Innovations in Education William Allan Kritsonis Sample Question : What is the process of implementing an innovation? Consider all individuals involved. The number and dynamics of factors that interact and affect the process of change are to overwhelming to compute in anything resembling a fully determined way. We do know more about the processes of change as a result of the research of the 1970s and 1980s, only to discover that there are no hard-and-fast rules, rather a set of suggestions or implications given the contingencies specific to local situations. The uniqueness of the individual setting is a critical factor. What works in one situation may or may not work in another. This is not to say that there are not guidelines. Research findings on the change process should be used less as instruments of application and more as means of helping practitioners and planners make sense of planning, implementation strategies, and monitoring. Most researchers now see three broad phases to the change process. Initiation Implementation Continuation Outcome Phase I – variously labeled initiation, mobilization, or adoption consists of the process that leads up to and includes a decision to adopt or proceed with a change. Phase II – implementation or initial use (usually the first two or three years) involves the first experiences of attempting to put an idea or reform into practice. Phase III – called continuation, incorporation, or institutionalization refers to whether the change gets built in as an ongoing part of the system or disappears by way of a decision to discard or through attrition. The concept of outcome provides a more complete overview of the change process. In simple terms, someone or some group, for whatever reasons, initiates or promotes a certain program or direction of change. The direction of change, which may be more or less defined at the early stages, moves to a phase of attempted use (implementation), which can be more or less effective in that use may or may not be accomplished. Continuation is an extension of the implementation phases in that the new program is sustained beyond the first year or two (or whatever timeframe is chosen). Outcome, depending on the objectives, can refer to several different types of results and can be thought of generally as the degree of school improvement in relation to a given criteria. Results could include, for example, improved student learning and attitudes; new skills, attitudes, or satisfaction on the part of teachers and other school personnel; or improved problem-solving capacity of the school as an organization. Ideally the best beginnings for the initiation process combines relevance, readiness, and resources. Relevance includes the interaction of need, clarity of the innovation (and practitioner’s understanding of it), and utility, or what it really has to offer teachers and students. Surprisingly, simple changes are the ones school systems are least likely to adopt and implement successfully, largely because they are not perceived to be worth the effort. By contrast, the greatest success is likely to occur when the size of the change is large enough to require noticeable, sustained effort, but not so massive that typical users find it necessary to adopt a coping strategy that seriously distorts the change. Relevance and importance do matter. Readiness involves the school’s practical and conceptual capacity to initiate, develop, or adopt a given innovation – the school’s capacity to use reform. Readiness may be approached in terms of individual and organization factors. For individuals: Does it address a perceived need? Is it a reasonable change? Do they posses the requisite knowledge and skills? Do they have the time? For organizations: Is the change compatible with the culture of the school? Are facilities, equipment, material, and supplies available? Are there other crises or other change efforts in progress? The greater the number of no’s, the more reason to take another look at readiness. Resources concern the accumulation of and provision of support as a part of the change process. Just because it is a good and pressing idea, doesn’t mean that the resources are available to carry it out. People often underestimate the resources needed to go forward with a change. While resources are obviously critical during implementation, it is at the initiation phase that the issue must first be considered and provided for. The key factors in the implementation process are organized into three main categories relating to the characteristics of the innovation or change project, local characteristics, and external factors. The characteristics of change are need, clarity, complexity, and quality/practicality. Need refers to whether or not change is required. Many innovations are attempted without a careful examination of whether or not they address what are perceived to be priority needs. Teachers, for example, frequently do not see the need for an advocated change. Several large-scale studies in the United States confirm the importance of relating need to decisions about innovations or change directions. Other studies have discovered that implementation if more effective when it is relatively focused or specific needs are identified. Complex or multifaceted reforms can also be focused, but they require a great deal of effort to clarify the nature of the needs being addressed. It is incumbent that a needs assessment be performed to determine with a change process is warranted. Clarity (about goals and means) is a perennial problem in the change process. Even when there is agreement that some kind of change is needed, as when teachers want to improve some area of the curriculum or improve the school as a whole, the adopted change may not be at all clear about what teachers should do differently. The majority of teachers are unable to identify the essential features of the innovation they are using. Problems related to clarity have been found in virtually every study of significant change. Studies have shown that the more complex the reform, the greater the problem of clarity. Lack of clarity – diffuse goals and unspecified means of implementation – represents a major problem at the implementation stage; teachers and others find that change is simply not very clear as to what it means in practice. Complexity refers to the difficulty and extent of change required of the individuals responsible for implementation. The actual amount depends on the starting point of any given individual or group, but the main idea is that any change can be examined with regard to difficulty, skill required, and extent of alterations in beliefs, teaching strategies, and use of materials. Many changes such as open education, systematic direct instruction, inquiryoriented social studies, special education, effective schools, parent involvement, and restructuring experiments requires a sophisticated array of activities, structures, diagnosis, teaching strategies, and philosophical understanding if effective implementation is to be achieved. The last factor associated directly with the nature of change concerns the quality and practicality of the innovation – whether it is a new curriculum, a new policy, a restructured school or whatever. The history of the quality of attempted changes relative to the other three variables (need, clarity, complexity) is revealing. To say that the importance of the quality of the change is self-evident is to underestimate how initiation decisions are made. Inadequate quality and even the simple unavailability of materials and other resources can result when adoption decisions are made on grounds of political necessity, or even on the grounds of perceived need without time for development. When adoption is more important the implementation, decisions are frequently made without the follow-up or preparation time necessary to generate adequate materials. Ambitious projects are nearly always politically driven. Practical changes are those that address salient needs that fit well with the teachers’ situation, that are focused, and that include concrete how-to-do-it possibilities. Practical does not necessarily mean easy, but it does mean the presence of next steps. Changes that are practical, even though of good quality, may be trivial or offensive, while changes that are complex may not be practically worked out. Local factors that play a major role in the implementation phase of the change process consist of district, community, principal, and teacher. The importance of the district’s history of innovation attempts can be stated in the form of a proposition: The more the teachers and others have had negative experiences with previous implementation attempts in the district or elsewhere, the more cynical or apathetic they will be about the next change presented regardless of the merit of the new idea or program. Districts can develop an incapacity for change as well as a capacity for it. Individual teachers and single schools can bring about change without the support of central administrators, but district-wide change will not happen. Although it has always been said that the superintendent and the principal are critical to educational change, it is only recently that we are beginning to understand more specifically what that means in practice. Research shows that the support of central administrators is critical for change in district practice. It is very difficult to generalize about the role of communities and school boards regarding implementation. Research shows that community support of the school was correlated positively with innovativeness. There is also evidence that rural school districts not only have less access to innovations but also are often too distant geographically from needed sources of assistance during implementation. All major research on innovation and school effectiveness shows that the principal strongly influences the likelihood of change, but it also indicates that most principals do not play instructional or change leadership roles. Principals’ actions serve to legitimate whether a change is to be taken seriously (and not all changes are) and to support teachers both psychologically and with resources. Both individual teacher characteristics and collective play roles in determining implementation. The psychological state of a teacher can be more or less predisposed toward considering and acting on improvements. Some teachers, depending on their personality and influenced by their previous experiences and stage of career, are more self-actualized and have a greater sense of efficacy, which leads them to take action and persist in the effort required to bring about successful implementation in the change process. External factors that influence the implementation phase in the change process are state departments of education and federal agencies. State and national priorities for education are set according to the political forces, and lobbying of interest groups, government bureaucracies, and elected representatives. Legislation, new policies, and new program initiatives arise from public concerns that the education system is not doing an adequate job of teaching basics, developing career relevant skills for the economic system, producing effective citizens, meeting the needs of at-risk children – recent immigrants or handicapped children or cultural minorities – and so on. These sources of reform put pressure on local districts (sometimes to the point of force) and also provide various incentives for changing in the desired direction. Whether or not implementation occurs will depend on the congruence between the reforms and local needs, and how the changes are introduced and followed through. The multiplicity of post-adoption decisions after education legislation or new policies involves several layers of agencies. That success is achieved in many instances is a reflection that some people “out there” know what they are doing. Sharing and developing this know-how should be a major goal of those interested in educational change. The problem of continuation is endemic to all innovations irrespective of whether they arise from external initiative or are internally developed. Continuation of innovations depends on whether or not the change gets embedded or built into the structure (through policy, budget, timetable, etc.), has (by the time of the continuation phase) generated a critical mass of administrators and teachers who are skilled in and committed to the change, and has established procedures for continuing assistance, especially relative to supporting new teachers and administrators. Reform is badly needed, yet people’s experience with change is overwhelmingly negative – imposition is the norm, costs outweigh the benefits, the few successes are short-lived. The only way out of this dilemma is for individuals to take responsibility for empowering themselves and others through becoming experts in the change process. New values are needed for leadership in tomorrow’s schools as compared to the present: Value 1: Openness to Participation Today’s Value: Our organization values employees listening to the organization’s leaders and doing what the leaders tell them to do. Tomorrow’s Value: Our organization values employees actively participating in any discussion or decision affecting them Value 2: Openness to Diversity Today’s Value: Our organization values employees falling in line with the overall organizational direction. Tomorrow’s Value: Our organization values diversity in perspectives leading to a deeper understanding of organizational reality and an enriched knowledge base for decision making. Value 3: Openness to Conflict Today’s Value: Our organization values employees communicating a climate of group harmony and happiness. Tomorrow’s Value: Our organization values employees resolving conflict in a healthy way that leads to stronger solutions for complex issues. Value 4: Openness to Reflection Today’s Value: Our organization values employees conveying a climate of decisiveness. Firm decisions are made and implemented without looking back. Tomorrow’s Value: Our organization values employees reflecting on their own and others’ thinking in order to achieve better organizational decisions. Value 5: Openness to Mistakes Today’s Value: Our organization values employees concentrating on making no mistakes and working as efficiently as possible. Tomorrow’s Value: Our organization values employees acknowledging mistakes and learning from them. Internet Links The Learning Revolution http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC27/TOC27.htm The Education & Research Network http://www.aera.net/ The Center for Education Reform http://www.edreform.com/ School Choices http://www.schoolchoices.org/ Effective Education http://klimag.tripod.ca/ed.html Public Education Network http://www.publiceducation.org/ Education Reform http://www.teach-nology.com/ General Education Reform http://www.enc.org/professional/research/journal/generalreform/ The Teacher’s Guide – Educational Reform http://www.theteachersguide.com/Educationreform.htm The Progress of Education Reform http://www.ecs.org/html/educationIssues/ProgressofReform.asp Key Terms and Definitions 1. Implementation: or initial use (usually the first two or three years) involves the first experiences of attempting to put an idea or reform into practice. 2. Initiation: mobilization, or adoption consists of the process that leads up to and includes a decision to adopt or proceed with a change. 3. Continuation: incorporation, or institutionalization refers to whether the change gets built in as an ongoing part of the system or disappears by way of a decision to discard or through attrition. 4. Relevance: includes the interaction of need, clarity of the innovation (and practitioner’s understanding of it), and utility, or what it really has to offer teachers and students. 5. Readiness: involves the school’s practical and conceptual capacity to initiate, develop, or adopt a given innovation – the school’s capacity to use reform. 6. Resources: concern the accumulation of and provision of support as a part of the change process. 7. Need: refers to whether or not change is required. 8. Clarity: (about goals and means) is a perennial problem in the change process. Understanding every detail of the goals and means. 9. Complexity: refers to the difficulty and extent of change required of the individuals responsible for implementation. 10.Local factors: district, community, principal, and teacher. 11.External factors: state departments of education and federal agencies. 12.Continuation: whether or not the change gets embedded or built into the structure (through policy, budget, timetable, etc.), has (by the time of the continuation phase) generated a critical mass of administrators and teachers who are skilled in and committed to the change, and has established procedures for continuing assistance, especially relative to supporting new teachers and administrators.