Avid gardeners know it is possible to ‘force’ some bulbs to sprout and produce flowers ahead of their normal schedule and outside their natural environment. The process requires that you artificially mimic and compress the process that would occur naturally if left in the capable hands of mother nature. However, attempts to repeat the process 2 years in a row will be unsatisfactory because the process actually weakens the bulb. You can however, plant bulbs that have been forced in a garden and within a few years, they will recover from the stress of the ‘forcing experience and once again produce show quality flowers (i.e. return to their natural state.)
I think school improvement and the change process have a lot in common with ‘messing with Mother Nature.” First of all, it is possible to ‘force’ change on schools, but there is definitely a ‘cost’ involved. We’ve seen it time and time again, with top-down decisions and/or with legislatively mandated changes. They result in failed efforts for many reasons, not the least of which is the limited ‘buy-in’ from stakeholders to make the solution at hand successful. Such well-intentioned but misguided initiatives, can actually lead to internal, underground efforts to sabotage the initiative at hand. The cost is reduced morale among staff and in some cases results in the creation of ‘silos’ among staff members.
It should be no surprise that organizations have a natural tendency to navigate back to the comfort of how things have always been. If stakeholders have had no ‘voice’ in understanding the problem and/or defining potential solutions, this is likely an accelerated process and ultimately leads to another failed change initiative on the ‘tried that, it didn’t work’ pile.
Finally, like the bulb example, change initiatives ‘forced’ upon the stakeholders are rarely systemic in nature. Rather they are like ‘window dressing.’ Oh sure you can see them, but they are temporary in nature and have not really changed anything physically about the window except the appearance. From the outside, it may appear that miraculous things are happening, but if you peel the curtains back, it is clear that ‘business as usual’ is the reality.