School change – Teacher Perspectives

For any whole school change process to be successful, teachers (and other school staff) need to feel that the initiative or intervention is needed, worthwhile (it is likely to solve a current problem, improve practice or outcomes) and manageable within current time and resource constraints.

Whilst programmes in school geared towards improving social, emotional learning and mental health often have positive outcomes, there is less research to suggest the outcomes of these programmes can be sustained (relying as they often do on funding and external support) or what factors contribute to the success of an intervention where they have worked particularly well.

Freeman, Wertheim and Trinder’s 2014 paper: Teacher perspectives on factors facilitating implementation of whole school approaches for resolving conflict, presents multiple case studies of a conflict resolution programme called Enhancing Relationships in School Communities (ERIS). The article presents the findings from in depth interviews with participating staff, who having been on the training about ERIS, had led groups within their school implementing curricular and policy changes based on the ERIS model.

Staff were asked to report the ‘most significant change’ that had occurred in the project – which was potentially a leading question. Nevertheless, many positive changes were reported, both in content of curriculum and how all staff were managing conflict in the playground, particularly use of language.

All participating schools were primary schools. One significant piece of feedback was that the vast increase in complexity in a secondary mainstream school system might have rendered this intervention more problematic and presented a greater range of barriers to overcome.

Freeman et al transcribed all the staff interviews and used the emergent themes to form a “Model of process and structural factors facilitating implementation of a whole school conflict resolution programme, based on implementation team perspectives” which is a catchy name indeed (see image above the blog post)

Whilst the elements staff identified as key to the programme’s success (such as providing resources, getting the timing right, clarity, providing feedback etc) may seem like common sense, as the authors identify, research to ask STAFF what is important to making positive changes stick in schools is few and far between, so collating all the ideas here in a model is useful.

Interesting also, was the importance of flexibility, adaptability and co-production. Whatever the programme being introduced, staff needed to feel they had been part of creating or at least adapting the intervention in order to sustain their motivation in delivering it, particularly when competing pressures or other, less engaged staff threatened the success of the project.

A common concept I have come across in the literature on school reform so far is ‘change fatigue’ – resulting form school and national policy changes at a pace that is overwhelming and unmanageable for staff. So it makes sense that staff identify appropriate time and support for professional development as a priority as well as clarifying the purpose and priority of the intervention.

Establishing a ‘core’ team of implementation leaders within the school seemed to help lead the intervention, but I wondered as I read the article what the feedback about non ‘core team’ staff might have been, would they have been as positive about the impact of the project having not been as involved in it? If so, how was the learning form ‘core team’ translated to whole school? If not, how could the staff team as whole have been further involved in the design and planning stages?

Engaging in cluster groups with other schools (including what is referred to as ‘lighthouse schools’ that will provide examples of good practice), and marrying up the new approaches with what already works (AKA not reinventing the wheel) were also seen as positive aspects of the intervention.

This is a particularly interesting topic for me, since my PhD thesis will focus on school staff perspectives of the effectiveness of the Academic Resilience Approach, and in particular, barriers or facilitators of any positive change.

I’m curious to know if I have similar findings or whether I will need to reconsider this model in the light of my findings.

I would really welcome feedback on this from a range of school staff and teaching experience, the following questions won’t form part of the PhD but they could help to direct my interview questions with staff:

In whole school approached or interventions yo have experienced before, what were the top three barriers (if any) to the success of the project?

In whole school approached or interventions yo have experienced before, what were the top three factors that contributed (if successful) to the success of the project?

In your opinion, are top down (directed initiatives) or bottom up (based on identified practice need) initiatives more successful and why? If a combination of both, which elements work best from each?

Finally, what makes a good project sustainable?

As always, thanks for reading and comments are really welcome!

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