Over the past few blogs, a model of conceptual change for teachers labeled the Cognitive-Affective Model of Conceptual Change was explored. In simplest terms, this model suggests that when somebody proposes a new idea, teachers appraise the idea cognitively and affectively to see if it is a challenge or threat to their teaching identity depending on their mindsets.
For this blog, how three different teachers internally process a proposed change initiative through their mindsets using this model will be explored. For the sake of brevity, only the initial launch meeting serves as a context but knowing that these determinations happen over a more extended period. The proposed change is a Social Emotional Learning initiative for the school.
As a 15 year veteran at her school, Mrs. A has been asked to attend the school’s kickoff meeting for their newly proposed SEL initiative.
1. Presentation of reform message
Principal Jones: Thank you, everybody, for taking the time to attend our SEL team kickoff meeting. Social Emotional Learning has become a big topic in our state and district. We are finally allowed a bit more freedom to focus on the whole child, so this work will be exciting for our whole school. As you remember from an earlier meeting we decided on elements of strategies for this initiative: 1) assessing student’s SEL growth 2) using a framework 3) setting goals with students on improving and coaching them, and 4) using the framework language in all of our systems like. (Note- reform message is very general )
2. Mrs. A’s internal processing
I didn’t know we were doing all of that? I thought we were just doing some lessons. Oh well, I do a lot of talking to students anyway for relationships. I guess that helps develop SEL (Note benign- positive appraisal). It does seem like we have to do a lot of things that parents should be doing, but I guess I can take a few minutes and have students set some goals. It can’t hurt. (Note simple processing, yielding to the idea, and assimilating the superficial change but no real change in belief).
As a 20 year veteran but only three years at this school, Mr. B has also been asked to attend the school’s kickoff meeting for their newly proposed SEL initiative.
1. Presentation of reform message
Principal Jones: Thank you, everybody, for taking the time to attend our SEL team kickoff meeting. Social Emotional Learning has become a big topic in our state and district. We are finally allowed a bit more freedom to focus on the whole child, so this work will be exciting for our whole school. As you remember from an earlier meeting, we decided on elements of strategies for this initiative: 1) Assessing student’s SEL growth which we will do three times a year ; 2) Using the CASEL framework which we will use as a study item over the summer and next year, so we get a good knowledge base ; 3) Setting goals with students on improving and coaching them which will require 15-20 minutes some time at the start of the week and 15-20 on Fridays. The expectation is for teaching students a specific goal setting format and action planning method. As a team we will collect these and review them to help improve this process with students; and 4) Using the framework language in all of our systems like our parent conferences, our student behavior systems. (Note- the reform message is more specific than in the first example).
2. Mr. B’s internal processing
Oh, there is a lot to this. More than I thought. This will be good for kids though; hopefully, this will remove some of the testing so kids can learn to be humans again. I don’t think I am doing much focus on SEL stuff right now (Note how he implicates himself). I wonder if I can do all of that in my schedule? Giving up 20-30 minutes, which will probably be more like 40-50 minutes. I like teaching my subjects so I’m not sure I can be touchy-feely with kids. I wonder how I can get off this committee and do some limited things with my kids? (Note how he sees this as a threat to her teaching identity and has started the avoidance intention). I think that my kids grow in their self-esteem by my teaching every year, so taking the assessment would be OK. Kids are used to that anyway. I guess I can do some things (Note how he processes the ideas at a surface level based on his beliefs, yields positively, but again only assimilates the one superficial element).
As a 25 year veteran but with only ten years at this school, Mrs. C has also been asked to attend the school’s kickoff meeting for their newly proposed SEL initiative.
1. Presentation of reform message-same as Mr. B’s
2. Mrs. C’s internal processing
OMG, this seems very complicated. Haven’t most kids developed fine before all of this? I’m not doing hardly any of this at all (Note how she implicates herself). What am I going to do? Things are so busy right now. How will I get this done too? OK settle down, think through this. You always talk about how kids need other things besides reading and math. You’ve always all parts of the child is important to teach. True, but do I have the time and skills to do this? Well if it’s important, I will have to take this on and do it well. This change is for kids. (Note how she sees this as a challenge and takes an approach intention). OK, if I’m going to do this, I will need to do a lot of study over this summer. I wonder what resources are good? I really need to look at these goals and develop a plan and see how I can develop a good system to coach students (Note beginning of more systematic processing). This will be new but really helping students with these skills should go a long way in helping them be great humans. (Note yields positively and opens the gate for accommodation and actual conceptual change).
Now, can you see why change is so hard for teachers and leaders? Three different teachers were responding to a similar reform idea, yet all three appraise the idea much differently. While all three eventually yield to the idea, only Mrs. C will probably end up accommodating the new idea into her belief structure and using the idea to its full ideal.
In sum, no matter the idea or degree of change proposed according to this model all people will perform both a cognitive and affective appraisal. As leaders, we too often focus on the early part of the message- defining what the change is, why it is important, and what will be needed.
Yet, very little time in planning is taken to consider how to help teachers perform a thorough stress appraisal, understand their motivation, and do more systematic processing of the change idea. Yes, this takes time, but in the long run, isn’t the emotional health of your teachers critical to their performance?
Next week, this series of blogs will conclude by talking more about the idea of systematic processing as a key for changing mindsets.
Gregoire, M. (2003, June). Is it a challenge or a threat? A dual-process model of teachers’ cognition and appraisal process during conceptual change. Educational Psychology Review, 15 (2), 147-179.