Finding What Works in Educational Innovation

Researchers have identified four conditions that motivate teachers to move forward with technology-driven changes to instructional practices. Top-down coercion isn't one of them.

Finding What Works in Educational Innovation 

Teachers are more likely to utilize new teaching practices that are more manageable based on their circumstances, according a new report from the Christensen Institute that focuses on the behavior of teachers and the situations in which they are willing to use new educational tools. 

The researchers came up with four distinct categories on how teachers decided to move forward with making instructional changes:

  1. Help me lead the way in improving my school.
  2. Help me engage and challenge more of my students in a way that's manageable.
  3. Help me replace a broken instructional model so I can reach a new student.
  4. Help me not fall behind on my school's new initiative.

After these categories were identified, the researchers conducted a non-representative survey of 102 teachers to validate these categories and deepen their understandings.

"In many cases, new programs and instructional practices are pushed out in a top-down manner, which leads a few early adopter teachers, classrooms or schools leading out the program with impressive results, but in the end, those programs often struggle to scale," said Thomas Arnett, lead author of the report and a senior research fellow in education at the Christensen Institute.  "Our hypothesis is that often happens because the programs are coercive.  They try to sell the program to teachers without their buy in rather than trying to understand what teachers are trying to accomplish."

Each of the teachers interviewed had their responses coded for statistical analysis based on four areas called forces or progress. The report finds push of certain situations and pull of a new idea are incentives to adopt a process while current habits and anxiety over new solutions can serve as hinderances.

As Arnett and his team interviewed teachers, they found that the second category of making things more manageable was the top reason for institutional change that teachers identified with.  While the first three jobs are things that teachers can do on their own, the last category is a top-down approach from school administrators which is different from the others because it requires a compliance mindset.

The report also found that teachers are more likely to adopt new practices when they fit into their daily lives. Based on circumstances, teachers can decide whether to adopt a new approach if it compliments or builds on what they are already doing and can be incorporated in manageable way.

The framework for the report was the "Jobs to be Done" theory, which seeks to understand how teachers are utilizing new instructional practices to make their everyday lives easier.

The theory is built on the idea of circumstances that shape progress or aspirations that individuals have and how those circumstances define solutions that are appealing to people as they make sense of their circumstances. When conducting research, the researchers at the Christensen Institute, with support from the nonprofit Fremont Street Fund, asked teachers why and how they switched to new instructional practices.

"We want to understand what teachers are trying to accomplish that would lead them to adopt something," Arnett said. "We are focusing teacher's motivations and circumstances rather than focusing on the selling features of a technology since the circumstances shape whether they want to make changes."

The complete report is available at christenseninstitute.org.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

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