Crisis and Change – Kotter (1)

I started to write a “short” blog post, and it spiralled out of control (I need an editor) so I’ve split it into 3. Here’s part 1.

A note on context:  The below is quite a generic piece, not really taking into account different contexts.  In some ways, the response of LTOs around the world to the current situation has been very similar, but there are a couple of obvious ways in which context has made a difference.  Firstly there are obviously situations in which significant numbers of students (and/or teachers) have not had any form of online access – either through lack of a device, or through lack of internet access, or both.  Secondly, there is a big difference between the contexts of onshore or offshore ELT.  Onshore provision (teaching students in their own country) has had to deal with a lot of problems, but arguably fewer than LTOs in an offshore market.  Those schools tend to have a rolling enrollment model (with all new enrollments more or less stopped), and also often need to provide a much higher level of pastoral care and other types of support to students. 

At some stage in these posts, I will look at those differences and how they have impacted the way things have gone, and how they might influence them in the future, but the below does not really get into those differences

A note on research: There isn’t any in this post. Or at least nothing formal. My understanding of what has been done and what has worked and what problems there are come purely from listening to people who are in the middle of things. Teachers, managers, others. It may well be different where you are and in your context. Please feel free to let me know in the comments  

In my introduction here, I said “I intend to look at various change management ideas to see how and if we can convert what we have created so far into something more sustainable and viable – and which works for teachers, students and schools.”… so here goes

Let’s start with one of the most widely known change models, Kotter’s 8 steps. To be honest, I think Kotter’s model doesn’t have enough focus on training and support, which I think is crucial in any change, and especially where we are now, but for this post, I’ll focus on this (and choose a more training/support based model in a future post)


Kotter’s 8 steps

Kotter’s model is divided into 3 sections (and now so is this blog post).  The first three steps, which are described together as creating the climate for change, are about setting the conditions through which change is likely to be successful.  Arguably it is this section of the model which is the least relevant here since whether or not your organization had created a climate for change, it happened anyway.  It is worth noting though, that schools and programs which had already created this kind of change-ready culture, have probably had a slightly smoother transition.

Very briefly, then this stage incorporates 3 of Kotter’s 8 steps

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Create the guiding coalition
  3. Develop a change vision

Image by annca from Pixabay

Establish a sense of urgency – well, there’s not much to say about this. A sense of urgency was, very much, established. Not sure how many of us had heard the expression “flattening the curve” 2 months ago, but now we are all familiar with it.

Create the guiding coalition – again this is a lot about commitment and getting people on board.  But obviously there were choices we needed to make some weeks ago (and there still are).  Who are the key stakeholders here?  Make sure they’re involved in the decision making process (and that they keep feeding back).  It’s not just managers and leaders that need to be in this coalition – teachers are key to the the changes that we’ve undergone. Student support staff. IT people. Maybe not immediately but very soon, the marketing team. Did your school build such a coalition?  If not, could you now gather such a coalition to look at where you are now and where you need to go?

Develop a change vision – in much of the literature, change tends to be led by vision.  The aim of the leader is to articulate that vision and communicate it successfully, thereby bringing everyone along with her.  However, in this instance there is no vision. There is, for most of us, a future which is unknown and uncertain.  We are walking into the fog. In the case of language education, what does the future hold?  Will we go back to where we were before, once the crisis has passed? Will we have a slightly altered way of teaching and learning in the future with maybe a more blended approach? Will the whole way of doing our work have changed totally, with Covid19 being the big disruptor of education that we have been promised/warned of?  We simply don’t know, and therefore creating a vision, and encouraging the team to believe in it, is largely out of reach.  (Unless of course you decide that you will abandon face to face teaching altogether and make the current norm what you want to shoot for permanently – which would be a valid approach, at least from a managerial perspective, though much more debatable from a pedagogic one).


Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

For what it’s worth, I suspect that the outcome of the current crisis (if it goes on for a few months only) on our thinking about teaching and learning will be that we (teachers, students, managers) will see that the following two slightly contradictory facts are true – (1) that online teaching and learning is more of an option than many of us previously thought and more can be done in this medium than we thought possible; and that (2) face to face learning/teaching is preferable (from the perspective of the interactions, the learning, and the engagement).  But of course this is my own speculative opinion and could (and probably will) be proved wrong.

So, if it is impossible to clearly visualise and articulate this future state of our LTO, is there anything to be said about “vision” as mentioned in change management literature? By now, probably people are beginning to look ahead and think about what the future will look like for our schools. The picture is unlikely to be clear, but perhaps there are a set of possibilities that seem to be the most probable. Are you prepared for them?  Or, as prepared as you can be?

Part 2 is now up and can be found here

3 Responses to “Crisis and Change – Kotter (1)”

  1. Crisis and Change – Kotter (2) | From Teacher to Manager Says:

    […] see the previous post for context and […]

  2. Crisis and Change (1) | From Teacher to Manager Says:

    […] first of the posts in this series are now up and available: Kotter (1) and Kotter (2)  More to […]

  3. Crisis and Change – Kotter (3) | From Teacher to Manager Says:

    […] over).  This is the fourth and last post in this series.  The introduction is here, post 1 can be viewed here and post 2 […]

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