The influence of a Teaching School Alliance on classroom staff's professional development
University of Cambridge
Faculty of Education
Doctor of Education (EdD)
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Dowling, S. (2017). The influence of a Teaching School Alliance on classroom staff's professional development (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.20942
The research that I have reported in this thesis has produced the following key findings regarding classroom staff’s decisions to adopt or not to adopt the innovation of professional development opportunities offered by a teaching school alliance. My unique contribution to the field is to build an emergent theory from my case study, which I represent graphically in section 5.4 of Chapter Five. This explanatory framework constructs the influences on an individual’s innovation adoption decision as a ‘change ecology’ consisting of three levels: the micro-, meso- and macro-levels. The three key findings that emerge from my multi-strand, sequential, mixed-methods case study of the influence of a teaching school alliance on classroom staff’s professional development are: (1) Classroom staff report prioritising personal and individual considerations when choosing whether or not to take up professional development opportunities offered by the subject Alliance. These considerations include the relevance of the innovation to their own practice; the degree of agency they have in meeting individual needs and goals; the degree to which their beliefs about change can be aligned with behaviours; and the amount of time they have available to spend on change activity, most of which is directed by their school leaders. I locate this finding in my explanatory framework at the micro-level, equivalent in innovation diffusion terms to the dimension of the adopter (where the characteristics of actors influence the probability of adoption of an innovation). (2) Classroom staff report a positive perception of change in principle: they say they are willing to surrender the status quo, and they report an appetite for improvement. However, the management of change in schools can act as a barrier to the spreading of effective practice. Classroom staff need to feel that they own the change if they are to buy into it. If they do not perceive that their individual needs and goals are being addressed, then innovations are less likely to be embedded into their practice. I locate this finding in my explanatory framework at the meso-level, equivalent in innovation diffusion terms to the dimension of environmental context (where characteristics of the actors’ external settings modulate diffusion). (3) Classroom staff report a positive attitude towards collaboration for improvement, although this is chiefly at the level of their own school, subject department or team. System-level collaboration is seen more neutrally: while the strands of teaching school alliance activity are thought to be worthwhile in principle, classroom staff do not regard this Alliance as important to their own professional development. I locate this finding in my explanatory framework at the macro-level, equivalent in innovation diffusion terms to the dimension of the innovation itself (where characteristics of the innovation influence the adoption process). My overall finding is that my subject Alliance appears to have failed to spread and embed change via the professional development of classroom staff in its member schools. My emergent theory to explain this finding is founded on a case study of a single teaching school alliance, but is related to other forms of between-schools working and is framed by the existing literatures of change and of collaboration. It can thus be applied on a broader scale to the overarching concept of collaboration for educational improvement, not only to the teaching school alliance model itself. I suggest further that the levels of influence on classroom staff’s attitudes to change that I have identified could be considered when planning and implementing other change efforts in education, and that my contribution is therefore of interest to policy-makers, practitioners and researchers on a wider stage.
Teaching Schools are an innovation in system-level leadership for educational improvement. Launched in 2010, they are intended to form partnerships or ‘alliances’ with other schools and providers to share learning, excellent practice and innovative ideas, principally in teacher education and development. But there has been, to date, no detailed, critical, empirical research into the influence of Teaching Schools on teachers’ attitudes and practice. Specifically, I raise the problem of whether this voluntary, multi-school collaborative grouping can reach the classroom staff who, policy-makers, practitioners and scholars agree, are the people who really matter in improving outcomes for pupils. This thesis uses a change management perspective to investigate the influence of a large Teaching School Alliance on the continuing professional development (CPD) of serving classroom staff in its member schools. I report on the findings from a longitudinal, collective case study of eight sample schools, which employed a multi-strand, sequential, mixed-methods research design over three years. This study reveals that, while a large majority of respondents say that they support change in principle, there is a fundamental gap between aspiration and practice which presents significant challenges for a Teaching School Alliance. The decision of classroom staff whether to adopt or not to adopt the innovation of collaborative CPD is shown to depend on their attitudes to their own professional development; and on their attitudes to change as it occurs in their workplaces; and on their attitudes to collaboration at system level. My research develops a new understanding of the complex ‘change ecology’ that classroom staff experience when faced with an innovation to their practice. I provide a robust analysis of why collaborative development work might be confined to relatively few early adopters. The key insights of my work will be useful to practitioners who are currently leading school systems; to policy-makers who are planning future collaborative action for improvement, both in England and around the world; and to researchers with a focus on change management in educational settings.
network, collaboration, school improvement, teaching school, alliance, professional development, teachers, classroom staff, innovation, SISS, self-improving school system, change management, leadership, education policy, mixed methods, longitudinal, insider research, change, ecology, change ecology, system, schools, diffusion, attitudes to change
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.20942
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