An innovation at an elementary school I have worked at a few times this year is the introduction of small Guided Writing groups for grades 6 and 7. The implementation of this idea had the “kick-start” needed, as described by Orridge (2009, p. 37) by the change agent Adrianne Gear and her recent workshop in the school district on Reading Power and Writing Power (Gear, 2010). The “existing problem” (Innovation Takes Practice More Than Talent, 2013) the school faced and wanted to solve was low writing abilities in its intermediate students, most of whom are ESL or ESD, and the teachers had an open, “inquisitive mind” (Innovation Takes Practice More Than Talent, 2013) to find a way to help solve it.
The innovation is managed collaboratively by both intermediate teachers as well as two full time ESL/LA teachers at the school. Each teacher, along with two more part time LA teachers amounting to 6 teachers in total, take a pull out group of approximately 10 students each divided by reading and writing ability and English language capabilities. All 6 teachers attended the Adrienne Gear workshop together and have shown a commitment to change in the school in order to increase student writing output in the school.
Why does this innovation appear to be working? The professional development of these teachers seem to mimic the successes described by Schifter’s chapter Effecting Change in the Classroom Through Professional Development (2008). Firstly, the school has a very open culture for change, being 60% ESL/ESD students and constantly trying new methods to raise student achievement in basic reading and writing. With the change culture, it is easier to implement an experimental innovation into the classrooms and using this change culture it is “more likely there will be change in practices” (Schifter, 2008, p. 254). The school is also already set up for classroom structure change, having the small group structure for many subjects already including math and reading.
Secondly, there was a “strong training component” (Schifter, 2008, p. 255) to the professional development workshop and materials provided by Gear (2010) in implementing the changes into Canadian elementary school classrooms.
Thirdly, time is allocated to teachers once a week to collaborate with fellow intermediate and ESL/LA teachers to work out any issues that might occur or have occurred. This also aided the “social support” (2008, p. 256) Schifter recommends for successful change to occur and be sustained over time.
Lastly, the extensive principal support in the school correlated with Schifter’s observations that “where strong support from the principal was manifest, more teachers participated” (2008, p. 257). The principal allocated substitute teachers so that all teachers who would be involved could attend the workshop, and also offers continual support for the implementation of the innovation in various forms such as school wide opportunities for students to share their writing creations with other students, teachers, and parents, displaying works of writing around the school and on the school website, and recognising teachers’ efforts for change and collaboration in staff meetings and sharing with other schools in the district.
The professional development workshop presented by Adrienne Gear in this change was the kick-start it took to enact change in this school, but it was the teachers involved in its implementation that lead, empowered, and encouraged the change. I don’t think there was one change leader, but the teachers were able to act as a successful change unit to create a vision and strategy for improving writing skills in the school, communicate the direction they would all take, and motivate and bring each other to bring student achievement and writing levels to the forefront (Kotter, n.d.).
Gear, A. (2010). Reading Power. Retrieved March 22, 2013 from http://www.readingpowergear.com/
Innovation Takes Practice More Than Talent. (2013, January 30). —. Retrieved February 5, 2013, from http://www.redthreadthinking.com/innovation-takes-practice-more-than-talent/
Kotter, J. (n.d.). Kotter International – Change Leadership. Kotter International – Innovative Strategy Implementation Professionals. Retrieved January 28, 2013, from http://www.kotterinternational.com/our-principles/change-leadership
Orridge, M. (2009). 75 ways to help sustain organisational transformation. Change leadership developing a change-adept organization (pp. 35-52). Farnham, England: Gower.
Schifter, C. (2008). Chapter 14. Effecting Change in the ClassroomThrough Professional Development. Infusing technology into the classroom: continuous practice improvement (pp. 250 – 279). Hershey: Information Science Pub..