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INNOVATION AND CHANGE IN EDUCATION

Amanda Credaro 1999-2006

INTRODUCTION

Educational institutions, like all other organisations, require constant monitoring to identify areas for potential improvement. However, educational reforms are often not well implemented. This results in massive wastage of finances, human resources, and lost potential.

Change may be described as the adoption of an innovation (Carlopio 1998, 2), where the ultimate goal is to improve outcomes through an alteration of practices. However, the process of change is complex, with many different types of change possible. Further, there are a number of differing strategies for implementing these changes, with the success of implementation being highly variable.

Factors that drive change may be internal or external to the environment (Yee, 1998), innovations may be initiated at any level in the organisational structure (Swenson 1997) and reforms may be systemic or local (Reigeluth 1994) in nature.

Commercial enterprises, non-profit organisations, service industries, government instrumentalities and educational institutions all undergo change. As educational institutions have characteristics in common with each of the preceding, they may be considered as being typical of an organisation undergoing change.

EDUCATIONAL STRUCTURES

The structural framework of education is hierarchical in nature. Each of these strata are comprised of individuals with differing goals, interests and perspectives. This results in groups that possess different cultures, structures, practices, policies and goals, which ultimately determine the success or otherwise of the implementation of innovations. Whitely (1995, 44) notes that there are three "intersecting sets of core values" underlaying organisational culture; organisational (the company's corporate values), group values and individual values.

Educational institutions are organised on many levels, from the individual classroom under the management of a single teacher, to groups of classrooms supervised by a Head Teacher or Executive Teacher, to a whole-school structure, under the guidance of the principal. Independent or private schools generally report to a School Board. Government schools in NSW are grouped into "districts", whilst Catholic schools are administered by a central regional authority. Overseeing these geographic divisions is a statewide body which in turn is controlled by Federal legislation and its accompanying Ministerial corporate identity.

Within each level of educational endeavour, there exists the possibility of improvement to practices and their resultant outcomes. An individual teacher at classroom level may instigate a new assessment process of benefit to the members of that class; the teacher librarian may adopt a different procedure in the school library to achieve a more efficient service for the whole school; district offices may organise a network for the sharing of expensive equipment for member schools; or the state-wide authority may action procedures in an attempt to address inequities between schools.

THE NEED FOR CHANGE

Both internal and external forces (Yee, 1998) drive the need for change. Referring to "change drivers", large scale forces that produce complex change, Swenson (1997) notes that "globalisation" of society has produced an imperative for continual reappraisal of practices in order to maintain a competitive edge. In educational terms, this may be interpreted as the need to update practices in keeping with the findings of international research, and to continually conform to national trends.

Internal to the school are the pressures brought to bear by curricular reform. Further, alterations in staff-student relationships from teacher-centred to student-centred create the need for modification of teaching practices, and policies and procedures to support more meaningful educational experiences.

Societal Changes

The student population of Australia has been undergoing change for some time, with increased retention rates resulting in students of lesser ability staying at school beyond the mandatory 15 years of age. Also, cultural diversity has become a hallmark of Australian educational institutions. In addition, part-time work has become entrenched amongst the student population. Together, these societal factors have produced a rapid amendment to the typical profile of Australian students.

Further, workplace practices have significantly altered in the last few decades. No longer is the accumulation of skills and knowledge the primary prerequisite for employment, but an ability to be able to adapt to new situations, to continue to learn independently, and to work cooperatively have become imperative. Rifkin (1995, 25) suggests that an era where an employee's worth is determined by the market value of their labour is coming to an end. Creativity is replacing knowledge base extent in determining "value", whilst ability to work in a team environment is a prerequisite for many employment opportunities. This produces a need to develop instructional practices that develop a self-directed , life-long learner.

Educational Paradigms

The unprecedented volume of information (Hancock 1993, Siitonen, 1996, Hahm et al, 1998) that is now available has generated a need for complex analytical skills to appropriately access this information in an efficient, meaningful way. Although much publicity in the media has been generated in the last few years regarding the perceived reduction in standards for functional literacy (reading and writing), the educational perspective requires a shift in paradigm to an information literacy focus.

To achieve this goal in a meaningful way, educational institutions themselves must restructure the framework of their organisation to form learning communities (Hough & Paine 1997, 192), rather than institutions whose core function is the dispensing of information.

Information Landscape

In the current "information age", a new economy has emerged in which knowledge is traded as a marketable commodity (Tinkler, 1996). In this global knowledge economy, it is imperative that school students be equipped to undertake appropriate access to data and manipulate it to fulfil their information needs.

Hazell (1990) notes that school libraries are the largest component of the Australian library and information network, with some 11,000 schools providing educational opportunities for over 3 million students. It is therefore self evident that in order to cater to a student's information literacy critical skills, an appropriate "library program" is necessary.

Whilst traditional bibliographical instruction, delivered by the teacher librarian, is still fundamental to introducing the principles of information access, a more integrated approach to information literacy is required in order to engender meaningful, relevant direction for school students. This type of instruction is most efficiently delivered by the subject or class teacher in collaboration with the teacher librarian.

THE CHANGE PROCESS

Change management is the core activity in realising organisational goals, whilst implementation is the practical or physical process of delivering an innovation. People and relationships are the majory components to successful implementation, and support mechanisms are required to achieve an improvement in practices and procedures.

"Change" itself has undergone change in the description of various models. Whilst previous decades have witnessed the concepts of "Quality Circles", followed by "Total Quality Management", and most recently "Business Process Reengineering" (Honeywell Australia, 1999), the basic procedure for actioning change has remained reasonably constant.

The identification of areas for improvement is the initial stage of the change process, followed by the generation of possible solutions to address issues so identified. Activity in these areas is independent of position in the organisation. These first two stages of the change process are possibly the most easily achieved.

Implementation of proposed innovations, the third stage of the change process, is the most complex and difficult to achieve. In the school context, this may be even more arduous than in other organisations. Fullan (1993, 46) notes that educational reforms are "hard to conceive and even harder to put into practice" . The implementation of change is not linear (Carlopio 1998, 5), and must progress through various stages over time, with commitment from stakeholders that is achieved through shared decision-making, common vision, collaboration and the establishment of support structures.

Carlopio (ibid ) notes that the implementation stage of change is itself constructed of four periods. The creation of "knowledge and awareness", the first step of implementation, is noted by Shields (1989, 41) as consisting of a further six "stages of concern". The second step in the implementation process is the establishment of facilitating structures, whilst the third is the complex simultaneous process engagement in persuasion, decision and commitment; Lastly, "rollout and fine tuning" complete the implementation of innovation.

Interestingly, a study on business decisions reported that the success rate of implementation (Wind & Maine, 1998) was only about 50% . The lowest rate of implementation was for the most successful practices, such as group problem solving, whilst the highest rate of implementation was for the least successful practices, such as issuing directives (Sauer, 1997).

It is self evident that the implementation stage of change must be followed by evaluation and reassessment, possibly with further amendments needed as issues of concern become identified. Honeywell Australia (1999) comments that change is "like fractal patterns", complex and iterative, with stakeholders making "thousands of incremental adjustments" in reaction to each of the stages noted above.

LEVELS OF CHANGE

Systemic

All organisations, including educational systems, have concerns that are addressed by attempts at organisational renewal. Productivity (class sizes, teaching periods per day), cost effectiveness (global budgeting was introduced in 1989 in NSW government schools), capital utilisation, market orientation (increasingly higher enrolments in non-government schools, together with an increasingly greater proportion of "out-of-area" enrolments, demonstrating that pupils are exercising their right of choice), organisational renewal and viability are primary of importance for all organisations.

Whole School

As individual schools have unique cultures, practices and traditions, it is self-evident that an individual tailoring that is context-specific is required. The leadership style of the administrator will to a large extent determine the types of change that are likely to occur, together with the ultimate success of their implementation and subsequent improvement to learning outcomes. Lincoln (1987, 16) states that a whole school approach is necessary, with the need for shared decision-making and collaborative practices being paramount.

At Classroom Level

Individual teachers and teacher librarians are in an ideal position to instigate innovative practices and processes. Whilst their "self-imposed isolation" (Smith & Scott, 1990) has numerous drawbacks, it does allow the freedom to experiment with innovation.

It may be hoped that by individuals taking risks by developing educational practices that embrace the concepts of information literate learning communities, gradual change to some of the barriers may occur, thereby laying the foundations for a whole school approach. Fullan et al (1990, 14) view this approach as a catalyst for innovation, linking classroom practice to school improvement. While this is to be viewed as a long-term goal, the nature of change and the resistance to it makes this option a more pragmatic strategy.

However, innovation implies risk taking (Hirose, 1992). Current educational practices do not support unsuccessful outcomes (Santos, c1998). The nature of accountability in government schools determines to a large extent the school principal's response to suggestions of innovation at the local (school) level. However, these "unsuccessful experiments" are part of the learning process itself.

BARRIERS TO EFFECTIVE CHANGE

Effective change to any organisational structure, philosophy or practice is not an easily obtainable goal. At each level of organisation, there are dynamics in operation which may resist the proposed change. However, organisational culture, the perceptions of stakeholders, a lack of holistic approach, absence of followup or support, and even the process of change itself all present barriers to achieving effective change.

Organisational Culture

Schools, perhaps more so than other organisations, are characterised by "balkanisation" ( Fullan 1993, 82) created by faculties at secondary level, and Year teaching cohorts at K-6 level. These factions are often insular in nature, and may have cliques within each group. However, Nonaka (1988) notes that in order to grow, the coexistence of several subcultures is necessary to generate "creative conflict". Senge (1992) agrees with this appraisal, and states that "creative tension" between groups and subgroups assists in organisational growth.

Without dissent, discussion will not ensue. This raises the possibility that stakeholders in the change will not understand the implications of and for the change, and thus will not effectively participate in the process of change. The necessity of dialogue rather than debate is noted (Lashway, 1998) as the key to successful "group dynamics". It must be emphasised that practice must concentrate on listening, suspending judgment and seeking common understanding.

Senge (1992, 5) comments that many of the "best ideas" are not put into practice due to conflict with "deeply held internal images". The failure to critically review prevailing assumptions and philosophies (Whitely 1995, 48) when formulating new strategies may be considered to be one of the many causes of failure to implement innovative structures and practices.

Perceptions of Stake Holders

Schools are possibly unique amongst other types of organisations. Stakeholders are not only those within the physical boundaries of a school, nor those beyond the school charged with its administration. Parents and primary caregivers are also greatly concerned with activities within the school. Tertiary institutions have expectations of school leavers, as do employer groups and social welfare organisations. Wider society is similarly concerned with educational structures and procedures. Each of these stakeholders have perceptions which form barriers to the implementation of innovation, and the resultant changes that occur.

Students have a firm view that school work involves "reading and writing" ( Lincoln 1987) and where classroom practice is negotiated and participatory, the students' perception is that of not actually engaging in learning. Similarly, parents expect that their children will spend much of their school time in writing-based activities, as a result of the parents' own learning experiences. Potential employers to a great extent still require a subjective assessment based on examinations for lower level employment, prior to promotion to higher level positions requiring higher order skills.

The combination of these perceptions creates a barrier to achieving change at local level, where the amount of written work, the format of examinations and classroom experiences diverge from the ineffective, if traditional, practices. In the educational environment, the genuine support of teachers is necessary for any attempt at change (Hargreaves 1993, 16). Teachers must not only accept the inevitability of change, but must also understand the rationales for any proposed changes.

Lack of Holistic Approach

The rapid introduction of ill-conceived changes without consideration to the effect on individual parts of the system or the system as a whole (Senge 1990, 15) has resulted in a piecemeal approach (Henri & Hay, 1994) that produces a fragmentation rather than a coagulation of the organisation.

Similarly, Newman (1998) comments that incremental reforms , which she refers to as "tinkering to remove defects" aim to improve existing structures, whilst fundamental reforms transform and permanently alter structures. Further, Newman (ibid ) notes that attempts at these fundamental reforms frequently mutate into a series of incremental reforms.

An examination of recommendations of the "Scott Report" (1989) provides an interesting illustration of this phenomenon. Entitled Schools Renewal: A Strategy to Revitalise Schools Within the New South Wales Education System , the report concluded with an indicative implementation timetable which graphically illustrated each element of change together with a timeline for implementation and the tasks involved. Of the twenty strategic elements of change described, twelve were implemented completely, three were partially implemented, and the remainder were not attempted.

The omissions to the strategy were those most closely affecting school personnel, such as staff briefings and consultations, and appointment of both executives and teachers by the principal. It is to be noted that the implementation only part of the holistically conceived strategy did not produce any changes at school or classroom level. Although the published Strategy attempted a holistic approach, implementation of the innovation was, indeed, "piecemeal" and ineffective in producing any of the desired educational outcomes.

Absence of Follow-up

The implementation phase of change does not represent the conclusion to the effective creation of change. Not only will support structures collapse without continued attention, but the absence of an evaluative procedure is vital in confirming that the expected outcome has been achieved. In the event that there are deficiencies in either the original strategy or the implementation procedure, future evaluation procedures are necessary to identify required amendments. Should the outcomes have been successfully achieved, continual monitoring is required to ensure their sustained success. However, these monitoring and evaluation procedures have budgetary implications, and are therefore frequently omitted from strategic plans.

Again, the Scott Report (1989) provides a further illustration of this particular barrier to successfully implementing change. Of the twenty strategic elements proposed, possibly the most serious omissions were those concerning ongoing evaluation and provision for future amendments. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the changes enacted at the highest levels of administration have made no difference to teaching practices at classroom level and subsequent educational outcomes, which presumably was the ultimate goal of the strategy.

Further, Mayer (1992) generated a report entitled Putting general education to work: The key competencies report. Commissioned by the National Board of Employment, Education and Training, the report identified a number of "key competencies" that were required for successful school-to-workplace transition. Of these, only functional literacy has been pursued with vigour. Despite information literacy also being identified as crucial, it remains largely confined to the realms of the school library. Whilst functional literacy is now assessed by means of a highly culturally-based examination, information literacy has remained obscurely delivered within teaching programs in all but the most progressive of schools.

This absence of follow-up has highlighted the ineffectual nature of these educational reforms. Had effective evaluation and monitoring been actioned, the deficiencies of implementation would have been highlighted, and the necessary amendments accomplished.

Absence of Support

Despite the background research that precedes any major organisational change, it is noted that "top-down" policies are almost without exception ineffective. Addleson (c1998) asserts that "structure and strategic plans" have little to do with organisational achievement, as organisational structure is composed of relationships between individuals and groups, and is shaped by individual's attitudes towards others both within and beyond the organisation. It is therefore manifestly obvious that the implementation of changes requires a support structure for the individuals and groups involved.

Carlopio (1998, 2) notes that change is a social process, undertaken over a period of time, and not a "decision event". Those involved in the change must undergo a learning process in order to appreciate the aims and goals of the proposed change, make adaptions to cater for the new practices and be permitted to achieve personal and professional growth prior to attempting to implement the change.

The Change Process

The process of change is itself a barrier to achieving change. Whilst change may be ongoing, follow a "metastrategic cycle" (Limerick et al , 1994) or be episodic and characterised by "punctuated equilibrium" (Limerick & Cunnington, 1993), the mechanism and methodology of the change has less of an impact that the actual process of change. Any disturbance to the status quo is likely to create friction, and Fullan (1993, 77) cautions that this conflict is inevitable but necessary.

Dunning (1997) remarks that the necessity for closure is one of the most basic of human needs. The last decade has witnessed numerous attempts at reform within the NSW government school system (Carrick's Report, Scott's "School Renewal" , McGaw's "Effective Schools "). Fullan (1993, 42) observes that "irregular waves of change and episodic projects" produce a fragmentation of effort and a "grinding overload". With progressive, continual change there can be no closure. Continual gradual improvement or dramatic rapid initiatives are equally unsettling to the human psyche, and therefore are frequently resisted.

In discussing innovation in the workplace, Carlopio (1998, iii) notes that resistance to change is more pronounced in Australia than countries such as USA or Japan. Referring to "reform fatigue", Carlopio (ibid ) comments on the counterproductive nature of ongoing modifications. The negative effects of these continuous modifications include "overload and burnout" (Hargreaves 1993, 16), but may be curtailed if any change was perceived to be an improvement, and the stakeholders were actively involved in its implementation.

SCHOOL LIBRARIES: A CASE STUDY

Libraries in NSW government schools have undergone major changes in structure, practices and organisation in the last few decades. Clyde (1982) records the 'humble beginnings' of school libraries, originating from collections of books belonging to Sunday schools in the colonial period. With the development of an education system over the following century, an accompanying accumulation of print resources occurred within each school.

Tanner (1997) notes that 'teacher librarianship' prior to the 1960's was represented by a classroom teacher acting as custodian of the books, with Collection Management of being a minor role. Whilst the 1960's saw the move of scattered school resources into a converted classroom (Tanner, 1997), the 1970's witnessed the appointment of specialist teacher librarians to oversee the management of the library collection in purpose-build centres, with accompanying instructional roles. In the 1980's, the introduction of computer technology produced a focus on user services and information skills instruction.

However, the current decade is one in which digital technology is making a huge impact on school libraries, as elsewhere. Not only are school library systems becoming increasingly more commonly computerised, the availability of library management software is dictating library automation be the norm, rather than the exception (Freeman, 1999). Tanner (ibid ) notes the effect not only of automation of library management, but Local Area Networks, Wide Area Networks, Internet access and an increasing diversity in format of resources. In this regard Dow (1998;181) notes that teacher librarians must have information technology skills not required of many of their classroom teaching colleagues. Not only must the teacher librarian have the necessary competence to utilise the resources, but also exhibit appropriate expertise in imparting instruction in the use of these resources.

Thus, over the last five decades, teacher librarianship has progressed from a custodial role assumed by a classroom teacher, to an information professional based in the school library. Interestingly, there has been little change in the development of classroom teaching (Newman, 1998). Information technology has created an additional strand to the curriculum, but classroom practice remains largely unchanged even in this sphere. Oberg (1990, 9) observes that an understanding of the nature of change is essential to every teacher librarian, whilst classroom teachers have "developed orientations of conservatism, individualism and presentism".

This creates something of a paradox in that almost all schools have a multiplicity of teaching staff, and thus opportunity for collaboration, colleagiality, peer tutoring and discussion amongst teachers; whilst the teacher librarian position is singular in most schools and therefore does not provide these opportunities at the workplace.

It is pertinent to inquire as to how these broad changes have been so effectively actioned in the sphere of the school library, and in such a relatively short time. Teacher librarians have been subject to external influences such as technological developments to an extent not yet apparent in the mainstream classroom. From the relatively innocuous replacement of card catalogues to an electronically based OPAC, school libraries have been involved in innovative practices concerning networked digital reference works and access to external information sources via the Internet. This has resulted in teacher librarians frequently being cited as the technology expert within many schools.

It is noted that not all teacher librarians are on the "technology bandwaggon", and many resisted both the previous and current changes. An "interplay" (Bennett 1998) between forces for change and resistance exist in this area, as in all situations where changes are occurring. However, despite the singularity of their position within the school, teacher librarians are noted for their development and participation of networks external to their own school. In allowing time and space (Hill, 1995, 49) for reflection, enquiry and professional dialogue, the teacher librarian provides an exemplar for coping with the negative effects of change and innovation.

Departmental policy and budgetary provisions provided another external change driver for the school library. The dramatic injection of government funds radically altering resource housing in the 1960's, from a modified classroom to a purpose-build facility, and simultaneously created the neccesity for a position for a school library professional. Unfortunately, this also produced a shift in paradigm concerning resource-based learning. With the print material being housed separately to the learning areas, there was a gradual decline in their central use for instruction. Contemporary teacher librarians are now in the process of addressing this issue, by actively promoting the advantages of resource-based learning in situations where the practice is not used or used ineffectively.

Internal change drivers also effect the teacher librarian and the school library. Within the whole school environment, the perception by classroom colleagues of the teacher librarian's role as "custodian of the books" has not altered in many schools. Changes to the delivery of tertiary training for teacher librarians have raised awareness of the potential improvements possible to information services within the school. Unfortunately, tertiary instruction regarding classroom teaching practice does not appear to have made teachers similarly cognisant of the potential benefits of collaborative practice, particularly in the secondary environment. Teacher librarians themselves are acting as change agents to promote the benefits of collaborative practice to educational outcomes.

A subtle shift in management style of school principalship also acts as an internal change driver for school library practices. As principals become more aware of the connection between the quality of the school's information services and improvement in educational outcomes, the imperative for quality library services increases. Again, in many instances, it is the teacher librarian who frequently brings these issues to the attention of the principal, and other leaders within the school.

Thus, teacher librarians have managed change in their school libraries by developing their own support structure of networks external to the school (Shields, 1989) and developing relationships with administrators within the school. Whether the forces for change have been external or internal to the school, or indeed identified as an area for improvement by the teacher librarian themselves, the school library has improved practices which ultimately benefit all members of the school community.

CONCLUSION

Paradoxically, the very same factors that produce the need for change present barriers for the achievement of that change. School culture, stake holders perceptions, societal effects, organisational structure and the nature of change itself are together creating both the need for, and method of, continuous improvement to education and its outcomes.

Whilst Fullan (1993, 46) notes that societal problems beyond the control of schools frequently prevent educational reform, these cannot be wholly held responsible for the failure of educational reform. Lack of supporting structures, a deficit in the consultative process, an inadequacy in holistic approach, and the absence of ongoing evaluation and amendment contribute greatly to the impairment of implementing innovative practices.

Present practices are inadequate to meet changes in work, knowledge, and citizenship (Schuyler, 1997) while serving a greater number of students with diverse backgrounds and educational objectives. A paradigm shift from instruction to learning is required to adequately serve the clients of educational institutions, which in turn requires an alteration in procedures for improved outcomes.

Educational practices, and the structures that support them, must change in order to ensure that the citizens of the future - our school children of the present - can exist and grow in a world characterised by change, unpredictability and enterprise.


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Updated April 22, 2001. Reformatted and moved to this site December 10, 2006.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Amanda Credaro © 2006.