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Leading Through Change: An Interview with a District Coach

Leading Through Change: An Interview with a District Coach

Innovative Leadership  |  Coaches

The ability to navigate ambiguity is a top skill of effective leaders, and there has never been a more urgent need for this skill, while simultaneously leading others through uncertainty and change. In reflecting on what sets great leaders apart, we had the opportunity to sit down with Lisa Whitaker, an Instructional Lead Coach with Dallas ISD, who has a Ph.D. in Health and Public Service and has also served as a K-12 teacher and adjunct professor over her 12 years in education.

Here are some of Lisa’s valuable reflections, ideas, and insights into the mindsets, knowledge, and skills great leaders have in leading through change.

Education Elements: What should leaders be mindful of in their approach to communication in times of change?


    • In order to respond to change effectively, leaders must first define what change is and how it can impact their organization. Change can occur in many ways and impact various outcomes. However, change is not the opposite of stability. In contrast, change provides an opportunity for organizations to demonstrate forward-thinking and sound planning in ways that a lack of environmental fluctuation can not offer. Stability is illustrated through change – not in the absence of it. 
    • Policy, personnel, protocols, marketing, and even the weather subject organizations to constant change. If leaders wait to communicate change at the point of change, they could, unfortunately, be at a disadvantage. Leaders can help prepare their organizations for change by considering and practicing different approaches for accomplishing tasks and training others for their own leadership roles. These are critical steps to ensure organizations don’t hinge on the performance of one person’s leadership through times of change.
    • Organizations are like systems. Therefore, each department is interrelated and interdependent. Each team member with different functional responsibilities is equally important to the success of organizational goals and outcomes. For this reason, every team member from the mail carrier to the CEO must be prepared to effectively lead in their roles while maintaining the understanding that change is a constant. Even when the type of change differs, we can apply similar tactics of change management and communication to new situations. 

Education Elements: What can leaders do proactively to anticipate and prepare for change?


    • I approach this with a strategy I call TKO. If we want to knock something out instead of being knocked out, we need the boxer’s mentality of preparing for the fight before the fight begins. 
      • Trends: Prepare yourself and understand the actions and reactions of your competitor. How can we look outside of ourselves and learn from other leaders’ or organizations’ approaches to anticipating and preparing for change? How are others organizing their staff and their structures in an efficient and effective way?
      • Knowledge: How can we constantly learn, so we have a bank of resources and ideas that we can pull from when we need them? What data supports pivots in our framework or practice now?
      • Outcome: Don’t forget the vision that your organization or team has. In Dallas, our goal is to increase college and career readiness for our students. I have the control to align my learning, decisions, and change management strategies according to these outcomes. This ensures I am guiding myself and others towards our goal outcomes, regardless of what uncertainty or change we face.

Education Elements: What additional advice do you have for leaders who are currently navigating and leading through change?

Lisa: Don’t primarily lean on emotion, but lead with information. The objective is not to eliminate change but to grow in the midst of it. If you can do that well you are better prepared to achieve your organizational goals. 

There are over 155,000 students in Dallas ISD, and we are so grateful for leaders like Lisa who are making an impact on the learning and lives of these students, every day.

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