Literacy change leadership

2 Mindset Traps To Avoid When Leading Change (Part 2)

Oct 31, 2021

In last week’s blog on effective Literacy leadership, I introduced 2 key mindset traps that literacy leaders can fall into at this time of year.

With one foot in the camp concerned about making it through this year, and the other foot in the camp focused on planning for next year, it’s not surprising that overwhelm is in overdrive.

This is not good news for strategic literacy leadership, as overwhelm can trick leaders into taking on 2 key mindset traps related to leading change:

  1. More is better than less
  2. Fast is better than slow

In last week’s blog, I provided 3 key mantras to help blow the first mindset trap apart and, in this blog, I’m giving you 2 mantras to focus on to eradicate ‘fast is better than slow’ thinking.


How to spot ‘fast is better than slow’ thinking

‘Fast is better than slow’ thinking is characterised by quick solution finding and even quicker rollout of new initiatives.

There’s no time to lose in this mindset trap; change has to happen, and results are needed NOW!

  • Quick! Let’s find a program that can improve our students’ reading data.
  • What program are other schools using to get better writing results? Let’s use the same one as them.
  • Let’s roll out the new reading initiative in term 1 and then we’ll be able to start PLC training in term 2.
  • We have to improve our spelling data for NAPLAN next year. It’s October now so we’ve got a couple of months to find a new approach that we can roll out at the start of next year.

Do any of these sound familiar?

Today I’m sharing 2 key mantras to help remind you that slow is better than fast when it comes to leading effective change.


Sometimes fast is actually better than slow

As teachers, we’re born problem solvers. Everything we do is geared towards finding problems so we can implement quick fixes. On yard duty, we scan the grounds searching for issues (the argument, the crying child, or- heaven forbid- the flying fox-induced broken arm). As soon as we spot an issue, we zero in on it and find a fast and effective solution- ‘You two separate, you two take him to the sickbay and you stay where you are so I can apply first aid.’

This problem finding happens in the classroom too. When we listen to students read, for example, we’re listening out for any trip ups in their reading (problems) so we work out how to correct their wrong turns, either immediately or in future lessons (solutions).

In these situations, fast is often better than slow.

The same cannot always be said however, for change leadership planning.


Mantra 1: Diagnose before you prescribe

Too often, the ‘fast is better than slow’ mindset trap sees leaders identifying a problem (e.g., ‘we need to improve the growth in our students’ writing data’) and reaching for a fast and effective solution (‘let’s buy this new program’) without anything happening in between.

The issue with this approach is that it’s based on finding a solution for a problem that hasn’t even been identified yet. It’s akin to walking into a chemist and saying, “I’m not feeling well. Do you have any medication that could help me feel better?”

What’s the first thing the chemist is going to ask you in reply?

“What are your symptoms?”

Why? Because they’re trying to diagnose the cause of your illness before they prescribe a suggested solution.

Diagnosis before prescription.

In their haste to implement a quick solution, too many literacy leadership teams are walking into chemists and asking for medication without having taken the time to find out what their symptoms are.

Not being able to go to work because you feel awful isn’t a symptom, it’s a problem caused by a set of symptoms (e.g., constant coughing, headaches and a runny nose.)

Just as ‘low growth in writing’ isn’t a symptom- it’s a problem that’s caused by a set of symptoms.

Your job is to work out what your symptoms are, so you’ll be in better placed to prescribe the most effective medication.


Mantra 2: Slow down to speed up

Slowing down to speed up is the order of the day when it comes to effective change leadership.

When you resist the ‘fast is better than slow’ mindtrap, you allow yourself to slow down your implementation schedule in order to spend time diagnosing your actual symptoms.

  • What could be some of the contributing factors to your low writing growth?
  • What are your schools’ current strengths in teaching and learning in writing? What evidence do you have?
  • What does writing instruction look like in your school right now (not just in your classroom- but across every classroom)?
  • How much time is being spent on writing in each classroom? (Is there a difference between timetabled vs reality?)
  • How much of this time is allocated to students doing the actual work of writing?
  • What does writing planning look like across the school?
  • What levels of teacher confidence and competence currently exist in writing?
  • What are your student and teacher attitudes towards writing? (Refer this blog post for ideas on student survey questions).

Slowing down to investigate these questions will assist you to pinpoint your school’s unique symptoms. Then (and only then) should you set about the task of searching for solutions that will address your specific symptoms.

Yes, this takes time.

Yes, you may feel like you’re not making forward progress initially.

And yes, it means you might not be ready to start implementing your solution at the start of next year.

But after all of this slowing down, you’ll be sure to speed towards your desired impact faster, because you’ve acted with precision.

Leadership tip: If you’re looking at changing how literacy in taught in your school and you’re keen to roll out a new initiative from the start of next year, I’d strongly recommend spending the rest of this year in diagnosis phase- this should include numerous classroom observations, student and teacher surveys and analysis of the various data sources available to you.


  • Diagnosis before prescription
  • Slow down to speed up

Have you experienced the benefits of slow is better than fast thinking when it comes to leading change? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook Group.


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