The behavioral science and systems perspective: How teachers respond to educational change [CIES 2023 Presentation]

A key component of educational change is that it is often overlooks is that it is fundamentally an emotional process for teachers (Rogers, 2003). When change in instructional practice is expected of teachers, their response is usually varied; mostly determined by their environment (e.g., school, social network, etc.) and personality characteristics (Kahneman, 2011). An education system provides different inputs during this educational change with the hope that teachers can implement new instructional practices effectively. This input might include ongoing teacher support and accountability mechanisms. To better understand how teachers respond to educational change, we conducted research in coordination with Early Grade Reading programs in Tanzania and Nepal. The study used an explanatory mixed-methods approach to explore the variability of teacher response to education change, and how the education system mechanisms influenced this change. A key component of the research framework was an alignment of behavioral science and systems thinking, presenting a novel lens to uncover perspectives not usually researched. It was concluded that some teachers were able to apply a rational approach to change aligned with Guskey’s model of teacher change (1986), while other teachers implemented the new early grade reading curriculum while retaining key aspects of their prior default pedagogical approach. The accountability and support system focused on teacher compliance for curriculum delivery, the most observable and correctable aspect of classroom instruction. For teachers in schools with low student achievement and gain, Finally, most teachers were unaware of the actual performance levels of their students, believing that most or all of their students would meet systems expectations of reading proficiency by the end of grade two. Leveraging theoretical perspectives from Fullan (2015), Rogers (2003), and Kahneman (2011), this study concludes with recommendations of the most promising avenue of research regarding how to address educational systems change.