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Reframing Organizations & Educational Institutions

Case Description

Last year, our school faced a challenge familiar to many educational institutions: how to develop a more consistent approach to discipline from classroom to classroom and in common school areas, such as hallways, cafeteria, and playground. Our school community, with the support of the administration, identified the need to increase our positive school climate by exploring the use of a school-wide discipline system. A committee of teachers met and determined basic rules and behavior principles for students. In addition, the behavior committee also led the school improvement plan and created a plan to target the student achievement-essential life skills. Using the organizational frames (structural, human resource, political and symbolic) proposed and described by Bolman and Deal, this paper will examine the organizational change process in implementing a school-wide positive approach for improving student behavior.

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Rationale for Using the New Strategy

Following Bolman and Deal, all problems and difficult situations correspond to specific frames which influence conflict resolution and change management. Successful managers should attempt to introduce change between these frames in order to reach a maximum positive result. Bolman and Deal’s framework is especially useful in understanding school program changes because the human resource and symbolic frames have always been so significant. In this case, a team of teachers worked together to propose a change in the way we promote positive behaviors and help students make appropriate choices that make all students feel safe and comfortable in their learning environment. The human resource frame supports the idea of caring relationships between students and staff. The symbolic frame shapes the culture and climate of the organization and builds team spirit and group cohesiveness (Bolman and Deal 2001).

Primary Frames

The process our behavior committee used was similar to other programs including the Positive Behavior System (PBS) and Effective Behavioral Support (EBS). Our behavior team studied both programs and concur that both referred to a system of school-wide processes and individualized instruction designed to prevent and decrease problem behavior and to maintain appropriate behavior. Our administrative staff did not necessarily want our committee to adopt a prescribed program. With this said, the EBS model became our framework for our improvement project. The overall teaching staff is inexperienced with 40% of the teachers having less than two years of teaching experience and 63% having less than five years experience. As with many new teachers, a common theme emerged. Our new staff was struggling with classroom management. Referrals to the office for discipline reasons were rampant. The primary frames used to describe the change were structural and political. The structural frame helped to describe a [proposed structure and behavior patterns while the political frame was used to describe conflict areas and expected political discourse (Fullan, 2001).

The use of conceptual frames helps me to understand the complexity of the situation and the importance of a complex approach. All aspects are crucial for the success of program implementation: structural, political, human resources, and symbolic. They provide the means for the common pursuit of students and individual goals. Of course, the development of the individual can be worked into the goal-setting and review process. But in any organization, legitimate and substantive goals of the organization are necessarily compelling; and unless the students receive some measure of self-fulfillment, from both process and achievement, in striving to meet company goals, the common-interest thesis may be a delusion. Structural and political frames were used to describe the change process while human resources and symbolic frames will be used to introduce change and implement a plan (Bolman and Deal 2001).

Plan Implementation

The objective of the plan (action-oriented: What we will do to improve programmatic and/or instructional effectiveness) is to develop and implement a unique Positive Behavior plan that will support and exemplify character education for all students in grades Kindergarten-Sixth. Plan implementation will involve several steps:

  1. a team focus with shared ownership;
  2. behavioral support activities;
  3. establishing staff responsibilities;
  4. control of activities and necessary changes.

The plan will be based on symbolic and human resources frames.

Motivation and a positive climate will help to introduce shared ownership and a team focus. It is in the subject area of motivation that the student is under probably the greatest pressure to adopt programs, especially for experienced supervisors. Students are often accepted on faith, “motivation” being an appealing word that may itself sell a program package no matter what the content of the program or the techniques it seeks to install.

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The fact of individual differences is a crucial consideration in performance and satisfaction. One need not gild this point with research citations. The teacher is amply aware–he or she is an expert witness–of differences between students in regard to aptitudes, acquired skills, attitudes, perceptions, temperament, and motivation (in addition to the obvious physical characteristics). The recent research does throw light on the significance of certain personal characteristics as differentiating factors in satisfaction or performance, and especially on the roles of perception and motivation. Students high in achievement motivation tend to set goals of intermediate difficulty and to prefer concrete feedback as indications of how they are doing. In addition, there is evidence to support the hypothesis that students who have a strong need for personal development and achievement may see a higher worth in achieving performance objectives than students weaker in such need, and that these latter are more likely to be satisfied through the fulfillment of security and social needs (Bolman and Deal 2001).

An individual’s needs (as well as his or her experience, training, and attitudes) can affect positive attitudes and high morale, which in turn can affect satisfaction and behavior. The needs at issue, affecting perception, will often be other than the higher-order needs (for achievement, challenge, and such) that have received so much research attention; they may be social needs. There are indications that females tend to be higher on social needs than males and are more likely to take a favorable view of learning involving relations with others The precise relationship between perception and satisfaction (indeed, the very direction of the relationship) is not altogether clear, although there is clear evidence of a linkage. This will help to develop a team focus and cohesiveness of the group (Fullan, 2001).

The purpose of the behavior program is to reinforce the positive things our students are doing and thus, catch students doing the right thing. Students can earn a “Caught Ya” for behaviors demonstrating the six pillars of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, careering, and citizenship. Teachers and school administration should reward students and encourage them to continue this behavior pattern (Schien, 1996).

The fact of individual differences is at the heart of the long-debated issue of what educators should understand about the nature of people. The question is not “What is the student like?” The individual is complex and differs from other individuals. The problem is not one of settling, beforehand, the issue of what specifically a teacher or supervisor should see in students but of providing him or her with a way of looking. The expectancy model of motivation appears to provide a valid and practical way. When a teacher or any staff member recognizes a student making good choices, the staff member will give the student a “Caught Ya” certificate honoring his or her positive behavior. Currently, the students that receive a “Caught Ya” certificate take the certificate to the main office and receive a pencil that says, “Caught you being Good”. The “Caught Ya” certificate is then displayed on the bulletin board in the main lobby of our school. On Friday mornings, each student who earned a “Caught Ya” for the week is announced on the School News Program. In addition, 3-5 student names are drawn to receive a special prize (Fullan, 2001).

The last stage should involve control of the program implementation. A companion consideration is a feedback, although it has not always received the attention it deserves, probably because of a rather blind assumption that once a goal is set individuals can reach it without awareness of the signs of progress that would guide them to it and teach them to go that way again. Goals and knowledge of progress appear to interact to lead to better performance than either goals or knowledge alone. Any program utilizing goal setting is incomplete without provisions for feedback on progress toward the attainment of the goal (Schien, 1996). Feedback to the students on their performance can have a significant effect, but much depends on such factors as the nature of the feedback, who or what provides the feedback, and the receptivity of the student. The accuracy of perception of feedback and acceptance of it is also influenced by the nature of the feedback. Generally, positive feedback is likely to be perceived more accurately and have more acceptance than negative; negative feedback is likely to be misperceived and not accepted.

Alternative Perspective

Using a structural frame, it would be possible to change the structure of relations between teacher and students and introduce new relationships. Informal communication and transformational leadership style would help to restructure communication and personal relationships. This requirement would apply to the learning of new behavior tasks and to the mastering of new or revised requirements by teachers. Major issues in regard to new structural relationships are their effectiveness, manner of setting, difficulty level, and nature. A primary indication is that goals are likely to affect satisfaction and performance favorably. Having goals is superior in this respect to having no goals. The thesis that better outcomes occur when the goals are participative set than when assigned is not borne out. Assigned goals suggest that the effect of participation in goal setting might be related to the educational level of students (greater effect among less-educated) and the participative atmosphere of the organizational unit. The effect of the difficulty of goals and new rules on behavior will depend on the acceptability of the goal; performance may improve with more difficult goals but not, obviously, if assigned goals are perceived as impossible of attainment. An issue related to new structures of behavior and relations is the effect on the learning of high expectations by the supervisor or instructor (Fullan, 2001).


Bolman, L. G., Deal, T. E. (2003). Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership (3rd edition). Jossey-Bass.

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Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a Culture of Change. Jossey-Bass; 1st edition.

Schien, E. H. (1996). Organizational Culture and Leadership. Jossey-Bass.

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