The changes in schools most likely to impact learning are those that require transformation. Organizational transformation involves changes in the social systems—particularly the Directional System, Knowledge Development and Transmission System, and Recruitment and Induction System. When these social systems are changed, conventional sources of power and authority are threatened and members of an organization are asked to rethink all of the norms that define their roles and the rules by which they do their work.
Many school districts choose the easier, though less effective, path—implementing innovations that require only superficial changes that do not get at the essence of what a district is about, how roles are defined, and what will be the focus of everyone's work. Many current programs are just such innovations, requiring only good management and asking much less of all members of the organization. As programs, they may ask teachers to learn new teaching strategies or to implement new classroom procedures. However, these strategies and procedures are based on existing assumptions about the roles of student and teacher and about the core business of school, and, therefore, do not require leadership and moral commitment—as does transformation.
The Directional System refers to the social system through which goals are set, priorities are determined, and, when things go awry, corrective actions are initiated.
Leaders who wish to transform their schools into learning organizations must be attentive to superordinate goals. In contrast to strategic goals, operational goals, and action goals, superordinate goals are direction-setting goals that provide overarching meaning and guidance to members of an organization.
Leaders in bureaucratic schools may not be interested in superordinate goals and other issues related to direction because they are pursuing an externally set direction dictated by others, most likely state and federal regulators. Sometimes in bureaucratic schools, leaders are not even conscious of their lack of self-determined superordinate goals.
An organization's core business is what it busies itself doing, what it does to pursue its superordinate goals. The core business involves all the most important things members of an organization do. If a school system aspires to make student engagement central, it will have to transform itself and become a learning organization.
Leaders who desire to sustain a direction will be required to understand the capacity needed to sustain a focus on its core business.