How We’re Leading Our Christian School through the Four Rooms of Change

Updated: Jul 16

In July 2020, we announced to our school faculty our decision to pursue K-12 authorization with International Baccalaureate to become an IB World School. (To learn more about this decision, read Why We Chose International Baccalaureate for our K-12 Christian School.) This was the start of what will be a three-year journey toward authorization and an even longer journey to reach full implementation.

In leading this massive change effort, I have found Claes Janssen’s Four Rooms of Change to be a valuable framework for navigating this process with my leadership and faculty.

Let’s begin with a quick summary of Janssen’s Four Rooms:

  1. Contentment

  2. things are working effectively & efficiently

  3. don’t see a need for change

  4. a need for change arises

  5. Denial

  6. don’t want to admit that change is needed

  7. annoyance with impending change

  8. leads to realization & acceptance of change

  9. Confusion

  10. old ways are being unlearned

  11. new ways are being learned

  12. questions, ambiguity, suspicion, rumors abound

  13. Renewal

  14. great energy and collaboration

  15. searching for solutions

  16. change is finally realized

This fall, as we began the intensive work of introducing the IB philosophy and methodology, we shared Janssen’s Four Rooms with our faculty and staff and asked them to consider what room they were in as it related to our IB journey. We then asked them to collaborate with their peers and identify what they would need from school leadership to help them move from their current room to the next room.

We intuitively know as school leaders that not everyone on our staff will be at the same place at the same time when undergoing change management. The Four Rooms framework provided us with a simple way to think about the different groups within our faculty and how to support each one in moving them forward.

For example, we learned that those trying to move from Contentment needed more support in imagining something different and better than our current academic vision. For those in Denial, they wanted structured times for collaboration and exploration. The faculty in Confusion asked for exemplars to help them better understand what they were working toward. Those already in Renewal wanted time to collaborate with others and the resources to get started.

If we think about the overarching question to be answered in each of the Four Rooms, then we can identify the key strategy for addressing the needs of those in that Room. Traditionally, I think most organizations operate something like this:

  1. Contentment → What do we need to do? → Information

  2. Denial → Why do we need to do it? → Innovation

  3. Confusion → How are we going to do it? → Inspiration

  4. Renewal → What is it going to look like? → Imagination

It usually plays out something like this:

“Here’s the data on why we need to change” (information)

“Here’s the ideas we came up with for what to change” (innovation)

“Here’s a pep talk to motivate you to do the hard work to change” (inspiration)

“Here’s what it’s going to be like if we can finally get this change” (imagination)

I’m not an expert in change management, I’m just a school leader with nearly 25 years of experience leading my Christian school through a lot of change processes with varying degrees of success. And here’s what I’ve learned. We too often approach change as a left-brain activity, with information and innovation (problem-solving) as the starting point of the process, then later move to right-brain activities when we turn to inspiration and imagination to create the change. But I’ve come to believe that this approach doesn’t work.

I believe change management should move in our brains from right-to-left, not left-to-right. I am convinced that it should look more like this:

  1. Contentment → What do we need to do? → Imagination

  2. Denial → Why do we need to do it? → Inspiration

  3. Confusion → How are we going to do it? → Information

  4. Renewal → What is it going to look like? → Innovation

In doing so, we flip the script:

“What might a preferred future look like if we change?” (imagination)

“Why would it be important to make this change?” (inspiration)

“What do you need to know to get started on this change?” (information)

“How can we work together to create this change?” (innovation)

A few years ago, a change initiative in my high school failed miserably because I initiated it from left-to-right. In contrast, our IB endeavor is tracking really well, in part because of the decision to lead it from right-to-left.

A few final observations on Janssen’s Four Rooms:

  1. There are often micro changes within the broader macro change – for example, IB implementation has required changes in scheduling formats, assessment policies, and pedagogy.

  2. People can be in different rooms for different micro changes – for example, some teachers are in Renewal on new scheduling models, but Denial on assessment changes.

  3. People can, and likely will, leave your school from any of the rooms – we’ve had teachers choose to leave our school already from Contentment and Denial and it’s likely some may exit from Confusion at the end of this year. And that’s okay.

If you are leading your school on a Deeper Learning journey, having a framework for change – whether it’s Janssen’s Four Rooms or something different – can provide helpful clarity and direction for the leader and reflection and self-awareness for your teachers and staff.