by Dale Lewis, Tameka Porter, and Katie Allen
Welcome to part three of our series on teacher wellbeing. Part one introduced our series, and part two provided strategies for teachers and leaders to navigate the Stages of Concern to support teacher wellbeing.
If you followed the call-to-action at the close of our last blog post to engage in brief conversations with your teachers about an instructional innovation and listen for concerns, you’ve probably gotten so good at differentiating the four main categories of concerns (i.e., Unrelated, Self, Task, and Impact) that you might hear a teacher express, when asked, how a program, instructional practice, or some other aspect of their work is going. These expressions can provide insights into how the teacher is feeling about some part of their work and the intensity of those feelings. In addition to being a good, supportive listener during those brief conversations with teachers, you may also have taken some action to help address particularly intense concerns. Hearing one of your teachers express dismay about student lack of interest during online instruction, for example, you may have facilitated an invitation to observe how another teacher incorporates student voice during virtual instruction to foster individual student engagement. As you continue to listen for and respond to concerns, you may begin to notice similar concerns among groups of teachers. Knowing what and where shared concerns exist will help you to be both more efficient and focused in the supports you provide to help teachers move forward in their professional practice and strengthen their sense of wellbeing.
Now that we have explored how leaders can respond to teachers’ concerns regarding how they and their students are faring during times of unprecedented change, we continue our Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM) journey by considering what educators are doing to support their own wellbeing. Have they learned a new skill for improving academic achievement? How are they using new technology to enhance learning for their students? Are the online tools they’re using working as expected? The instructional programs and practices teachers use with their students, and their experiences in doing so, further influence not only student outcomes, but also teacher wellbeing. With this blog post, then, we turn our attention to the CBAM component that focuses on understanding and supporting teachers’ use of instructional programs, practices, and innovations.
Wellbeing and the Levels of Use
The COVID-19 pandemic has required many of our teachers to become experts in multiple teaching modalities almost overnight. Acquiring new skills can be a daunting challenge. Teachers may be hesitant to introduce and incorporate innovations as they adapt to new learning environments. Our goal is to support educators as they implement new practices and to help foster confidence in their ever-growing skillsets so that both they and their students can flourish.
Let’s situate this goal in a need that may have emerged during the pandemic as teachers and student adapted to online learning environments. For example, in addition to asking an early elementary school teacher how they are feeling about conducting circle time over Zoom, we also can ask questions to gain insights into how teachers are innovating on their use of common instructional practices in online settings. What successes are teachers having when implementing practices through Zoom or other online platforms? Are the technology tools, materials, and resources they’re incorporating having their desired effect? Are you keeping a list of the strong, innovative teaching practices you have witnessed during the pandemic with a plan to maintain or grow those in the future? Capturing not only a list of these practices, but also the ways in which teachers have used them successfully will help you to clarify, support, and scale those innovations when you are ready. To begin adding these details we need to talk more about the ways in which the use of innovations can vary.
The Levels of Use
Think for a moment about all the changes teachers have faced as a result of the global pandemic—use of videoconferencing platforms, navigating hybrid instructional settings, maintaining engagement, and supporting student wellbeing when physically distanced. This list could go on and on, but the fact is that a lot has been asked of our teachers, maybe more than ever, and at times the information, guidance, tools, and resources coming at them from the state, their district, and the broader education community most certainly has been overwhelming. While many teachers—likely those whose leaders have communicated and demonstrated why change is needed—have found their way through this deluge and are using new tools and practices to strengthen their instruction in this new environment, others are not. What can you do to find out if and how teachers are using the programs or practices your school or district has adopted? Similar to the Stages of Concern, you can ask them, listen to how they describe their use, and apply another CBAM framework, the Levels of Use. These Levels allows you to understand where teachers are on a continuum, and how you can support them in deepening their efforts and improving student outcomes.
The behaviors teachers express as they implement (or don’t) new programs and practices are described as eight Levels of Use (LoU)—Nonuse, Orientation, Preparation, Mechanical, Routine, Refinement, Integration, and Renewal—differentiated according to one’s status as a User or Nonuser of the innovation. Knowledge of LoU can help leaders determine the efficacy of new innovations and bolster teachers’ practice as they adapt to change. Table 1 defines the eight levels and, continuing with our example, provides an illustration of how a teacher might describe their use of circle time at each level.
Table 1. Levels of Use (LoU) of an Innovation
|Exploring the benefits of the innovation and interest in making major adaptations or shifting to a new innovation to increase student effects are most prominent.
“My students have enjoyed their learning experience on Zoom, though I wonder if other platforms may make virtual circle time more engaging.”
|Collaboration with others regarding the innovation is predominant. The focus of collaboration is on improving benefits and outcomes for students.
“I’ve been working with my grade-level team to collect data so we can determine which teaching strategies are best meeting students’ needs.”
|Desire to strengthen the use of the innovation to improve benefits and outcomes for students is the focus.
“During my one-on-one check-ins with families and caregivers, I’ve asked them how well they think their students are responding to circle time on Zoom to see where I can make improvements, and I have made some changes.”
|Comfort with conventional, day-to-day use of the new skill is expressed. Few, if any, changes in use are considered.
“I’m glad I learned how to use Zoom for circle time. It has worked well. If we have to continue with online learning, I’ll keep using it the same way.”
|Attention focuses on efficiency, organizing, managing, scheduling, and time demands. Changes in use are made to improve the teacher’s experience.
“I spend most of my time making sure microphones and videos are on at the right times and that I can see each child. It’s challenging keeping circle time on-time and students on-task.”
|Attention focuses on getting ready to use the innovation for the first time.
“I’ve attended trainings on how to use Zoom for virtual learning, and I’ve set aside time to practice this new skill.”
|Awareness of and interest in acquiring information about the innovation is communicated.
“I’ve been hearing about how Zoom could be useful for doing circle time in a virtual setting. I may consider doing it in the future if online learning continues.”
|No use of a new innovation is desired. Interests may be focused elsewhere or absent altogether.
“I’m not interested in learning how to use Zoom for circle time. What I’m doing now works just fine.”
Understanding Use of Innovations
To help determine where teachers are in their LoU, we need to add a few more questions to your CBAM toolbox. Beginning with the simple question, “Are you using circle time during online instruction with your students?” should you know immediately whether you are talking with a User or Nonuser. With Nonusers, the goal is to get them to start using, in this case, circle time in an online environment. To help move them along the continuum, you may ask whether they need more information about circle time, or if they’ve set a time to start implementing it during Zoom sessions? In some cases, and especially if it is an expectation you or your district has established, it may be necessary to establish and communicate a time when Nonusers will be expected to start using circle time with their students. And, once they begin using it, they most likely will initially describe the disjointed, day-to-day attempts to master online implementation characterized by Mechanical Use.
To determine where Users are in their LoU of circle time, we need them to describe how they are using it in practice. General prompts such as, “Tell me more about that” or “Give me an example” help teachers to provide more detail and allow you greater insights into their practice, both what’s working well and where support may be needed. Initially, your goal is to help teachers move past Mechanical Use, helping them to become more routine with their implementation. Although a Routine LoU may seem to be ideal, your aim should be to help teachers, independently (Refinement LoU) or collaboratively (Integration LoU), begin to make refinements to their use of circle time based on, and with a focus to improve, how their students are responding.
Strong professional practice requires teacher reflection on how their practice is responding to student needs, and making adjustments or refinements to their practice based on these reflections. Questions you can use to help build your awareness of these changes, how they are working, and whether they are changes you would like to see other teachers begin to incorporate into their practice include: Have you thought about doing things differently with circle time? Do you talk with others about circle time? What do you talk about? Are you planning to make major changes in the way you are using circle time? As was the case with Stages of Concern, applying these questions in informal conversations will help you become more skilled and efficient at discerning LoU for specific programs, practices, or innovations, and can help you to foster a student-centered learning community among your teachers.
Supporting Use of Innovations
Looking for ways to encourage teachers to practice using innovations? Here are some ideas to support teachers to move between Levels of Use. If many of your teachers are Nonusers of online circle time, or some other core component of virtual instruction, consider organizing grade-level team meetings so teachers who have experience with online learning can share the benefits and challenges of developing skills with their peers who are unfamiliar with virtual classroom instruction (i.e., Orientation). As teachers establish and stabilize their new Zoom skills, they may be reluctant to make adjustments to the way they are managing the virtual classroom, demonstrating Routine Use. Try using an instructional coach to model different circle time techniques, which may help teachers reflect on and refine their current practice. Since teachers may be using different online learning methods, you could organize a teaching showcase at your next faculty meeting so educators can introduce new teaching and learning approaches to their colleagues (i.e., begin to foster Integration in use among your faculty).
While the purpose of examining the ways in which teachers use innovations is to guide them as they engage in adopting a new practice, we don’t want to overlook how rewarding it can be for teachers to see how new found skills and abilities can foster connections, build relationships with one another, and support student learning outcomes.
We invite you again to engage in brief (3–5 minutes should be sufficient) conversations with your teachers about some of the innovations they are using (or not) and take note of how they are responding to adapting to change. Are they adopting new approaches? If not, why? Which LoU are they demonstrating? What supports might you provide to guide them to a higher LoU? Understanding how your teachers are using specific innovations while providing appropriate supports that grow their instructional practice and success can cultivate teacher wellbeing and promote student learning outcomes.
 Adapted from “Implementing change: Patterns, principles and potholes (5th edition)” by G. E. Hall, and S. M. Hord, 2020, Pearson, p. 137.
Dale Lewis is the Director of the Region 12 Comprehensive Center. Following almost 20 years as a special education teacher and leader, Dale has spent the past 10 years supporting and leading federally funded technical assistance centers and research labs, and multiple projects focused on supporting and scaling implementation of effective programs and practices. His work to educate school leaders on managing change and use person-centered tools to support others in the change process, spans a variety of contexts including PK–12, community college, and correctional education system.
Tameka Porter serves as the Kansas State Co-Lead for the Region 12 Comprehensive Center. She leads and supports projects focused on establishing evidence-based practices and policies for measuring continuous school improvement, examining school redesign processes, and using data-driven approaches to improve student achievement outcomes.
Katie Allen is the Deputy Director of the Region 12 Comprehensive Center. She assists in the coordination of the Center’s work and supports technical assistance on key education opportunities to state education agencies.