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Change That Works for Teachers
Richardson, V., & Placier, P. (2001). 'Teacher change.' In V. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.
Richardson and Placier describe teacher change in terms of 'learning, development, socialisation, growth, improvement, implementation of something new or different, cognitive and affective change, and self-study' (p. 905). There are (at least) two fields of research related to teacher change. The first is concerned with individual or small group cognitive, affective and behavioural change. The second is concerned with viewing change from an organisational perspective: linking structural, cultural and political aspects of the school organisation to changes in teachers and teaching.
Individual or small group change
Within the first field, the authors describe three types of planned change.
- Empirical-rational - which describes a pathway of change from researchers and analysts, through change agents, to teachers.
- Normative-re-educative - where change comes from the autonomy, growth and problem-solving ability of people who make up the system (ie the teachers).
- Power-coercive - where change is attempted through non-violent collective action and manipulation of power balances.
The top-down approach of empirical-rational change is considered to be painful and difficult for teachers who are expected to implement externally generated ideas in their classrooms. In contrast, normative-re-educative change comes about as a result of deep reflection and collaborative dialogue. Here, change comes from, rather than to, the teachers. The third category, power-coercive change, is concerned with collective action. Traditionally, this kind of change has been concerned with issues such as teachers' conditions, but its influence can also be seen with issues such as class size and school resourcing.
It is interesting to consider professional development programs from the perspective of whether they fall into an empirical-rational or a normative-re-educative approach.
Traditional staff development interventions fall into the empirical-rational frame. They are 'brought in' from external agencies, take place over a few hours or days of workshops, and have limited follow-up activities.
Such programs have only a chance of succeeding with those teachers whose beliefs match the assumptions inherent in the innovation, and even still, these teachers might not try the new innovation. (Richardson, 2001 #160, p. 917)
More recently, professional development programs have attempted to consider the following features with a view to shifting interventions towards normative-re-educative change processes.
- The program should be school-wide and context-specific.
- School principals should be supportive of the process and encouraging of change.
- The program should be a long-term one with adequate support and follow-up.
- The process should encourage collegiality.
- The program content should incorporate current knowledge obtained through well-designed research.
- The program should include adequate funds for materials, outside speakers and substitute teachers so that teachers can observe each other.
- There should be a focus upon teachers' ways of thinking and teacher action rather than teacher behaviours.
- Teachers' interest should be sustained.
(Collated from Richardson, 2001, #160 p. 918)
Teacher change interventions that move more towards a normative-re-educative approach include concepts of personal growth and development, collaboration and constructivist orientations. Richardson and Placier cite Blumenfeld, Kracjik, Marx and Soloway (1994, cited in Richardson, 2001, #160), who recommended that professional development for teacher change requires a cyclical model that includes collaboration with other teachers, collaboration with university personnel and other experts, enactment of new approaches, and opportunities for reflection. Richardson and Placier argue that 'staff developers themselves should be aware whether their support of a particular approach to staff development - be it long-term, collaborative, conceptual and inquiry oriented, or short-term - is, in part, a function of the staff developers' own orientations to change' (p. 921).
Richardson and Placier refer to the work of Little (1982, cited in Richardson, 2001 #160), who proposed that the school is not the 'context' of staff development, but rather is 'the heart of the matter' (p. 921). Several theoretical frameworks are available to act as lenses for viewing research into organisational contexts and teacher change, including functionalism, conflict theory, symbolic interactionism, micropolitical theory and critical theory.
Richardson and Placier argue that the individual or small group approach and the organisational approach to teacher change can share a common assumption that can pull the two areas together to help to overcome the difficulties faced by either focus working alone. That common assumption is:
... that major and sustainable changes in education probably require a normative-re-educative approach to change. Many of the reforms being called for today, for example, constructivist teaching and teaching for understanding, require deep changes in content and pedagogical knowledge and in understandings about schooling, teaching and learning. These instructional changes require belief changes and, therefore, cultural change, a concept of interest in both the organisational and individual change literatures …
Furthermore … we have moved away from the 'one solution' conception of change … Deep and lasting change requires consideration of a multitude of aspects and interests and should be viewed as an ongoing and local process. (p. 938)
Richardson and Placier propose three areas for future investigation that have the potential to further inform thinking about teacher change.
- The effects of teacher change on students. For example, longitudinally tracking what happens to individual students over the course of their schooling in response to teachers changing their practices
- The interface between individual teachers and their schools. Different teachers react in many different ways to the same school context
- Communities of practice. What are the accountabilities within and between different communities of practice?