Introducing a new administration system for your school is a sizeable task. Having staff on side makes the job easier and helps ensure its success. In this article we look at how to motivate staff to accept a new system and embrace change.
I’ve lost count of the times that some new initiative has come down from senior management (in all of my jobs), where I’ve just rolled my eyes, and just groaned.
It’s always some brilliant idea which will revolutionise the organisation, as far as senior management is concerned, and invariably involves an increase in workload for those below them. In fact, there has almost been an audible groaning chorus, and choreographed eye-roll dance amongst my peers. We’re all thinking the same things – ridiculous, why bother, its never going to work, just add it to the pile, and why don’t you ask me to build you a unicorn made of solid gold?
And from the other side of things, senior management can’t understand what the problem is. Clearly the change is going to be of enormous benefit to the organisation and it can’t be that hard – I must just have lazy staff.
For schools, it doesn’t get much bigger than changing your administration software. All of the core processes and functionality used by your administration team (and possibly many others) have to be re-learned to be done in a completely different way. For those members of the school staff that have been there for a considerable time, this can be absolutely crushing.
Sadly, software for schools has been the land of broken promises for many schools. When staff hear of some new system that’s being introduced, it’s often met with that “wait for the problems to start” scepticism – and really, who could blame them? Change is always hard, but change without perceived reason is even harder. It becomes very easy for people to focus on finding a problem when they’re looking for it.
So how do you turn this around, particularly when you’re changing the core of your school’s operations?
Here are a couple of points that might just help:
Buy In – What’s in it for me?
If your staff don’t see a reason to change that is relevant to them, then they won’t see a reason to change. People are more interested in changes that directly benefit them individually rather than those that are just “for the greater good”. Selling the idea of change to the team means there needs to be a direct and tangible benefit to them. If the ‘greater good’ cause isn’t going to benefit them, then don’t make a big deal of it.
People are more interested in changes that directly benefit them individually rather than those that are just “for the greater good”.
It’s important that you consider the changes and their implications to all levels of the school before jumping into anything. Make sure that you identify the features and their benefits, for users on all levels. Each of the levels of people using the software should see a reason to embrace the change. If they don’t, the change is your priority, but if they do, it will become their priority.
Training – Set your team up for success
When I started my last job in a group of new hires the first three weeks were spent training us up before we were allowed to deal with the public. While that length of dedicated time may not always be practical in a school, it’s important to make sure your team are given the appropriate knowledge to do their job. There are several ways that this can be provided. Firstly, if you’ve purchased something like an administration package, the company that’s providing the software would normally provide some level of training for you. It can come in many forms – face to face, webinars, videos, or just written documentation.
Of course, you can’t have every member of the school contacting the service provider as the relationship becomes unmanageable. For this reason the school should have a small number of super-users. These are people who know the system inside out, and will become the ‘go-to’ people when others need some help. While some people will have a natural inclination to understand technology and are the obvious candidates for this role, having a few technophobes can also be helpful. The school is a diverse community, and it helps everyone to know that even those who are petrified of using the ‘Googlemabob’ are able to use the system and explain it in layman’s terms.
Just as your school’s students learn in a variety of ways, your team will also be made up of visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic learning styles. For this reason make sure that you mix up the training so that all learning styles are catered for. For example let them see you do something, let them hear you tell them how to do it, and also get them to physically do it. If you’re going to conduct training in-house, look for the visual queues that show when you’ve ‘lost’ someone. Arms crossed, looking out of the room, playing with their phones and the glazed over look are all classics which can be seen in students and this doesn’t change as we get older. Ask questions and get people involved, particularly the ones who are quiet.
You don’t have to give everyone all information for all processes, but they need to know the general direction they need to head in. If someone gets stuck doing something, and there isn’t anything or anyone to help them, that job will move to the bottom of their list. It’s an expectation of our age that information can be obtained quickly, so make sure that they know who to talk to when they need help.
Work with the developers – Stay in touch
Software providers are friends of your school – not foes!
When entering into a user/provider relationship with any company it’s very easy to slip into an ‘us and them’ mentality. When things start to go wrong, the perception that you are working towards diametrically opposite goals can become stronger until the point where the relationship is toxic. To avoid this remember that software providers are friends of your school – not foes!
I’ve noticed that when I’m talking to our team of programmers, I can actually see their minds ticking away as I explain things that schools have requested. While they already know school administration systems quite well, their thirst for understanding of a new issue that a school is having is fascinating to watch. I can actually see them translating the issue into a viable solution as you give them the information. Even when it seems that there probably isn’t a way to do something, they’ll often come up to me the next day and tell me that they think they might have a way to do it.
When you need something for your school you should remember that the software providers want to make their customers happy. In much the same way that no one wants to be known as a bad teacher, it’s in the best interest of a software provider to ensure that schools using their products are getting what they need.
There are times where a feature may not yet exist. The great thing about having cloud-based service rather than software installed at the school is that the updates can be done relatively quickly and easily, without having to do anything at the school. Basically, you just roll up to work one day, and find that updates have been done. When a software developer decides that a request for new or enhanced functionality is possible, it has a scheduled release date allocated to it. It’s important that you read the release notes when they come out so that you keep informed about those changes. You may find that new features are added before you even ask for them!
Patience – Rome wasn’t built in a day
There’s no way to sugar-coat it – changing an administration system is a big deal. Just when when everyone thinks they’ve mastered the last system, a new and completely different system is thrust upon them. There will invariably be challenges, teething problems and unhappy people to some extent – no matter how good the system is. It’s important to verbalise this from the start and set realistic expectations, because it helps people come to terms with the change, and move forward with the knowledge that things are going to improve.
When things get too hard during a change, the easy option is to revert back to the old system. In the long run, this doesn’t serve anyone well. Thinking back to the improvements that the school wanted, a better system can never be achieved if people don’t let go of what they’ve been doing. Old school administration systems can leave you with a kind of Stockholm Syndrome – you’ve been stuck with a system that has held you captive for so long, that you feel like you want to keep using it, even though you hate it. The best thing that you can do is to encourage people to keep pushing through with the new way of doing things, which will eventually replace the old ways.
For at least a short period of time, it’s prudent to do a regular scheduled catch-up with the team, including at least one super-user, where you can go through all of the issues and tips that people have found. If anything is raised that can’t be resolved, then it can be forwarded back to the system provider to see if they can offer some suggestions. To put a good spin on these meetings, encourage the team to talk about at least one feature that they have discovered, which they consider as ‘pretty cool’. This is a great way of ensuring that people are actually looking into the system and familiarising themselves with it. The new system will seem less daunting if people actually use it more, rather than not using it and letting lack of use fuel discontent.
Parental usage – Lighten the load
One of the great things with moving to a new school administration system is being able to ‘up-tech’. All those things that we take for granted with social media can potentially be utilised is a school context. While being able to send notifications to parents as a push message, or electronic permission slips might seem like huge advances, the truth is that the broader school community already have an expectation that they can engage with a school electronically for things that don’t really need face-to-face contact.
It’s probably a generational thing, but I am somewhere in the middle of the age range of most of the parents in your school. When I have the choice of self-service, whether it’s at the supermarket, the bank or the phone company, I’ll take self-service option. I know it will usually be quicker and I’d rather use valuable face-to-face time on things that really need it.
Parents already have an expectation that they can engage with a school electronically for things that don’t really need face-to-face contact.
On the other side, when your staff have to stop what they’re doing to take a call for something trivial that should be doable online, it costs your school productivity and consumes your staff member’s time that should be used for something more important. While some might argue that spending time handling these “everyday tasks” builds community spirit, it’s also the case that administration costs are being driven down constantly and admin staff need to focus on higher value interactions and look at better ways of building community spirit. Your administration system should enable them to do this.
Around 5 years ago, it was unusual to be able to book parent teacher interviews online, but now it’s the norm. If you’re going to invest the time, effort, and money into getting a new administration system, you should be looking for a system that gives parents the autonomy in processes that don’t really require the time and attention of your staff. Again, reflecting back to my generation, you can hand us a smartphone, or log us into a social media site, and we’ll be able to figure out how to use it pretty quickly. Give your parents credit with things like this and they will adapt quickly because they expect to be able to do these things.
Of course, not everything should be done online. Parents still need to be actively involved in their childrens’ education, but your admin system should be used as a tool to enable this.
Remember, a change should be exciting, not a chore. A lot depends on your outlook and your ability to show the benefits that relate directly to the users.
- Create a sense of reason for the change that is specific to your audience
- Arm your team with the information they need to figure things out
- Work with your system providers to get the most out of the system
- Be persistent with your team using the system so they get used to it
- Free up your administration team by letting parents get involved
What has your experience been of introducing new systems, or having them introduced around you? Do you have tips of your own for helping people to embrace change?