Leading Change in Schools

In order to realize the vision, the MOE has introduced changes to the curriculum, the training of teachers, assessment modes and the development of resource packages. Furthermore, all schools will have students spending at least 30{09bae27567d37529f28fa921c61f31cbcbe096194ac00c8866439daa5ba316cb} of their curriculum time accessing electronic resources and working on computers. (MOE, 1998,p.17) The changes in the curriculum include the infusion of thinking skills and the reduction in the contents of the curriculum. Schools are strongly encouraged to set up their own thinking programs and teachers are to enroll in courses to learn how to infuse thinking skills in their teaching.

With the restructuring taking place to realize the vision, most teachers fear that the changes will burden them by increasing their already-heavy workload and tight time schedule due to increased training hours. The principal, being the main disseminator of the MOE’s mission of TSLN in the school, has the unenviable task to articulate this vision to overcome the resistance to the changes especially from the school’s teachers.

The main objective of the paper is to explore the perceptions of teachers as to the effectiveness of principals in leading a change programs (in this case, a Thinking Programs). Since teachers are directly responsible for the learning outcomes of the students, their perceptions of their principals’ effectiveness and concomitant actions are vital to the success of the vision of TSLN. As part of the paper, a case study of a primary school, which has embarked on a Thinking Programs, has been carried out.


In the hope of improving the existing system, schools face many problems when introducing well-meaning changes. Restructuring would, inevitably, involve people within the organisation to absorb new ideas and ideals that usually result in many uncertainties (Heckman, 1990). A school’s principal, thus, has the uphill task to manage the level of resistance to change and align the staff to work towards a common vision, amidst the turbulence.

To reiterate, the author is focussing on teachers’ perceptions of their principal in leading change, more specifically, the process of creating a Thinking Programme for the school. The importance of teachers’ perception of their leaders in the success of a school has been documented in various researches. Researchers (such as Bhella, 1992) suggested that teachers’ morale is related to student achievement. And, in turn, the principal has the strongest influence on teachers’ satisfaction in the workplace. (Vanderstoepe et al, 1994) From that perspective, the teachers’ satisfaction and perceptions of the principal in leading the change process would directly have an impact on the success rate of the new programme of boosting students’ achievement.

In the process of writing, the author discussed with many teachers on what they expect their leaders to do when introducing a new programs to their schools. The author has summarized the teachers’ opinions for inclusion in this paper. Previous research and literature would be used to illuminate the factors that are critical to the success of a principal in leading a change programs. To further enhance clarity of exposition, I have presented systematically the ideas encapsulated in previous research by using the acronym of L.E.A.D.E.R as a model to elucidate the steps in leading a successful change programs in a school. The acronym of L.E.A.D.E.R stands for:

Leading by example

Empowering vision

Adaptive change

Developing people

Evaluating the system


The above model does not try to be prescriptive or attempt to imply that it will cover all the salient factors of an effective change programme. Due to the prescribed length of the paper, the author hopes that the model will shed more light in the topic of research in a more methodical manner.

Leading by Example

In most organisations that have embarked on a change programme, one of the more common complaints by the employees is that the leader does not ‘walk the talk’. In a school, if a principal is not willing to learn and adapt to changes, there are no compelling reasons for the staff to do so. The Scout’s motto, ‘ Lead by Example’, is a major criteria of what a principal must do to succeed in leading change.

In order to create a thinking and learning organisation, principal will become researchers and designers rather than controllers and overseers. They should also be a model of learning to the rest of the organisation and encourage the staff to be life-long learners. (Senge, 1990) More importantly, a principal must not merely communicate in words, but by deeds to convince the staff that the change is happening at all levels. These build a sense of esprit de corp in the school that will help in lessening the pressures that change brings to organisations.