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“The Human Side of School Change” by Robert Evans Essay

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Updated: Oct 18th, 2020

“The Human Side of School Change” is a book that is authored by Robert Evans and it offers practical insights on the process of initiating change in schools. Change in schools is a process that is perceived differently by various educational stakeholders. However, school principals are often at the center of the change process. In his book, Evans proposes realistic modalities and expectations when it comes to the speed of educational reforms and the actions of the people who spearhead these changes. Consequently, the book offers viable models of improving the school system through a tenable framework that approaches change as a distinct process that requires a certain level of mastery.

Unlike other educational change theorists, Evans argues that stakeholders should focus on the realities on the ground. Therefore, this model of change is more practical than it is theoretical. Furthermore, the method eclipses other theories by scholars such as Guthrie and Schuerman as well as Sergiovanni’s model (Sergiovanni, 2001). Evans also accommodates the sensitive issue of resistance against change within institutional environments. This paper reflects on Evans’ assertions in “The Human Side of School Change” in the context of educational improvement and systemic change.

The signature element of Evans’ model of educational improvement is that is the theory is based on the complete perception of human behavior. In addition, the theorist is interested in understanding how human behavior influences the functioning of an organization. By incorporating human behavior in his model, Evans introduces a theory that is meant to combine leadership with realistic management strategies. Unlike most other theories of educational improvement, this framework seeks to cultivate the mutual cooperation between the agents of change in schools and the people whose efforts are required for this change to take place.

The author sums up this pioneering theory as follows: “the distinction between management and leadership is that managers get other people to do, but leaders get other people to want to do” (Evans, 1996, p. 172). Although Evans theory appears radical at first glance, the leadership philosophy is similar to other existing proposals in the course of this semester. For example, Burello and others (Burrello, Hoffman & Murray, 2004) propose that leadership can be used to manage structural tension. On the other hand, Evans’ philosophy shares the sentiments of self-awareness among leaders. According to Evans, a convicted advocate of change has the power to influence other agents. However, the success of this process depends on how leaders understand their own positions and those of others.

Evans’ theory is relevant in the modern education environment whereby separation of powers makes it hard for leaders to influence change. Today’s educational policies are of interest to various stakeholders including politicians, policymakers, religious leaders, parents, teachers, and students. Therefore, any attempt to make improvements is likely to go against one of the interesting demographics. Evans proposes that it is easier for a leader to beat this bureaucracy if he/she combines the attributes of authenticity, integrity, and being savvy. This proposal can be effective in the current environment whereby any attempt to institute change is misinterpreted as a ‘hidden agenda’ or a perpetuation of self-interest.

Leaders who successfully wield authenticity, savvy, and integrity stand a chance of being able to navigate through the crowded interest groups in the education sector. For example, the educational system in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has gone through radical changes beginning in the year 2006. However, simple observations indicate that effecting system-wide changes were easier in 2006 than it was in 2014. Eventually, the stakeholders of the UAE’s education system have increased to include international entities. In addition, the leadership of the UAE’s educational sector has become a relevant topic in the last five years. The leaders in charge of various education zones in the UAE have to utilize Evans’ theory to ensure that they strike a balance between reforming/modernizing the education policies while ensuring that they do not appear to be westernizing the UAE’s systems.

Evans’ idea extends the thinking of educational stakeholders because in the last few years they have depended on protocols to influence change. However, Evans’ system is dependent on trust. This fact changes the current mindset on lobbying and transfers the responsibility of influencing change to individuals. According to Evans, change is about “abandoning traditional long-range master plans…in favor of much more pragmatic, adaptable approaches that acknowledge the non-rational, unplannable aspects of organizational life” (Evans, 1996, p. 15). Principals and teachers should embrace innovativeness as a tool for improving education as specified by Evans.

This reading is closely related to Northouse’s work on ‘Style Inventory’ (2007). This literature advises practitioners and researchers to utilize anything that is at their disposal in their efforts to assess their leadership. Both Northouse and Evans suggest that using rigid methods of implementation and evaluation undermines the unique leadership and innovative abilities of some individuals. Evan’s model utilizes three leadership attributes namely authenticity, integrity, and Savvy. These three attributes are super-imposed with Bloom’s taxonomy, which has knowledge, action, and emotive-based realms of describing the educational system (Krathwohl, 2002). For instance, savvy in the Evans model coincides with action in Bloom’s taxonomy, authenticity with knowledge, and integrity matches with emotive functions.


Burrello, L. C., Hoffman, L. P., & Murray, L. E. (2004). School leaders building capacity from within: Resolving competing agendas creatively. New York, NY: Corwin Press.

Evans, R. (1996). The Human Side of School Change: Reform, Resistance, and the Real-Life Problems of Innovation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overview. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 212-218.

Northouse, P. G. (2007). Leadership: Theory and practice. New York, NY: Sage publications.

Sergiovanni, T. J. (2001). The principalship: A reflective practice perspective. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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IvyPanda. 2020. ""The Human Side of School Change" by Robert Evans." October 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-human-side-of-school-change-by-robert-evans/.


IvyPanda. (2020) '"The Human Side of School Change" by Robert Evans'. 18 October.

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