It’s not always easy to move new ideas for teaching and learning from theory to practice, but a new theory offers a framework to help education leaders foster support among teachers for new initiatives.

Many school initiatives fail because education leaders “thrust new programs into classrooms in a top-down manner and compel teachers to change their practices to keep up with the new program,” according to research from the Clayton Christensen Institute.

“Lackluster results then follow because the initiatives never account for the goals, struggles, and day-to-day priorities of the professional educators charged with faithful implementation,” write authors Thomas Arnett, Bob Moesta, and Michael B. Horn.

In a paper explaining how to motivate teachers to adopt new practices, the authors say education leaders have to take into account the true interests and motivations of teachers. But, they add, knowing how to align a new initiative with teachers isn’t an easy task.

Common pitfalls include expecting strong support for an initiative based on its perceived virtues; tailoring initiatives to group demographics; creating solutions for product categories instead of for people; and listening to what people say rather than what they do.

The Jobs to Be Done Theory, the authors say, gives education leaders a research-based framework to help them understand what motivates people to adopt new practices or initiatives. The theory maintains that all people have progress to make as they work toward a goal.

Through research and interviews, the authors discovered four main “jobs” that characterize how teachers try to make progress in classrooms:
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 each student
4. Help me to not fall behind on my school’s new initiative

One of the biggest findings? One-size-fits-all initiatives are not very successful, and the authors suggest different ways to design new teaching and learning initiatives to help teachers in all four “job” categories.

There are ways to approach teachers in each job in order to ensure an initiative’s success:
Job 1: Help me lead the way in improving my school
Recommendation: Invite teachers to lead and direct pilot initiatives. Many early-adopter teachers want to be key contributors to something that truly matters and will improve the school. Designing a pilot as part of a new initiative helps these teachers get on board.

Job 2: Help me engage and challenge more of my students in a way that’s manageable
Recommendation: Address anxieties and create pulls for practices that build on teachers’ expertise. These teachers are already looking for new ways to engage and challenge students, so school leaders should do their best to help teachers see why new practices that are part of a school-wide initiative are preferable to practices the teacher might pursue on their own.

Job 3: Help me replace a broken instructional model so I can reach each student
Recommendation: Give teachers autonomy and room to fail. These teachers want more than practices that are simply tweaks to what they view as a system that doesn’t work. Offering new practices that are “bold alternatives” to traditional teaching can be extremely motivating to these educators.

Job 4: Help me to not fall behind on my school’s new initiative
Recommendation: Avoid pushing teachers into this job. The authors note that school leaders shouldn’t design initiatives to fulfill this role–this job doesn’t lead teachers to change for the sake of their students or schools, and new instructional initiatives should be voluntary opportunities teachers can choose to join or not join.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura