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Ki te Aotūroa - Improving Inservice Teacher Educator Learning and Practice. Ministry of Education.

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First-order versus second-order change

Can you identify an instance where a change that was ā€œfirst-orderā€ for one person was ā€œsecond-orderā€ for another?

How did your understanding of this difference affect the leadership practices you chose to use with each person?

Waters, Marzano, and McNulty (2003) developed a leadership framework that describes the knowledge, skills, strategies, and tools leaders need to positively impact on student achievement. They based the framework on a meta-analysis of the literature that revealed a substantial relationship between leadership and student achievement (a correlation of 0.25).

An important aspect of the researchersā€™ model is the concept of the ā€œorderā€ or magnitude of change. ā€œFirst-orderā€ change is change that is consistent with prevailing values and norms, meets with general agreement, and can be implemented using peopleā€™s existing knowledge and skills. A change becomes ā€œsecond-orderā€ when it is not obvious how it will make things better, it requires people to learn new approaches, or it conflicts with prevailing values and norms. Second-order changes require leaders to work far more deeply with staff and the community. They can disrupt peopleā€™s sense of well-being and the co-operation and cohesion of the school community. They may confront and challenge expertise and competencies and throw people into states of ā€œconscious incompetenceā€.

Different perceptions about the implications of change mean that a change that appears to be a solution to one person can appear to be a problem for another.

To the degree that individuals and/or stakeholder groups in the school or school system hold conflicting values, seek different norms, have different knowledge, or operate with varying mental models of schooling, a proposed change might represent a first-order change for some and a second-order change for others.

Waters, Marzano, and McNulty, 2003, page 7

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