Creating Change in School
- Pedagogy and Didactics
How can teachers and leaders work on improving and further developing the school's work? Professional development requires a willingness to adapt, clear goals, a desire to collaborate, and, most importantly, awareness of the processes that bring about change in a collegial community.
In creating a democratic and inclusive school culture, collaboration and cooperation in a learning professional community are necessary. Positive forces must unite to contribute to systematic and comprehensive work. To achieve this, motivation and engagement are essential. What can help in such a development process?
Phases of development work: Initiation, Implementation, Continuation
Research literature often divides development work in schools into three main phases: Initiation, Implementation, and Evaluation (Ertesvåg, 2012). Thinking through a process in such phases can provide all involved parties with an overview and make it easier to plan progress.
The initiation phase refers to the work done before an intervention or a change program is launched. It involves preparation, pre-planning, reflection on needs, and motivation. Research on school development shows that this phase is crucial for the success of creating change. However, the initiation phase is often carried out in an unsystematic or random manner, or it is simply skipped in thorough preparatory work.
Irgens (2018) has demonstrated that anchoring development work throughout the school staff is essential for the work to have lasting value. Emphasizing the needs, strengths, and opportunities of the professional community is a key to success. When teachers and other staff members feel that their experiences and suggestions become the basis for further discussion and competence development, motivation for the initiative increases.
“Anchoring development work throughout the school staff is essential for the work to have lasting value.
In an initiation phase, it is essential to analyze specific needs, capacity, and engagement among teachers and other staff. It is necessary to clarify the skills and any new knowledge required and to develop a plan for how to proceed.
The most significant incentive to engage the staff in a change process is simply making it clear why and how the planned intervention can be expected to improve the daily work situation and how students will benefit from the effort (Ertesvåg, 2012). Naturally, this is what motivates: How can the work benefit the students?
The implementation phase involves putting an intervention or a change process into action. It is about implementing measures, developing new ways of doing things, and trying to change practices. Undoubtedly, creating change is a complex and challenging process, but some factors have proven crucial for success: developing a collective culture, distributed leadership in the organization, infrastructure that promotes reflection and provides a basis for development, and structured working methods (Ertesvåg, 2012).
For example, staff training is of little use if not followed up afterward. Post-training activities that involve transferring new knowledge into practical action in classrooms and schools are necessary for training or competence development to have any lasting value. Therefore, structured and systematic work is a prerequisite for successful implementation.
Continuation is about how successful the school is at evaluating and building on completed change work. This may be the most significant challenge. How to ensure the lasting effect of the work by integrating what has been achieved and tested into the school's ongoing work?
Both time pressure and habit can be obstacles to good and lasting change. Incorporating new routines and working methods requires time and systematic evaluation and documentation. This is time-consuming and can feel almost impossible in a hectic teacher's everyday life where constantly planning new teaching sessions and following up on students fill every gap in the day. Many good initiatives fail because those involved lack the capacity to plan how the work can be continued.
The key is, therefore, well-planned and methodical work for follow-up, evaluation, prioritization, and improvement. Such work cannot be left to individual actors alone. To prevent this important work from falling apart, there must be jointly developed routines for evaluation and continuation.
In summary, to succeed in change work in schools, both teachers and leadership must be involved in defining goals and measures, as well as developing an understanding of the implementation process. Knowledge of the factors crucial to the success of development work is not something only the leadership needs. All actors in the professional community must reflect on the process, as well as the content.
The processes in Dembra aim to provide good anchoring and ongoing communication throughout the organization. In preventive work, which encompasses a broad scope in the school's activities, it is important to carefully consider how good cooperation can promote the school's comprehensive efforts.
A tool for development work
The ten points describing the implementation of Dembra are based on a simple model for development work in schools. The model can be used whether one is addressing small issues or has large ambitions (see Implementation).
The starting point is an understanding that all schools, like other organizations, have various areas to work on, several more or less important challenges to deal with. Development work starts by identifying challenges and then prioritizing what to address first. Prioritization involves choosing one or more focus areas from all the different issues that arise during the identification phase.
Four questions divide the phases of work: Where are we? Where are we going? What are we doing? How did it go? In practice, a project often starts with the first question and ends with the last. However, the work can also be seen as a continuous process, where the evaluation of how it went is the starting point for a new round.
In practice, improvement work in schools consists of several such cycles conducted at various levels. Some processes are relatively fast. It could be that some teachers have an idea for improving teaching, decide what to do, carry it out, and quickly assess how it went to determine whether to do the same next time or make adjustments. Other processes take a very long time, especially when the school is involved in larger development projects of some kind.
Even in more extensive processes, it may be wise to try to move forward in the cycle relatively quickly, rather than spending a lot of time on one point. One can repeat the cycle several times and learn from what is done. The point of such thinking is to arrive at some form of action quickly, without too much fear of failure. Dive into it, and you will learn and experience what needs adjustment. Such a process is called iterative, meaning that it is repetitive.
Where are we?
The first step in the work is to find out where you are today. – What are we doing, what works, what challenges do we have?
Such questions are useful for work at all levels, for example, when discussing everything from varied teaching methods and the classroom climate to potential conflicts between cliques/groups in the school environment. A strengths and weaknesses chart can be a simple tool for such a discussion. The leadership can also initiate a survey of the entire school's activities, for example, through the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training's status analysis.
In Dembra, schools conduct a more limited survey through a questionnaire that specifically examines the climate for inclusion and participation, a workshop for teachers, and a meeting with student representatives. The investigation of the current situation is also about raising awareness. Everyone becomes aware of the situation as it is, both to understand what is good and where the opportunities for development lie.
Where are we going?
Once you have mapped the current situation, you need to figure out what you want to work on and what the goal of the work is. In Dembra, this is related to the work of choosing one or more focus areas. Here, it is crucial to prioritize among the challenges or areas for improvement that have emerged during the mapping. The choice should not be random; the focus areas are the fields where the school considers it most important to intervene. To arrive at this decision, it is essential to have a good process that involves both teachers, students, and leadership.
What are we doing?
When a focus area is chosen, the next step in the process follows: the selection of measures. A measure is a more or less comprehensive but still delimited activity. Measures are chosen because the school believes they will address the needs or issues in a specific focus area. To choose measures, an understanding of what it takes to create the desired change is necessary, an understanding of the theory of change.
In Dembra, this involves an understanding of what can function as preventive measures against group hostility. Dembra's principles represent such a theory of change. The idea is that inclusion, critical thinking, and diversity competence act preventively. Thus, measures focusing on these areas are preventive.
The principles can also be used as criteria for what is not preventive. Measures that exclude rather than include will not be effective in preventing group hostility. Neither will measures that limit students' ability to think critically and question established truths.
Each measure must be planned and implemented by someone who takes responsibility for it. Small and simple measures can be implemented with little planning, while larger measures require better organization. For the implementation of, for example, a welcome week at the beginning of the school year, the involvement of all teachers is required, along with a clear schedule with deadlines and coordination of plans for all classes. This may also be the case for extensive interdisciplinary projects. For the implementation of individual teaching modules or activities in the classroom, less organization is required, but coordination and collaboration between teachers are still necessary.
The time for planning and collaboration is something many teachers are calling for, and here it is important that the school's leadership provides space and time so that good and targeted planning can take place. With good collaboration routines, a lot of time can effectively be saved.
How did it go?
To assess whether a measure is successful, you should have clear ideas about what you expect to achieve with the measure. Expected results are the basis for evaluating the quality of the measure. Such an assessment is not just about whether the measure was implemented as planned, but whether it had the desired effect.
Having a good plan for the evaluation of implemented measures is important to facilitate improvement and further development. Perhaps it will be necessary to incorporate systematic work to gather experiences from both students and teachers. What did students and teachers experience along the way, what are they left with? What do they think could have made the program even more successful, considering the intention?
A systematic work of evaluating and continuing measures ensures that initiatives and ideas are not just isolated events but can be incorporated into the school's plans for long-term preventive work.
Ertresvåg, S.K. (2012): Leiing av endringsarbeid i skulen. Gyldendal akademisk.
Irgens, Eirik J. (2018): Historical Amnesia: On Improving Nordic Schools from the Outside and Forgetting What We Know. Nordic Journal of Comparative and International Education (NJCIE). Vol. 2(2–3)