. One such open plan space

has already been built at the start of this school year for our second grade students and

the teachers and students have achieved much success utilizing the new area so far

this year. YCIS is keen to explore how non-traditional learning spaces across the

whole campus within seven different Learning Communities might provide more

opportunities for learning for our students. When learning spaces are developed in a

more creative way, pedagogy also tends to evolve, allowing for more progressive

teaching practices and a step away from traditional teaching styles (Rigolon, 2010).

Learning Communities are the future of our school and renovations across the campus

are part of the long-term plan for providing a more meaningful education for our


Finding Change in Community

As the new Lower Secondary Coordinator, I have a great challenge ahead of

me and this paper could not have come at a better time. It will provide me the

opportunity to reflect and examine the implications to the leadership as we strive to

better serve our staff and students at our ECE-12 school. This paper will argue that in

order for change in schools to be successful, YCIS included, we must be mindful of

the challenges of change management while we build trust and relationships between

colleagues and leadership, increase opportunity for collaboration, and provide training

to empower teachers to embrace the desired change.

Finding Balance in Change

First and foremost, providing conditions for any change to occur involves a

fine balance for school leaders. Even when the reasons for the change are reasonable

and undeniable, it is inevitable that there will be resistance. Leaders should see this

resistance as predictable and understandable and not something to cause undue

frustration (Murphy, 2016). Leaders must learn to listen to the needs of the staff and

adapt their approach in order to allow for teachers to become familiar with the

initiative while staying true to the overall goal. Providing continued support and an

unwavering message while working as a team to provide stability during the cultural

shift, is extremely important (Murphy (2016); Fullan, 2006). Unfortunately, many

school systems have been wracked with reform, making initiatives seem like an

epidemic, rather than a cure. Many teachers are often overworked, scrutinized and not

given the autonomy necessary to use their professional judgment (Day & Smethem,

2009). As a result, it is extremely important that leaders work within a manageable

change framework that can help balance resistance while reinvigorating the

Finding Change in Community

professionalism of teachers and allowing for a clear path of change to be seen and


At YCIS, the importance of the change management process is not

underestimated. It is seen as an incredibly important step in order to inform the staff

of the changes afoot and to help gain buy in. Throughout the process, teachers have

received the vision at various times and were provided opportunities to raise

questions, concerns and provide insight into the planning of Learning Communities,

thereby respecting their need for professional input. Pedagogy has been discussed as

we explored what we can do as teachers to best help our students learn. There has

been resistance to the initiative throughout the rocky process, but many teachers are

considering the communities as something that could be an interesting challenge and

curiosity has been piqued. This positive outcome may be a result of a slow and steady

initiative, that was unwavering in its message. Teachers were a part of the process, not

simply forced to proceed as mandated. The change management process is far from

over, but the wheels have been set in motion in a good direction.

Change Built on Trust

Now that the stage has been set for the shift to Learning Communities, the

next implication for the leadership is to continuing establishing trust and relationships

between leadership and staff as well as between teachers who will be placed in new

teams. Teachers need to be listened to carefully and their human nature taken into

account as the initiative is nudged forward. Hargreaves & Fullan (2013) argue the

importance of building professional and social capital between the teachers and

leadership. When there is a focus on building an environment where professionals can

thrive, long-term goals can be realized more quickly and effectively (page 37).

Finding Change in Community

Teachers need to be respected as professionals and their relationships with each other

need to be valued and unthreatened through the process of change (Murphy, 2016).

Using the group to change the group and focusing on the social capital already

developed within teams gives leaders the ability to lead changes that can have a strong

impact on student learning (Fullan, 2016).

Interestingly, trust and relationships between staff and administration can also

be strengthened when brain research is considered. Humans have set patterns of

behavior that can be predictable and anticipated. No matter how effective a leader has

the potential to be, if human nature is not taken into account, initiatives have a high

probability of failure (Goodwin, 2016). There are a great number of personality types

on any given team and being aware of the specific needs of individuals could aid

leaders in ensuring the initiatives are tailored to the requirements of the staff

(Goodwin, 2016). This useful theory could help the leaders at YCIS be more sensitive

to the needs of the staff while building relationships to ensure the desired changed

gains traction. This is an interesting notion and one that requires more research and

consideration by our leadership.

Change Built on Collaboration

The next area for school leaders to nurture is collaboration, the cornerstone of

any successful initiative. Teams must find the courage to work together; otherwise the

desired change is not likely be realized. There is no other way. But collaboration does

not just happen. This is the next major implication to school leaders. How will

collaboration happen? When? Where?

Time and structure of the school day need to be examined for meaningful

collaboration to take place. Looking strategically at established routines and breaking

Finding Change in Community

down old schedules could lead to an increased ability to allow for teachers to meet

(Gorodetsky & Barak, 2009). Time is our greatest resource and one that needs to be

managed and protected if teams are to become truly collaborative (Killion, 2016). At

YCIS we are starting to look more creatively at our school day structure and time is

being slowly etched out for the new teams to meet. It is not known if this time will

suffice, but it is a start and further advocacy for time may be needed in the future.

Collaboration does not happen magically, even if the time and a location are

provided. Structures need to be in place to support the collaboration. Professional

Learning Communities (PLCs) are a great option for structuring the teams work. A

PLC is a powerful tool that could effect large system change, not only in a singular

school, but also within the educational system at large (Fullan, 2006). There is the

danger of calling a group a PLC, but not providing the time and structure for it to

really flourish. When done correctly, through reflection, discussion and proper

consensus building techniques, teachers can find the courage to try new teaching

strategies they never considered before and the effect on student achievement can be

phenomenal (Attard, 2012).

Fullan (2006) examines PLCs at length in his article Leading Professional

Learning. He makes note of the core elements of PLCs that include: developing a

collaborative culture with a focus on learning, collective inquiry, action orientation,

commitment to improvement and focus on results (PLCs Revisited section, para. 7).

In order for PLCs to be effective, structural systems as well as the culture within the

school needs to have support from leadership and a focus on current and future

teacher training (PLCs Revisited section, para. 3).

The platform of PLC is a new concept for our school that we could utilize to

provide the support and collaboration that could build strong and effective Learning

Finding Change in Community

Communities within our school. It will be challenging, but with proper training for

administration and teacher leadership alike, we may find success.

Change Built on Capacity Building

The last puzzle piece for our leaders to factor into the initiative is training.

This is a massive task and the research points to the importance of developing teacher

capacities time and time again as one of the most influential factors in achieving any

kind of system wide change. Providing the space to collectively explore issues in

pedagogy without stringent guidelines is essential (Kennedy, 2014). Allowing

teachers to lead their own professional development has the potential to positively

influence colleagues while giving teachers the tools to find innovative ways to evolve

their schools (Frost, 2012). It is important to tailor training to the needs of the

teachers. Allowing greater choice and autonomy for teachers and avoiding a one size

fits all approach can help weave the personal into the professional development.

Teachers who have the ability to personalize their professional development will often

criticize that which they feel is not best for their students and find fulfillment from

working collaboratively (Hargreaves & Preece, 2014).

The research is far from complete on the area of continuing professional

development (Kennedy, 2014) and this makes the job for leaders quite challenging.

What do leaders see as required training for their vision to have success? Can trust be

extended to teachers to effectively inquire together to have the best impact on their

students? At YCIS we are in the process of considering which training is best to help

realize Learning Communities. Training in PLCs is a likely focus as is developing

skills for working together in collaborative teams. Additionally, as the needs of

students change, so does the need for the flexible learning spaces that will continue to

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be developed across our campus. The teachers will require continual training and

support while they transition from traditional classrooms to effectively use the new

spaces (Saltmarsh, Chapman, Campbell & Drew, 2015). Further training in how to

personalize learning in our newly integrated curriculum is of the utmost importance;

however, based on the research in this paper, the teachers and leadership, myself

included, should be given the option to choose their research focus, what resources

are used and the mode of their training. This increased choice could give the team

collective ownership for the implications of the training and how it is used to have the

best impact on the initiative.


Leading effective change in schools is a multifaceted and extremely complex

game of chess. I find that my recommendations for leaders at YCIS are all dependent

upon each other, linked in a detailed fabric that will become our Learning Community

culture. The leaders must be mindful of the steps taken while proceeding through

change management stages. Relationship and trust must be built and maintained

between leaders and teachers and within new working teams. Systems must be altered

and examined in order to find time and space for collaboration. Both teachers and

leaders need to be well versed in what makes for strong and effective collaboration

that leads to increased student engagement and achievement. Teacher training must be

implemented with focus, room for autonomy and an eye on results.

These recommendations make the role of leader extremely complicated, but

also very exciting. I look forward to embarking on this journey as Lower Secondary

Coordinator and am ready to tackle the above recommendations along with the rest of

the leadership team as we form our Learning Communities. We have a lot of work

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ahead of us, but if we can successfully focus on the needs of the teachers and students

alike, the end result will be an exciting new educational opportunity for us all.


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