Leading complex changes in a changing world: Online community of practice update

By Judy Bruce

Leading a school through complex changes demands adaptive leadership. In an online Community of Practice (COP) facilitated by Tārai Kura during 2023, five schools have explored this concept together and applied it to their own leadership challenges.

Our starting point for the COP was through an exploration of the adaptive leadership principles developed by Heifetz & Laurie.

Adaptive leadership — Image by: Shona Smith

Throughout 2023 other leadership approaches that have informed our learning journey together include John Kotters’ 8 Step Change Model and Leading Sustainable Change (wisdom from textbooks and trenches in post-earthquake Canterbury GrowWaitaha).

During the COP workshops each school identified an adaptive challenge they faced. The adaptive challenge was a complex or wicked problem, which needed a paradigm shift, and where collaboration was needed to find the solution. Each school leadership team clarified their understanding of the problem and dug deeply into their moral imperative, with the goal of being able to communicate clearly why this change was important.

Each school’s wero was to choose one of the change models we had explored and present to the COP how they could apply this in their own context. Sharing with colleagues in this safe space led to some productive and insightful conversations.

During our conversations we looked closely at the role of leaders in maintaining disciplined attention on the goal and avoiding distractions and in regulating distress or ‘cooking the conflict’ – creating just enough discomfort so that people are in the ‘productive zone of disequilibrium.’  We reflected on dilemmas of practice and shared ideas about how an adaptive leader could approach these problems.

Our final kōrero will be focused on understanding the qualities that “make innovations spread”. We will explore together A summary of Diffusion of Innovations. Adaptive leaders need to understand the needs of different groups, recognising that what excites innovators and early adopters may provoke quite different responses from late majorities and laggards! Adaptive leadership calls for a recognition that “it is not people who change, but the innovations themselves”.

“The success of an innovation depends on how well it evolves to meet the needs of more and more demanding and risk-averse individuals in a population.”

Here is a link to a list of resources.

Communities of practice allow leaders the opportunity to step back and reflect on their school’s direction and practices in the company of others, who are on similar but different journeys. Tārai Kura offers the online community as an option for those who want this connection but don’t have the time to be out of school for a whole day. This allows participation from schools anywhere in Aotearoa. The online community for 2023 has been built through six online hui, scheduled across the school year. The hui run during the school day for 90 minutes, with ample opportunity to build trusting relationships and discuss challenging issues in small groups.

If you would like to learn more, and if you are interested in taking part in a Community of Practice, either face to face or online in 2024, let us know by emailing: c.marino@evaluate.co.nz.