Sunday 13 November 2016

The school research lead and analysing your school's readiness for innovation.

Many school-based interventions fail because they are introduced at too large a scale.  Interventions or innovations which might well have worked if they been developed in a small-pilot, get rolled out into school with insufficient thought given to the know-how, capacity and staff commitment available to support the intervention.   In this post I draw upon the work of Bryk et al (2015) to help school research leads advise senior leaders within a school about the appropriate scale of implementation when introducing a new intervention within a school.

Sizing up the context

Bryk et al (2015) argue that one of the many reasons why many educational interventions/innovations fails is that insufficient thought is given to the organisational context into which the intervention is to be introduced.  So to help school leaders and others improve their abilities to understand their context better they have developed an organisation framework based on three core critiera.
  1. What is the existing level of know-how about the intervention?  So what does the research say about this intervention, do we know what works, why, for who, and in what context
  2. What is the school's capacity and capability to cope with the intervention? Do staff have sufficient time, opportunity and skills to bring about meaningful changes in their practice.
  3. Engagement to what extent are participants - predominantly teachers - in favour of the intervention. In other words, how willing are teachers do what is necessary to make the innovation work.
Now depending upon how these three 'variables' playout, this will suggest the level of implementation which is right for that school's context.  So it may be there is little know-how, capacity/capability and commitment towards the intervention, so this may mean either the intervention is abandoned or a small number of volunteers are sought.  On the other hand, there may well be extensive know-how on how to make something work, sufficient resources to support the implementation, and wide-scale teacher commitment to the intervention, which might justify a whole-school roll-out.  And of course, there may be levels of intervention which lie in between these two extremes - such as departmental, year group or key stage.

Bryk et al summarise the above in the following table.

Implications for school research leads and school leadership teams.

Bryk et al identify a number of both principles and valued goals which are supported by this approach.

General Principles
  1. Wherever possible, learn quickly and cheaply
  2. Be minimally intrusive - some changes will fail, and we want to limit negative consequences on individuals' time and personal lives; and
  3. Develop empirical evidence at every step to guide subsequent principles.
Valued Goals
  1. Through small tests of change, we develop the technical knowledge to turn a good idea into something that can be actually executed effectively.
  2. We build capabilities among the individuals involved in the early testing.  The practical expertise they develop through working out a set of change ideas become an invaluable resource to coach others as they learn to do the same
  3. As early adopters experience heightened efficiency in their day-to-day or, they also become champions for these changes to be taken up by others. (p120)

Some final words

As Bryk et al argue not every school based innovation has to start out as a very-small or  small-scale intervention.  If the correct conditions are in place re know-how, resources (human, physical and financial) and commitment then whole school implementation may well be appropriate.  On the other hand, more often than not, an analysis of the context of the school will suggest either a very-small or small-scale pilot.


BRYK, A. S., GOMEZ, L. M., GRUNOW, A. & LEMAHIEU, P. G. 2015. Learning to improve: How America's schools can get better at getting better. p120


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