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ISASA’s global reach

| September 4, 2017 | 0 Comments


In March of this year, I had the pleasure to attend my first American National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) conference,1 along with Confidence Dikgole, director: policy and government relations at ISASA.

ISASA and NAIS on the same page

What was wonderful about attending the conference was that it was an opportunity to make comparisons between the world’s largest independent schools’ association and ISASA. What was heartening to see is that there is not much difference between the philosophical approaches of NAIS and ISASA. In terms of our mutual commitment to inclusion, NAIS, like ISASA, grants financial assistance to schools with fewer financial resources to attend their respective conferences. Fiscal prudence is another similarity of our bodies. Donna Orem, president of NAIS, proudly announced at the conference that her organisation had not increased subscriptions in the previous year. Over the past four years, ISASA has increased its membership fees at the rate of inflation only in my first year as its executive director, and for the last two years, at a rate below that of inflation. It is anticipated that this year, once again, ISASA will increase emoluments at a rate below inflation.

A trip to Bryn Mawr School

The trip to Baltimore held some truly serendipitous moments, one of which I would like to share with you. Being in possession of her second 10-year visa, Confidence finally managed to visit the US (where her sister lives and went to school) when we went to the NAIS conference. Confidence knew that her sister, Lydia Nnanah Maele, had attended Bryn Mawr School,2 which is in the vicinity of Baltimore. She had thought we would not have time to visit the school, and she did not know how far its campus was from our conference venue. When she discussed this with me, once we had arrived in Baltimore, we made the time to visit her sister’s alma mater. At this all-girls school, we were warmly welcomed by Nnanah’s fellow alumna, Julie Smith Marshall, who is Bryn Mawr’s director of development. We had thought that we would only make a one-day visit, but we were invited back to guest teach an interdisciplinary multigrade (10th, 11th and graders) class, entitled World Perspectives: Gaining Global Competency. As the school catalogue describes, this course is “[d]esigned as a mini-immersion in the countries with which Bryn Mawr currently has exchanges (South Africa, Turkey, England, the Czech Republic and China), this student-driven, team-taught course… explore[s] the issues that unite and divide the citizens of these countries”. The intention of the course is to increase the ability of students to be able to function in an international community that requires a broad spectrum of global knowledge, often referred to as “cultural literacy”. Confidence and I were asked to give an overview of South African history and contemporary issues. A co-teacher of the course, Dr Kimberley Long Riley, has previously brought exchange students to Herschel Girls’ School in Cape Town, in South Africa’s Western Cape, which has an exchange programme with Bryn Mawr School. Not only was this a wonderful opportunity for Confidence to see where her sister had been when she left South Africa, but also for ISASA to connect with a school that has a link with one of its members.

A case for change

A pre-conference session that I attended was the Klingenstein Seminar Series: A Case for Change.3 In this seminar, Todd Jick, a Columbia Business School professor,4 spoke about implementing and leading organisational change. I found this session immensely enlightening, as ISASA has undergone much change since I took over the helm of the organisation in 2014. The ISASA offices have been fully renovated and we have implemented an organisation structural change. Jick says of leadership: “Leaders take organisations to places that they would not otherwise have gone to.” According to a 2015 Bain Distributed Leadership Study,5 96% of respondents agreed that great leadership is an essential ingredient to making a school successful. This is something that I, too, have observed. When walking into a school, you can quickly identify whether it is a good school or not. What I have found interesting when visiting schools is that heads of schools who are proud of their institutions and what they are achieving want to show you around their schools. For them, opening up their schools, where focused learning is occurring, where children are clearly happy and the learning environment is clean and conducive to learning, is a point of pride. Also, on these “walkabouts”, I am often regaled about the changes that have occurred under the head’s stewardship. This progress was invariably achieved with some internal and external resistance.

What to retain and what to jettison

According to Jick, in a school setting, successful change management requires a leadership style that is characterised by an interdisciplinary approach, innovation and a flat organisational structure, and one that is focused on the needs of learners rather than those of staff or other authority figures. What needs to be jettisoned are organisations that are arranged into silos, hierarchical, risk-averse and focused on pleasing staff from ISASA’s executive director Lebogang Montjan rather than students. Over the past three years, ISASA, on its organisational journey, has attempted to discard the latter characteristics and adopt the former. For a small organisation, ISASA was hierarchical and functioned in stringent silos. Pleasingly, though, ISASA has always been member-focused and has always sought to improve its services to its membership. This latter aspect remains a cornerstone.

The 44 favourites

However, in my attempt to move ISASA to a more interdisciplinary and less hierarchical structure, I, too, heard, as illustrated by Jick, some of the 44 ways people resist new ideas. For school leaders who are change agents, I am certain that they, too, have been indignantly told why any suggested change cannot occur because of one, or a combination of, the following reasons: 1. We tried that before. 2. This place is different. 3. It costs too much. 4. That’s beyond our responsibility. 5. We’re all too busy to do that. 6. That’s not my job. 7. It’s too radical a change. 8. We don’t have the time. 9. Not enough help. 10. Our place is too small for it. 11. Not practical for operating people. 12. The staff will never buy it. 13. The union will scream. 14.We’ve never done it before. 15. It’s against regulations. 16. Runs up overheads. 17.We don’t have the authority. 18. That’s too ivory tower. 19. Let’s get back to reality. 20. That’s not our problem. 21.Why change it – it’s still working OK. 22. You’re right – but… 23. You’re two years ahead of your time. 24.We don’t have the personnel. 25. It isn’t in the budget. 26. Good thought, but impractical. 27. Let’s give it more thought. 28. Top management would never go for it. 29. Let’s put it in writing. 30.We’d lose money in the long run. 31. It’s never been tried before. 32. Let’s shelve it for the time being. 33. Let’s form a committee. 34. Has anyone else ever tried it? 35.What you’re really saying is… 36. Maybe that will work in your department, but not in mine. 37. The executive committee will never… 38. Don’t you think we should look into that further before we act? 39. Let’s all sleep on it. 40. It won’t pay for itself. 41. I know a fellow who tried that. 42.We’ve always done it this way. 43. It’s hopelessly complex. 44. Our lawyers say it’s not possible to overcome resisters, Jick cautions that champions of change should not: • underestimate: o resistance (or under-identify key constituencies) o the time required to actualise the change o the skills and resources necessary to achieve the change o project leadership commitment demand for success, or • overestimate the clarity of the implementation plan. Jick advises that when wanting to shift an institution sustainably, you should ask yourself the “five W” questions – whether, who, what, when and how: • Whether: Knowing when buy-in is needed versus when it is too costly or not necessary to achieve. • Who: Figuring out whose buy-in is needed. • What: What issues and at what stage do you need to get buy-in? • When: At what stage do you need to get buy-in? (Predecision buy-in versus implementation buy-in.) • How: Knowing how best to “get” buy-in. What these enquiries illustrate is that leaders of change must be tactical and strategic. His dos and don’ts are: • Do: o identify: o key people affected by change o potential resistance and receptivity o persuade, using a repertoire of tactics o allow for open bilateral dialogue. • Don’t: o ignore key groups o confuse will with the skill to change o involve “in-group” only and give them the glory o assume technical solution is sufficient. From the “five Ws”, Jick then moves on to the “four Ps” – purpose, picture, plan and part. This period of persuasion does take time. Sustainable organisational change is a time-intensive enterprise if a leader rejects an authoritarian leadership style for a more inclusive and institutional, participative method – in other words, getting key stakeholder buy-in rather than their formal compliance. By the “four Ps”, Jick means: • Purpose: Why do we have to do what we are doing? • Picture: What it will look and feel like when we reach our goal? • Plan: Step by step, how we will get there? • Part: What can you do (and what do you need to do) to help the organisation move forward?

Support for a growth mindset

What I found rewarding about attending the Klingenstein Seminar was that the philosophical method ISASA has adopted on its institutional transformation journey to a growth mindset organisation, has academic endorsement. It was affirming to realise that some of the 44 statements of resistance were recognisable as ones that I had had to grapple with when implementing change. Beyond the fortuitous moments that attending the NAIS conference provided, attending it brought me great insight into my work in leading ISASA. I further appreciated the global reach of our association and our member schools. 


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Category: Spring 2017

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