Educational Change? What the Research Says

What are the hidden forces that are slowing educational reform and how can we unlock the doors that are guarded so dilengently by educational gatekeepers?

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April Luehmann’s, research paper “Powerful Hidden Forces Affecting Teacher Appraisal and Adoption of Technology”, points to two factors that must be considered when introducing innovation and change to teachers; credibility and trustworthiness.

It should come as no surprise that one of the most influential factors influencing teacher/gatekeeper decisions about innovations are the competence/credibility of the change agent.

“competence/credibility (is) defined by the degree to which a communication source or channel is perceived as knowledgeable and expert” – Rogers

The second major factor influencing the teacher/gatekeeper decision-making process is the trustworthiness of the person introducing the change.

“defined by the degree to which a communication source or channel is perceived as trustworthy… not likely suspect… of having selfish motives or manipulative intentions,” – Rogers

The research clearly indicates that before we get into pedagogical and curriculum issues, we must deal with the very human issue of the credibility of the “change agent”. If we ignore issues of credibility, teachers will not be fully open to hear the benefits of the innovation being championed. The change agent must pass two tests, first are they competent, knowledgeable, and a perceived expert in the realm of the innovation they are introducing and second, are they trustworthy and free of selfish, hidden, or manipulative agendas.

This raises an interesting question, if I am a technology director who wants to introduce a technology or innovation to a group of math teachers, will they deem me “credible”? Will they consider me competent? This may vary somewhat from group to group; but it would be understandable if they challenged my competence. Why? It’s simple. I may be competent in the domain of technology; but I am not a math teacher. In the mind of the mathematics classroom gatekeepers I am may be not familiar enough with their world to be introducing an innovation.

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What would happen if an English teacher attempted to convince the math department to adopt a new textbook, a new technology, or a new approach to teaching math. No matter how passionate or how useful the change they advocate might be; it will be viewed with skepticism because it is coming from someone who has a perceived lack of “competence” in the math gatekeeper’s domain.

 

In addition to credibility and competence, a technology director introducing an innovation to teachers should also be aware that they are looking very closely at the their motives. Why are they introducing this to us? What’s in it for the change agent? Do they have a hidden agenda? What’s wrong with the way things are being done today? Before beginning the process of initiating change, it might be useful for change agents to inventory their motives, agendas, and judgments. In addition, it would make sense to reflect on how much they are trusted by those who will be affected by the proposed innovation or change.

Trust is an emotionally charged word and we can be blind to the fact that sometimes we are not trusted. Often the lack of trust has nothing to do with us but is the result of background beliefs that teachers might have. For example, teachers might have a belief that anybody from the central office has a political agenda. Whether or not you have a political agenda makes no difference. If it is a background belief the group, it will take time to change that belief.

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Because teachers seldom speak up to tell the person who they distrust that there is a problem; we can be operating with the assumption that all is well when it isn’t. We may have unknowingly violated some element of trust in the past and not know it. For example, have we ever said one thing and done another? Have we ever promised something and not delivered? Have we had negative judgments about certain staff members? Have we been political? Are there times when we had hidden agendas? All of these situations can erode the trust that others have in us. Without the trust of the stakeholders, it is nearly impossible for change agents to succeed.

How can we use Luehmann’s research to help us be more successful in introducing innovation and change to our schools? First, we must create the groundwork for teachers to be able to listen openly to what we have to say or offer. We do this by establishing our credibility and trustworthiness. We might have the innovation introduced by a competent, content expert rather than a technology expert. In our math example, we would do well to find open-minded math teacher, department chairman, or curriculum and instruction expert to introduce the innovation or change. Having someone from the gatekeeper’s world introduce the “new” thing, neutralizes the “credibility and competence” challenge which, the research indicates, is one of the first considerations of the teacher/gatekeeper.

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Second, the change is more likely to be embraced, if the person introducing it is trusted. To this end, we need to assess the level of trust that exists and build it back if it has been lost. Rebuilding trust is pre-requisite to introducing an innovation. It is the foundation from which we work. It is best to deal with it before we attempt to introduce a new change or innovation. If we try to rebuild it during the change process it unduly complicates matters.

Once credibility and trust is established teachers will be open to listening. According to Luehmann’s research teachers then move to the “persuasion” stage. In my next post, we will go deeper into the research and provide insights into unlocking the door to transformation, change, and innovation.

pete

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