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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Implementing Innovations at School

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I recently received this significant question from one of the readers of the blog. The question points to a much larger issue, viz. how can a teacher implement an innovation in a school which is not open to change? Below please find the question and my response. I invite you to share your comments as well.

The Question: 

But how do you implement this [innovative practices such as the ones discussed in the blog] in a school that does not invest an effort in improving the Judaic Studies Department, in a school that chooses to keep morim that have been teaching there for 40rs. or more and who are not interested in any career development neither to join collaborative efforts with other colleagues who do want to bring a new energy and change to the school?

Richard's Response:

What an excellent question! You describe a situation that many teachers, administrators, supervisors, staff developers, and other instructional leaders experience. Here are my thoughts and I welcome other readers to share their suggestions as well.

First let me share some theory about school-wide change. School innovations can occur from at least these four sources: (a)
Top-Down: The instructional leader or group of leaders announce the change; (b) Bottom-Up: Teachers apply the innovation in their own classrooms independently to test the efficacy of the new intervention. (c) Inside-Out: Teachers and administrators have formal and informal staff development meetings to discuss innovations to improve instruction. (d) Outside-In: Pressure from influential groups (i.e. parents, central boards, the rabbi, religious movements, professional organizations, community leaders, etc. ) are exerted to implement the innovation.

Having shared that theoretical perspective, let's offer some practical suggestions. Let's assume you have done some research and have identified a particular innovation that you would like to implement in your classroom.

1. Invite a colleague at your school to discuss with you how to implement that innovation. Ideally this colleague is a seasoned teacher who has the respect of the instructional leaders of your school. 

2. Implement that innovation with that veteran and well-respected teacher at your school.

3. Discuss implementation issues with your colleague at a convenient time and place, or via phone or email.

4. If the innovation yields positive results share it with the instructional leaders and colleagues at your school.

5. All teachers want to be successful at their craft. As teachers at your school learn about the efficacy of your innovation, they will want to replicate what you and your colleague have achieved. On a personal note, I should tell you that for 15 years I served as Coordinator of Professional Development Schools at the University of Maryland, College Park. One of the greatest rewards of my work at Maryland was to see seasoned teachers, those you describe as 'being there for 40 years and not interested in professional development', become renewed and excited about working with the newer teachers entering the profession. 

Obviously, this strategy that I have suggested employs both a Bottom-Up and an Inside-Out approach to school-wide change. In an ideal situation, you would be working in a school that is a Jewish Professional Learning Community, one which supports continuous professional development for the staff, and the implementation of research-based instructional strategies to improve student performance.

I will elaborate on professional learning communities in a later post.

Once again, I invite and encourage the readers and followers of this blog to offer your comments and questions.

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