This newfound awareness often brings invigorating amounts of enthusiasm, which can then be met by a brick wall! We’ve all been there. You finish reading a book or come out of a workshop, inspired to make a difference only to bring it to your supervisor who shuts you down immediately.
- The Disruptors Guide to School Improvement
- Moving the Pre-Contemplator through the Stages of Change
- 1. What is your Theory of Action?
- 2. Collect your Evidence
- 3. Create your team
- 4. Know your Pre-Contemplator
- 5. Engage the Pre-Contemplator with your Theory of Action
- 6. Start small
- In a nutshell…
- Related posts
I recently shared this page that I had put together: What does the Science of Reading actually look like in the classroom?
It’s been viewed over 10,000 times (and for once, it’s not just my Mum reading what I put together!) and most importantly it shows how many people are “on the bus” of creating more evidence-informed classrooms.
However, the question I am seeing pop up more and more is, “How do I implement the science of reading or learning when the rest of the school isn’t?”
The Disruptors Guide to School Improvement
The Band Aid Solution
In terms of support, luckily Dr. Nathaniel Swain saw this as an area of concern and founded the Think Forward Educators organisation. It is free to join up and offers webinars and resources to support the implementation of the Science of Learning. The Mentoring program* offers teachers the opportunity to link with educators outside of their own school.
For more info head to: thinkforwardeducators.org/mentoring
* I am on the mentoring committee and joined because it is something that I wish I had when I started out on my Science of Learning journey.
However, this doesn’t really fix the problem. It certainly helps that one individual teacher and the students that they teach, but doesn’t “close the gap”. We know that you need knowledge to gain knowledge. When the curriculum is not set up in a coherent and sequential manner, teachers don’t know what the students should/could know. The Mentor program helps the students in the Mentees class for that year, but the following year it’s back to potluck.
Evidence-informed practice needs to be across the whole school, because it’s the “best” way we know how to teach. Know better, do better. Anyway, you know this, that’s why you’re here.
So, how do we go about initiating school improvement?
The Stages of Change Model
Recently, Professor Pamela Snow wrote, Leaving the Balanced Literacy habit behind: A theory of change. In the article, she looked at the Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of Change Model and the challenges and opportunities at each stage.
For this post, I am going to breakdown the “Pre-Contemplation” stage, as this is the most difficult stage to get past. I will also look at it from the perspective of someone trying to shift the thinking of someone else who has more power e.g. a parent trying to convince a teacher or a teacher approaching a supervisor. Sometimes it might even be a middle leader making suggestions to an experienced teacher.
I have used the term, “Disruptor” because that is what Professor Snow described them as in her article. We will also look at Theories of Action which Viviane Robinson writes about in Reduce Change to Increase Improvement
Moving the Pre-Contemplator through the Stages of Change
1. What is your Theory of Action?
In Professor Viviane Robinson’s book Reduce Change to Increase Improvement, Teachers’ Theory of Action is described as ingrained beliefs and practices that drive their behaviour and choices in the classroom. Based on your knowledge and experience, what is your proposed Theory of Action?
What are you suggesting should be done that is different to what is currently being done and how do you hypothesise it will lead to improved student learning outcomes?
2. Collect your Evidence
Have a deep understanding of what you want to improve and why. Otherwise, a move towards disruption is no different to the reactionary decisions that have been made before us. I know this is hard to read SoR fanatics, but we must go slow, in order to go at all.
Collect internal data
Do not design the future until you deeply understand the present.Viviane Robinson, Reduce Change to Increase Improvement
That means you need to know:
- Where are your students currently at?
- Collect relevant data e.g. NAPLAN, Best Start, Phonics Screening Check
- If you don’t have readily available data that gives you this information, you will need to assess it.
2. Where are your teachers currently at?
- What is actually happening in the classrooms?
- What do the teachers believe about the suggested changes?
- What aspect(s) do we need to change in order to improve?
- If there is more than one aspect that needs to change, what will be the one that will be easiest to change?
Look at possible solution(s) based on external evidence
You’ve probably gotten to this stage because you’re unhappy with how things are in your own classroom. Whether it’s kids jumping off tables or being unable to read by Year 3, you have come to the realisation that there must be a better way. Luckily, we live in a time where we have great access to research summaries, journal articles and the researchers themselves.
Some places that you might want to look are:
- Ambition Institute
- Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO)
- Education Endowment Foundation
- Evidence Based Education
- Evidence for learning
- Deans for impact
- NSW Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation
- Pedagogy Non-Grata
- Visible Learning
- Google Scholar: Type in what you are after and often a FREE pdf will be available. If there are certain articles unavailable, if you contact the researchers sometimes they will pass a copy onto you.
Aristotle spoke about how courage is on a spectrum between cowardness and recklessness. The Disruptor can’t afford to be reckless, they need to do the work because the Pre-Contemplator will attempt to rattle or thwart them.
3. Create your team
“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”,Mother Teresa
Being a disruptor, you would have already started exploring how open other staff members might be towards your Theory of Action. In fact, some might already be on the same page as you. Tell them about your plan and welcome them to your team.
There will be others in the Contemplation Phase who might be having difficulties in the classroom or they may be intrigued about the Science of Learning or Reading. Are there any people in positions of power who might be in this phase? School leaders or people that the Pre-Contemplator trusts, will be important players when it comes time to approaching them.
Support the Contemplator in getting up to speed and throw them a jersey.
In Tight but loose, Maher and William, 2007 write about how there are several ways that learning communities support teacher learning:
- Helps build a teacher-as-local-expert model (needed during the implementation phase)
- Allows change to occur developmentally
- Non-threatening avenue allowing teachers to notice weaknesses
- Provides a forum to convert research to practice
In Motivated Teaching, Peps Mccrea writes about the power of social norms and how motivation will build when we work collectively due to the sense of belonging. Working with your team to collect the internal and external evidence will also enable you to further develop your Theory of Action.
While this is happening, those who are ready for the Action Phase could start making tiny shifts in their practice. You will need to be strategic with what this is based on school policies. Disruptors still need to be compliant with teacher requirements.
WARNING: this move could derail your whole plan if the Pre-Contemplator feels they have been bypassed from the decision-making process.
4. Know your Pre-Contemplator
Most people who get into positions of power, get there because they are risk averse. They are excellent at following a plan or directions, but conservative in their decision-making. Other leaders then promote them because they are competent and compliant.
What you are asking them to do, no matter how logical it may seem to you, is to take a risk. To move away from the path that they know. Most of these Pre-Contemplators would have been major players in implementing programs like L3, Reading Recovery, Learning Styles, Running Records, Leveled Reading Groups, Inquiry based learning and Fountas and Pinnell – a lot of time, money and effort would have gone into these failed programs.
Coming to this realisation and feeling this loss of control can affect their self-determination. The sunk-cost fallacy (when we make decisions based on how much we have previously invested) will also lead them to wanting to stick to what they are already doing.
We are all products of our experiences. In Intelligent Accountability, David Didau writes about how we “pattern match” and automatically compare situations to previous problems that we have encountered. We fail to recognise the complex details because we get caught up in the superficial links.
Illusion of explanatory depth: most people believe they know more about a topic than they actually do. This also links up to the Dunning-Kruger effect which I wrote about in Teacher Attitudes towards Professional Learning. The Pre-Contemplator may be confident in their belief that improvement is not needed in the area you are suggesting.
This then leads to (Patuawa et al, 2022), “three control-focused motivations that most people default to when faced with disagreement, threat, or embarrassment.”
- a belief that I am right, and others are wrong
- a need to unilaterally control the process for getting what I want
- a need to unilaterally protect myself and others from embarrassment or hurt.
The article also spoke about two theories of problem-solving (deliberative and intuitive).
- Deliberative Theory: leaders progressing through a sequence of stages including problem identification, causal inquiry and designing solutions.
- Intuitive Theory: leaders taking swift action to iteratively trial a range of solutions until they positively impact the problem. In pursuit of the right solution, leaders rely on their intuition, knowledge of what has and has not worked previously, and their prior learning and experience without rigorously testing the quality of their original thinking.
The leader will typically default to the intuitive approach. This is also supported by psychologist, Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 thinking that he writes about in Thinking, Fast and Slow. He describes System 1 as being automatic and impulsive and System 2 is when we are very conscious, aware and considerate.
The law of least effort states that your brain uses the minimum amount of energy for each task it can get away with. So, we default to System 1 thinking, which would also be linked to the intuitive approach.
If we are not intentional with taking a “deliberative” approach towards problem-solving and using our “System 2” thinking, it is easy to see how leaders can quickly snowball into an avalanche of poor-decisions.
Factors impacting a Pre-Contemplator
DiClemente and Velasquez, 2002 found it can be helpful to think about a Pre-Contemplator’s resistance to change through the 4 R’s: reluctance, rebellion, resignation and rationalisation.
|Reluctance||Knowledge is essential in knowing what teachers and students should actually know. Leaders don’t have to be the most knowledgeable in everything, but they need to have a strong base across the board. Like with our students, adults can’t critically inquire or problem-solve without the background knowledge.|
You don’t know, what you don’t know. This educator may just believe that there is no problem that needs to be fixed and comfortable in what they are doing.
Also, they could be new to the school means that they may not be aware of what is currently working or not working in classrooms. Or they could be new to the role and unaware of how things could be done more effectively.
Recently, the Grattan Institute released a report that found, “90 per cent of teachers say they don’t have enough time to prepare effectively for classroom teaching.” The 2021 Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey found in NSW, 37 per cent of principals reported being subjected to threats of violence and 33 per cent were subjected to physical violence.
No wonder they haven’t had time to think about whether or not what they are doing is the best way.
Are there ways that you can give them the time and thinking space to get on the same page?
|Rebellious||These people are very resistant to the change because they may be feeling anxious about the unknown. Naturally, leaders and educators like to be in control.|
When you are asked to change, you are giving up that sense of control and our natural reaction, is usually defined by the three control-focused motivations (I am right, control, protect) mentioned previously.
We can suffer from the Curse of Knowledge and forget what they don’t know. We need to tread gently if rebellion is a factor. Build trust, show empathy and avoid blame. The rebellious do not like being told, so we need to work with them in coming up with a solution.
|Resigned||Unfortunately, educators have been promised many “magic bullets” that haven’t worked in the past. Understandably, the Pre-Contemplator has been through this ineffective process too many times and is now reluctant to even consider change which results in change fatigue.|
They may have heard about this push for educators to be more evidence-informed, but do not have the energy to engage.
We need to help them understand that often we don’t spend enough time in the planning and implementation phases to actually see things through, so never get to see whether or not something could have been successful.
What are the main barriers and how can we help remove them?
|Rationalising||Full of excuses. “It’s the parents/area/COVID fault” are common reasons Pre-Contemplators will come up with to avoid thinking about change. They have become experts at deflecting the blame and could even put your own teaching under the microscope – this is why you need to be prepared.|
So, rather than getting in a battle with them, curiously lean in and listen to their beliefs. “Double-sided reflections can be used to reflect any ambivalence about change, and summarising both sides of the behavior may help the rationalizing precontemplator recognise that some of their rationale may be flawed.”
5. Engage the Pre-Contemplator with your Theory of Action
“If leaders don’t know how to put their words into action, if they follow the wrong paths and take the wrong turns, then their sense of moral purpose can quickly give way to cynicism, frustration, and fading commitment.”Viviane Robinson, Student-Centered Leadership
When dealing with the “Pre-Contemplator” it is easy to feel like this shouldn’t be your job. However, this quote from Viviane Robinson explains how a lack of direction, knowledge and support can hinder anyone, no matter what your experience, role or level of expertise. We need to sideline our own expectations of what people should be like and deal with the situation for what it is.
In the move from pre-contemplation to contemplation, an individual must (Prochaska & DiClemente, 2005):
- become aware of the problem
- make some admission or take ownership of the problem
- confront defences and habitual aspects of the problem
- see some of the negative aspects
What is their “why” and how can we help connect our “new action” to their moral purpose?
6. Start small
To lead change is to exercise influence in ways that move a team, organisation or system from one state to another. The second state could be better, worse, or the same as the first. To lead improvement is to exercise influence in ways that leave the team, organization or system in a better state than beforeViviane Robinson, Reduce Change to Increase Improvement
This is an example of how you could use the Four Phases of Theory Engagement when discussing your alternative Theory in Action with your Pre-Contemplator:
- You really want… to improve?
- What we are currently doing isn’t working because…
- Reveal the results of the internal data that has been collected and what the suggested alternative theories are based on your research.
- Agree on a new sufficiently shared theory.
If they are resistant, you might start the conversation like:
- “It seems like you have some real doubts about…”
- “Can you talk me through what you have difficulty with?”
- Clarify what the problem is
- Agree upon what the problem is that needs to be solved
First, we need to agree on what the problem is. Before presenting your pitch, you should have been probing and nudging the Pre-Contemplator towards the problem. Mention it in meetings and have team members talk about it in the staff room. This way, when you formally present your Theory of Action, the seeds have already been planted. The Theory of Action may already feel like the norm, if you have enough “gardeners”.
The way you reveal your data will be dependent on what you have and what sort of approach you feel will be most effective. It could be unleashing the full load of confronting data or pulling at them emotionally through the strength of stories.
If it is too intense or confronting, we will see the three-control focused motivations come out.
You need to remember that they are in the Pre-Contemplation stage for a reason and this also means that they are currently not thinking of this issue as a problem. Whatever way the problem is presented, you won’t be able to come to a new Theory of Action, if the Pre-Contemplator does not agree that there is a problem to fix.
You will need to approach the rebellious Pre-Contemplator with options so that it gives them that sense of control back. The importance of focusing on tiny shifts is even more important for the resigned Pre-Contemplator who may be feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.
We need to move thinking away from being adult-centred to student-centred. The changes we are proposing are about improving student outcomes.
Success builds on success
Change is hard. We have learnt that Pre-Contemplators are going to resist, rather than embrace change. Disruptors need to plan for this and minimise the chance of failure.
The research on motivation (I have put together a review of the research 👉 the ABCD(E) of Motivation) tells us that one of the driving factors is experiencing early success. So, we need to start small and take a best bets approach.
- Are there things that we can do that only require small behavioural changes?
- Is something already working well that we can build on?
- Can it fit into the schools current Professional Learning framework?
- Is there an aspect that is in more urgent need than others?
Having gone through all of this work, we want to make sure it works. In Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about The 4 laws of behaviour change:
- Make it obvious
- Make it attractive
- Make it easy
- Make it satisfying
In Teaching Sprints, Simon Breakspear and Bronwyn Ryrie Jones look at three big ideas:
- Start with the Best Bets
- Practice Makes Progress
- Focus on Tiny Shifts
Sims et al (2022) conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis on 104 evaluated PD programmes and found four building blocks for designing and selecting effective PD:
- Insight: teachers gaining an enhanced or expanded understanding of teaching and learning.
- Goals: motivating a teacher to consciously pursue a specific change in their practice
- Technique: helping a teacher to utilise a new teaching practice.
- Practice: supporting a teacher to consistently make use of some technique in the classroom.
If we don’t get the professional development part of it right, the Pre-Contemplator will feel their initial reaction is validated and they should have stuck with their gut. So, plan out what the Theory of Action should look like in detail. Start small and get everyone on-board.
Good luck, Disruptors!
In a nutshell…
- A whole school approach is the only way to go for school improvement
- The Disruptor can’t afford to be reckless, they need to do the work because the Pre-Contemplator will attempt to rattle or thwart them
- “Do not design the future until you deeply understand the present.” Viviane Robinson
- Build momentum and motivation by creating a team
- Pre-contemplators are complex and change is hard. By default, we choose easy options
- A Pre-Contemplator’s resistance to change can be put down to the 4 R’s: reluctance, rebellion, resignation and rationalisation
- The Pre-Contemplator needs to agree that there’s a problem before you can engage them with your Theory of Action
- Aim for early success through small steps
- The ABCD(E) of Motivation
- Teacher Attitudes towards Professional Learning
- Why should we follow the Science of Reading?
- Why we need systems to optimise learning
Breakspear, Simon and Ryrie-Jones, Bronwyn (2020) Teaching Sprints: How Overloaded Educators Can Keep Getting Better. Corwin
Clear, James. (2018) Atomic Habits. Century -Trade
Didau, David. (2020) Intelligent Accountability: Creating the Conditions for Teachers to Thrive. John Catt Ed. Ltd
DiClemente, C. C., & Velasquez, M. M. (2002). Motivational interviewing and the stages of change. Motivational interviewing: Preparing people for change, 2, 201-216.
Hunter, J., Sonnemann, J., and Joiner, R. (2022). Making time for great teaching: How better government policy can help. Grattan Institute.
Kahneman, Daniel (2013) Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Maher, J., & William, D. (2007). Tight but loose: scaling up teacher professional development in diverse contexts. In Symposium at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association. Chicago, IL: AERA.
Mccrea, Peps (2020) “Motivated Teaching: Harnessing the science of motivation to boost attention and effort in the classroom” CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Patuawa, J.M., Sinnema, C., Robinson, V. et al. (2022) Addressing inequity and underachievement: Intervening to improve middle leaders’problem-solving conversations. J Educ Change . https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-022-09449-3
Prochaska, J.O. and DiClemente, C.C. (2005). The Transtheoretical Approach. Handbook of Psychotherapy Integration. (pp. 147-171) United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, USA.
Robinson, Viviane M J. (2017) Reduce Change to Increase Improvement (Corwin Impact Leadership Series). SAGE Publications
Robinson, Viviane M J. (2011) Student-Centered Leadership Jossey-Bass Leadership Library in Education (Corwin Impact Leadership Series). John Wiley & Sons Inc
Sims, Sam, Harry Fletcher-Wood, Alison O’Mara-Eves, Sarah Cottingham, Claire Stansfield, Josh Goodrich, Jo Van Herwegen, and Jake Anders. (2022). Effective teacher professional development: new theory and a meta-analytic test. EdWorkingPaper: 22-507. Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University: https://doi.org/10.26300/rzet-bf74