In this interview, part of the Lead the Change series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Dr. Liou discusses her work on how understanding social ties and cultural norms impact educational change. As she puts it:
This social perspective may help us think about leadership roles in creating conditions for learning. For example, formal leaders include those who have a formally designated role such as principals, department heads and coordinators, etc. The informal leaders are those who do not necessarily have a formal leadership title but are influential individuals among school staff. These leadership roles are somewhat distinct by definition, but sometimes overlap within individuals and/or coexist within an organization. Each of these roles has to do with how conditions are created for desired change. The formal leaders can be helpful in communicating the vision, goals, policy and school development plan with their staff at some of the structured meetings to develop a shared value and language, which remains to be one of the top challenges most schools face. In practice, school leaders, on average, spend less than 20% of their time on discussing, revisiting, or co- developing their core values and plans together, even less time invested in making sense of the reform policy (Grissom et al., 2013; Horng et al., 2010; Sebastian et al., 2017). A useful approach to address this issue might be to change the structure of staff meetings to a “mini workshop” format. In this approach, teachers are able to share their thoughts within and across their grade level or subject team, present it to the whole staff, and continue this discussion and practice until they come to have a shared understanding. This ongoing course of practice is ideally coupled with the use of social influence through informal leaders such as those staff members to whom others would turn to for advice, information, or addressing immediate problems at work. Many times, these informal leaders are also formal leaders, but the key point here is the notion of peer influence through which individual beliefs are likely shaped. These informal leaders are often active teachers who initiate opportunities for collaboration and exchange of resources among teachers and act as spokespersons or representatives of their teacher teams. These leaders can convey the needs and messages or support information flow between different segments of school structure. They can be helpful in diffusing ideas and information, getting more teachers’ buy-in, and identifying needs for professional development. In the meantime, formal leaders have to make sure resources (e.g., time, budget, space) exist supported by infrastructure to assist the execution of initiatives or reform related plans that were collectively prioritized among school staff. In all, both formal and informal leadership roles go hand in hand in creating the conditions for learning and development (e.g., Liou & Canrinus, 2019; Liou & Daly, 2018; Sun et al., 2013).
This Lead the Change interview appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently, Lead the Change has also interviewed Kristin Kew and Christina Dobbs.