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

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Three levels of change

Spillane, Reiser, and Reimer (2002) examine the difficulties reformers face in implementing policy at the local level. Their framework takes into account the complexity of the human sense-making process. They argue that, from a cognitive perspective, a key dimension of the implementation process is whether, and in what ways, implementing agents (individual educators) come to understand their practice, potentially changing their beliefs and attitudes in the process. Citing Marris (1975), they suggest that reform can involve three levels of social change. Those that require the most fundamental changes in behaviour are most difficult to implement because they also require fundamental changes in the knowledge structure of those who are to implement them.

When change has been hard, what, specifically, made it difficult for you?

When did you realise that you needed to work differently because the change was more difficult than expected?

Did you engage with the depth of change required?

In our cognitive framework, the nature of the changes sought by policy makers is also important because some changes involve more complex cognitive transformations for implementing agents than others. Focusing on the balance between continuity, growth, and loss, Marris (1975) identifies three levels of social change. The first level is incremental change, which requires little or no alteration of the extant purposes or expectations of the people undertaking the change. For example, changing the time at which a particular mathematical skill or topic is taught during the school year requires no alteration of the teachers’ existing instructional purposes and expectations. The second level of change requires growth on the part of those undertaking change, but extant purposes and expectations can remain intact. Such change can be incorporated into existing schemas and frameworks rather than undermining them. The third level of change represents loss for the implementing agent, in that it necessitates the discrediting of existing schemas and frameworks. This level of social change is the most difficult to achieve (Marris, 1975). The more fundamental the changes sought by an innovation, the greater the extent to which existing schemas must be restructured to form coherent understandings of the new ideas.

Spillane et al., 2002, page 415

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