Activity: Schools, change, and resource allocation

Here’s an activity you can do with school administrators and teachers (and maybe school board members?). Total time: about 45 minutes.

Resources needed

  • PowerPoint slides (pptx ppt pdf)
  • Pre-made Google Doc formatted like this, with sharing set up so that anyone can view AND edit
  • Internet access and a laptop for at least one participant in each group

Set-up (about 5 minutes)

Whem most folks think and talk about organizational change, they envision it in linear terms:


In reality, change in organizations looks more like this:


In other words, change occurs more gradually, particularly at the beginning as employees spend time wrapping their minds around desired changes, how to fit those changes into existing practices, what they need to get rid of or substantially alter, what they still retain, etc. Change always starts slow and takes a while to (hopefully) gather steam.

I heard a presentation by IBM a few years back in which managers explained that, as much as possible, the company tries to frontload a heavy dose of resources toward any new change initiative. The resource allocation curve essentially is a mirror image of the change curve, allocating heavy amounts of training and training time, money, support structures, etc. up front and then tapering off closer to the end once the desired change is well-established.


The goal is to actually shift the change curve to the left – accelerating sooner to the desired outcome – by allocating large amounts of resources up front.


Few schools have the resources of IBM, of course. As a result, the resource allocation curve looks more like this in most school organizations:


In most schools, then, we have a resource allocation gap of sorts, between what we typically provide and what we perhaps should provide:


This is one of the reasons that change in schools thus looks more incremental / evolutionary / linear rather than revolutionary / exponential.

Group work (about 40 minutes)

  1. Divide the group into smaller discussion groups of three to five people. Have each discussion group appoint a recorder.
  2. Send the recorders into the Google Doc. Have them type in the group’s answer under the question in Part 1. 5 minutes in small group discussion, 5 minutes in large group sharing. What kind of intense resources are necessary to move you forward faster than incremental change? BE VERY SPECIFIC. Don’t just say "time," say "time for ??." Don’t just say "professional development," say "professional development for ??."
  3. Send the groups back into the Google Doc. Have them answer the question in Part 2 by filling in the numbered items. They can add a couple more items if they have time. 5 minutes in small group discussion, a few minutes in large group sharing. What are 5-7 reasons why your school organization can’t get beyond incremental change?
  4. Have the groups then look at the next highest group’s responses to Part 2. For example, Group 1 looks at Group 2’s responses, Group 2 looks at Group 3’s responses, and so on (the highest-numbered group will look at Group 1’s responses). Have each group type in possible solutions for each of the reasons offered by the other group. 10 minutes in small group discussion. What are some possible solutions for each of the reasons offered?
  5. Conclude with a large group discussion about the overall document in Google Docs, focusing particularly on the reasons and solutions in each group’s Part 2. Possible questions include Is it easier to identify solutions outside one’s own context?, Were the solutions reasonable or overly optimistic?, Are these true reasons or simply excuses?, Is it possible for schools to make more than incremental change?, and so on.

Obviously you could expand or modify this activity in a variety of different ways (if you do this, let me know how it went!). How would you change and/or improve this activity if you did it in your own school organization?

6 Responses to “Activity: Schools, change, and resource allocation”

  1. Scott, Great post! I just completed a class in my doctorate program on school change, we read Michael Fullan’s book and performed many projects and discussions. It was great. This resource here is a great way to integrate change into professional development and really discuss school goals and developing a mission and vision for change. Way to go! I’m a fan!

  2. Forgot to say in my post that credit also goes to Julie Graber of AEA 267 here in Iowa, who’s responsible for helping design much of this activity.

  3. Thanks Scott! I would also give some credit to my colleague, Jaymie Randel of AEA 267. It was very interesting to see how easily the leaders provided solutions to another group’s reasons. However, I wonder if they were asked to provide their own solutions to their own barriers, would it have been just as easy? If not, why not?

  4. This seems to make a lot of sense. A lot of the changes demanded of the education in classrooms and probably up into the upper echelons of the field are mandated without resources or time for implementation. Generally what I hear when someone suggests a change to the way we run things in our building or what have you, the say, “just do it this way,” and then everyone waits for something to happen. When nothing happens they disregard the idea as misguided and keep doing what they’ve been doing.

  5. Generally what I see in schools is Allocation of resources early on then as years pass (usually only two or three) staff turns over and the push for this particular reform dies. Soon someone starts a push for a new reform and the cycle is repeated.

    I thought it looked almost exactly like resource allocation curve 6. Resources are front loaded then die completely in just a few years. Chane which was just beginning to take off then dies with the lack of resources.

  6. WOW! I loved this…I believe this will be helpful to use with the district technology committee as we make decisions on allocations of resources. Thank you!

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