As one of the 12 essential problems to solve for educational leaders, changing the mindsets of teachers to embrace new ideas, reforms, and changes is probably the most difficult one to solve. Not that teachers should adopt all proposed changes, but as we better understand the needs of learners and the VUCA world, there is a definite need for new ideas.

Too much of the change literature stays at a generalized level telling leaders they need to be transformational leaders without detailing specific methods or strategies. In some recent research I have been doing for a book, I found what may be a hidden gem.

A model created by Gregoire (2003) helps leaders understand the process by which teacher accept or reject new ideas. This blog will do a brief overview of this model in response to the problem of how to help people embrace new ideas in change.

The CAMCC Model

As an educational leader, I often wondered how people could outright reject what I believed was an excellent new idea for teaching or curriculum. Like most leaders, I labeled this as mere resistance and chalked it up to people not wanting to change. As I got older, I gained a few more tools to get people to process ideas more in-depth but still often only saw a surface level use of new ideas.

It was not until I recently found Gregoire’s 2003 paper that I began to understand the process teachers go through to accept or reject new ideas. Her model, labeled the Cognitive-Affective Model of Conceptual Change (CAMCC), centers around how teachers change their beliefs and suggests that teacher use both cognitive and affective processing when accepting new ideas.

Here is how the model works in brief.

  1. First, a reform message is presented to a teacher in a specific situation. The message has to be strong enough so that the teacher question what she is doing.
  2. This message may threaten the teacher’s identity, so she implicates herself around the idea. If the teacher believes she is already using the idea, she makes a “benign positive appraisal” because they lack the motivation to investigate or process the idea more in-depth. This positive appraisal is when the “I already do this” type of response rises.
  3. This positive appraisal serves as a cue to use regular processing or comparison of the new idea to the teacher’s current practice. In general, this is surface level processing.
  4. The next step is a decision stage in which a teacher decides to yield or not to the idea. If they do yield or accept the idea, the idea assimilates into old beliefs which leads to only superficial change. If yielding does not occur, there is no change in belief structure.
  5. In contrast, going back to Step 2, if teachers do implicate themselves or know they are not genuinely using the new idea, they go through anxiety causing  stress and an appraisal of the stress.
  6. The stress appraisal causes teachers to determine if they have the motivation, self-efficacy, and capacity to take on the idea. In other words, the stress appraisal causes them to go through both an affective and cognitive judgment of themselves.
  7. If the teacher feels insufficient to meet the demands, she labels the change idea as a threat and works to avoid the change using the same regular processing discussed in Step 3. This decision is similar to a fixed mindset in that the teacher does not believe she has the motivation, skills, or support to make the change.
  8. If the teacher does feel sufficient to meet the change demand, they appraise this as a challenge and use an approach intention similar to a growth mindset. The teacher believes that with the right level of effort, practice, and support she can master the new change skill.
  9. The teacher then does more systematic processing of the idea in comparison to their current practice. According to Gregoire, “ A major tenant of this model is that significant, lasting belief change cannot occur without teachers’ systematically processing reform messages.”
  10. After systematically processing the reform ideas, teachers still have to yield or fully accept the idea. If they do yield and accept, actual conceptual change will occur after professional learning and practice with the ideas.

Conclusion

In sum, whether teachers take on and use new reform ideas is dependent on both cognitive and affective appraisal of the idea. Teachers who have high self-efficacy tend to see the ideas as a challenge and work to make sense of them. Others, who believe they are already using the idea or who have low self-efficacy, see the ideas as a threat and find ways to avoid deep processing of the ideas.

The teachers who use an avoidance intention but who yield because of some other pressure is why many reform ideas do not profoundly change the look of US classrooms. Often teachers will take one element of the reform idea and use it to show how they are embracing the reform ideas. For instance, in a balanced literacy initiative, I saw many teachers take the idea of a traditional read aloud and say they were doing shared reading. Alternatively, a high school math teacher who has students use calculators to find the right answers but say they embrace the ideals in problem-solving.

Change often threatens the identity of teachers, and this model helps us see how powerful the human mind is at assimilating these ideas into current beliefs about teaching. What school leaders can do to help teachers understand their thinking and use this model to develop self-efficacy and do more in-depth processing will be explored in our next blog.

Reference

Gregoire, M. (2003, June). Is it a challenge or a threat? A dual-process model of teachers’ cognition and appraisal process during conceptual change. Educational Psychology Review, 15 (2), 147-179.