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How to champion change in your district

If we get better at managing change, we can really start to see the impact on teaching and learning

Change is an ongoing exercise, and in schools and districts, every year is marked by shifts. Some of those are major, some minor, but there is little doubt that we are constantly dealing with change.

Surprisingly, it’s one area on which we don’t have a good grasp. In fact, when asked about having a change model in place, very few districts identify a specific approach but do identify long-term change as an ongoing challenge.

There are many ideas about effective change out there, but most of them come from the business world. I’ve used information from several business change leaders in my own work, and much of that is valuable and applicable; however, there are things unique to education that don’t always apply in business.

One change model that I think is extremely helpful and comes out of the context of education is the Concerns-based Adoption Model (CBAM). CBAM looks at different facets of change in an educational system and addresses three dimensions of change: Innovation Configurations, Stages of Concern, and Levels of Use. Each of these dimensions help leaders in an organization self-assess, gauge progress, and measure success.

Innovation Configuration (IC) mapping
To begin, organizational leaders must identify what they want to see happen when change has truly occurred. Like Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.”
As defined by the American Institute for Research (AIR), IC mapping “provides a clear picture of what constitutes high-quality implementation.” An IC map looks like a rubric but is structured a bit differently. It is intended to identify a continuum of practice focused on behaviors instead of being used to evaluate a product. The levels of practice identify the ideal state to emerging state, based on desired outcomes. In the case of implementing a new teaching practice or instructional tool, you would first identify the desired teaching outcome and then identify how a teacher would move from the beginning level to the highest level (you can have as many levels as needed). Here’s a generic example:

Desired Outcome 1: Teachers use tools to collaboratively plan authentic learning experiences for students in digital or virtual spaces, engaging with experts, teams and students.

Level 1: Actively collaborates with digital tools in varied local and global virtual spaces, including engaging with students, experts and teams or PLCs

Level 2: Collaborates using real-time collaboration tools in a dedicated virtual space to engage with experts and teams or PLCs

Level 3: Collaborates with others using email or other communication tools to engage with a team or PLC

Level 4: Does not yet collaborate virtually to engage with experts, teams or students

When planning an implementation, identify which outcomes are desired for each constituency (teachers, students, leaders, etc.) and then map out what different levels of innovation will look like. Share that with leaders and teachers so there is a clear idea about what behaviors constitute desired change.

Stages of Concern
CBAM is especially known for the second dimension, the Stages of Concern. Because change is a personal process, this dimension “enables leaders to identify staff members’ attitudes and beliefs toward a new program or initiative.” Knowing those perceptions means that people leading change can intentionally plan around different phases of the change process. The 7 Stages of Concern are below:

Stage of Concern
Typical Statement
0: Unconcerned
“I think I heard something about it, but I’m too busy right now with other priorities to be concerned about it.”
1: Informational
“This seems interesting, and I would like to know more about it.”
2: Personal
“I’m concerned about the changes I’ll need to make in my routines.”
3: Management
“I’m concerned about how much time it takes to get ready to teach with this new approach.”
4: Consequence
“How will this new approach affect my students?”
5: Collaboration
“I’m looking forward to sharing some ideas about it with other teachers.”
6: Refocusing
“I have some ideas about something that would work even better.”

The Stages of Concern aspect entails gathering information from different stakeholders who will be affected by the change to identify where they are throughout the process. The information gleaned from constituents can help guide critical areas like professional development, communication planning, and resource allocation. For ideas about next steps, see AIR’s Actions to Support Change.

Levels of Use
The third dimension, Levels of Use (LoU), “helps determine how well staff, both individually and collectively, are using a program.” LoU is designed to help determine if adoption is happening with fidelity across a system. This is particularly important when trying to see impact on something like student achievement. It is impossible to correlate any effects from innovation if you have no way to determine if it’s actually in use. You can see a full breakout of the scale here.

In its strictest form, the Levels of Use diagnostic is comprised solely of qualitative data gathered through a “focused interview” protocol, organized around decision points and a branching format. For valid research purposes, the interviewers are trained in the protocol to ensure consistency and inter-rater reliability. However, this can be modified for less formal situations and you can use a condensed version of the research. A more detailed description of the Levels of Use can be found in the Levels of Use manual.

Manage change intentionally
When you think about it, having a change model in place makes a ton of sense. Change is something that is absolutely a constant—especially in a world marked by rapid advancements in technology—and we should be more thoughtful and intentional in how we approach it.

By identifying ideal behaviors in Innovation Configuration Maps, supporting people through Stages of Concern, and having metrics around Levels of Use, we can start to tackle the ongoing challenges inherent in the change process. Ultimately, if we get better at managing complex change, we can really start to see the impact on teaching and learning.

Recommended reading
 Managing Change and Transition from the Harvard Business Essentials Series
Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky
Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Dan and Chip Heath
Start with Why by Simon Sinek

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