Teachers and innovations : on the role of ownership, sense-making, and agency

E. Ketelaar

    Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 1 (Research TU/e / Graduation TU/e)

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    Abstract

    Teachers play an important role in the implementation of educational innovations. There is, however, great diversity in teachers’ responses to innovations. Why these responses can be so different is still largely unknown. The study described in this dissertation aims at contributing to a better understanding of teachers’ responses to educational innovations. There is increasing attention for the role of teachers’ professional identities in the context of change and innovations in education. In this dissertation a specific lens was used to study in-depth three concepts that seem to play an important role in teachers’ responses to innovations from an identityperspective, namely ownership, sense-making, and agency. Ownership refers to the mental or psychological state of feeling owner of an innovation, which can develop by teachers’ mental and/or physical investments in the innovation. Teachers who feel ownership towards an innovation support the innovation, feel the urge and necessity for change, and express their identification with the innovation. Sense-making is defined as an active process in which teachers attempt to relate the innovation to their existing knowledge, beliefs, and experiences. In this study the sense-making model by Luttenberg et al. (2011) was used. This model contains four types of processes of sense-making, which are determined by: a) the degree of congruence between the innovation and the teacher’s frame of reference (i.e. knowledge, beliefs and experiences), and b) the dominance of either the innovation or the own frame of reference during the sense-making process. The resulting four types of sense-making processes are assimilation (congruence, own frame of reference dominant), accommodation (congruence, innovation dominant), toleration (no congruence, innovation dominant), and distantiation (no congruence, own frame of reference dominant). Agency refers to the extent to which someone feels in control of his or her own actions. Teachers who experience agency in their work feel in control of the choices they make within their work and base these choices upon their own goals, interests, and motivations. The concepts of ownership, sense-making, and agency were used in this study to explore, reflect and explain differences in teachers’ perceptions, positioning, implementation, and learning in relation to an innovation. The specific educational innovation that was of central focus in this dissertation pertains to the change toward a more coaching role of the teachers in the classroom. The research was conducted in the context of secondary vocational education (SVE; in Dutch: mbo) in the Netherlands. Currently, Dutch SVE finds itself in a time of educational changes. These changes are characterised by, among other things, a focus on future working practice as a basis for curriculum development, learning through authentic or lifelike tasks, a focus on the development of students’ meta-cognitive skills, and learning through cooperation. As a consequence, teaching practices at SVE schools change considerably and teachers’ coaching role is becoming more important. This dissertation consists of four partial studies, addressing the following research questions: 1. What are SVE teachers’ perceptions of the coaching role in the classroom? 2. How are ownership, sense-making, and agency manifested in teachers’ positioning towards an educational innovation (i.e. the coaching role)? 3. What is the relationship between teachers’ positioning towards an innovation (i.e. the coaching role) and their implementation of it as perceived by their own students? 4. Which similarities and differences in teachers’ learning experiences related to taking on a coaching role can be found, using ownership, sensemaking, and agency as a framework? Teachers’ perceptions of the coaching role in the classroom Chapter 2 presents a study on SVE teachers’ perceptions of the coaching role. A questionnaire was developed asking for teachers’ associations with the coaching role, their views on the most important goals regarding this role and typical activities related to the coaching role. The questionnaire was administered online and completed by 109 SVE teachers. Three overarching themes came to the fore when looking at the associations, goals and typical activities that the teachers mentioned most: ¿ actively guiding and supporting students’ learning processes; ¿ promoting and improving students’ self-regulated and independent learning; ¿ creating conditions for a good relationship with students. The reported associations, goals and activities were analysed with a multiple correspondence analysis to find out whether certain underlying dimensions could be found in the data. The analysis resulted in a two-dimensional solution. The extremities of the first dimension were interpreted as "learning environment" on the one end (including categories related to contributing to a safe and personal atmosphere in the learning environment) and "learning process" on the other end (including categories related to contributing to and centralising students’ learning processes). The extremities of the second dimension were labelled "domain-specific development" (including categories related to students’ competence development closely related to their vocational area) and "general development" (including categories related to student development in general). Teachers’ background variables were plotted in the two-dimension solution, to investigate whether the differences in teachers’ perceptions of the coaching role were related to their background characteristics. No relations could be found between the two dimensions and gender, years of experience, students’ qualification levels, students’ studyroutes, and professional role conceptions. Only a weak relationship between "learning environment" (Dimension 1) and the role conception of being a pedagogical expert was found, indicating that the more teachers judged themselves as being a pedagogical expert, the more their perceptions of the coaching role related to contributing to a safe and personal atmosphere in the learning environment. The manifestation of ownership, sense-making, and agency in teachers’ positioning towards an educational innovation (i.e. the coaching role) Chapter 3 reports on a study describing the positioning of 11 SVE teachers towards the coaching role in terms of ownership, sense-making, and agency. For this purpose, semi-structured and video-stimulated interviews were used. The concepts of ownership, sense-making and agency were manifested in different ways in teachers' positioning towards an innovation, in this case the coaching role. Both the degree of feeling ownership and the degree of experiencing agency could be differentiated at three levels, namely high, moderate and low. Processes of sense-making were described in terms of assimilation, accommodation, toleration and distantiation. Considerable differences were found in teachers’ feelings of ownership towards the coaching role, their processes of sense-making of it, and their experiences of agency within their work. Exploring the relations between these three concepts revealed that teachers who experienced a high degree of agency in their work often felt a high degree of ownership, but only when making sense through processes of assimilation and/or accommodation. It was concluded that these concepts appeared useful for describing (similarities and differences in) teachers’ positioning towards an innovation. The relationship between teachers’ positioning towards an innovation (i.e. the coaching role) and their implementation of it as perceived by their own students Chapter 4 describes an exploration of the relationship between teachers’ positioning towards the coaching role (in terms of ownership, sense-making, and agency) and their implementation of it as perceived by their students. Data were collected by means of a questionnaire completed by 253 students of 10 SVE teachers. The questionnaire consisted of four scales, namely selfdirected learning (teachers’ promotion and support of students’ self-directed learning), personalisation (teachers’ investment in the creation of a safe learning environment and good student-teacher relationships), task and process oriented coaching activities (teachers’ use of coaching activities at the task level and at the process level) and progress and planning oriented coaching activities (teachers’ use of coaching activities at the self-regulation level). Overall, in their students’ views, the teachers had implemented these different aspects of the coaching role to a reasonably strong degree. Especially "personalisation" was perceived very often by these teachers’ students. It was furthermore found that there was a considerable correlation between the four scales and that teachers usually either had relatively high scores or relatively low scores on all scales. To explore the role of ownership, sense-making and agency in relation to teachers’ implementation of the coaching role, the 10 participating teachers were divided into two groups, which were labelled engaged and reserved. Teachers in the engaged group (n=7) felt a high degree of ownership towards the coaching role, made sense of it mainly through processes of assimilation and/or accommodation and experienced a moderate to high degree of agency within their work. The teachers in the reserved group (n=3) felt a low to moderate degree of ownership towards the coaching role, made sense of it mainly through processes of assimilation and distantiation or toleration and distantiation and experienced a low to moderate degree of agency within their work. The results showed that the teachers in the engaged group had statistically significantly higher scores on all four scales of the student questionnaire than the teachers in the reserved group. Teachers’ learning experiences related to taking on a coaching role, using ownership, sense-making, and agency as a framework Chapter 5 deals with a study on teachers’ learning experiences related to taking on a coaching role, using ownership, sense-making, and agency as a lens to identify and reflect similarities and differences in these learning experiences. Eleven teachers reported their work-based learning experiences regarding the coaching role in a digital log. The teachers were again divided into an engaged (n=7) and a reserved group (n=4) on the basis of their initial positioning towards the coaching role in terms of their ownership, sensemaking, and agency. Comparisons were made both between and within the two groups. The between-groups analysis revealed that the reported learning experiences of the engaged teachers showed more ownership than those of the reserved group and that their sense-making was more active and explicit. Agency was present in the digital logs of both groups. The within-group analysis revealed that the two groups were not homogeneous. Especially within the reserved group differences were found, such as the extent to which the reported learning experiences bore relation to the coaching role and the way in which the teachers wrote about students. The overall conclusion of the study was that feelings of ownership, processes of sense-making and experiences of agency play a role in teachers’ work-based learning experiences. It could also be concluded, however, that even if teachers position themselves similarly, they do not necessarily report comparable learning experiences. General conclusions and discussion In chapter 6 the main findings and conclusions that could be formulated from the four studies are presented and discussed. The discussion focussed on teachers’ coaching role, the essence of sense-making and ownership in teachers’ responses to innovations, and agency in relation to ownership and sense-making. Moreover, the discussion goes into the importance of finding balance in the three concepts and the interface between the teacher and his/her context. The chapter furthermore addressed limitations of the studies, directions for future research, and implications for practice. The results of the studies were possibly affected by the size and the nature of the samples, the division of the teachers into two groups, and the focus on mainly the individual teacher perspective. Future research could, for example, further investigate the coaching role and the possibility and content of different teacher profiles related to this role. Also, future research should be directed at further exploration of the concepts of ownership, sense-making, and agency individually as well as the relations between these three concepts, taking both the individual teachers and their social interactions and context into account. Finally, studying the development of feelings of ownership, different processes of sense-making, and experiences of agency as well as factors influencing that development, would be a valuable addition to the findings of this study. The findings of this research brought to the fore several implications for practice. It is indicated that a certain degree of ownership, congruence between teachers’ personal frames of reference and that of the innovation, and a certain degree of agency may contribute to the successful implementation of an innovation. Teachers should, therefore, be facilitated in developing themselves with regard to these concepts. A balance in ownership, sense-making, and agency must, however, be strived for, preventing that it all gets "too much". Teacher collaboration can play a central role here. Furthermore, an overview was provided with the core features of the coaching role. These features can be used as a starting point for teachers to communicate conceptions and underlying assumptions. Finally, this study brought forth several instruments that are useful for the professional development of teachers, especially in relation to the implementation of a coaching role in the classroom.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Eindhoven School of Education
    Supervisors/Advisors
    • Beijaard, Douwe, Promotor
    • den Brok, Perry, Promotor
    • Boshuizen, Henny P.A., Copromotor, External person
    Award date24 May 2012
    Place of PublicationEindhoven
    Publisher
    Print ISBNs978-90-386-3150-9
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2012

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