The Agents of Change Toolkit (ACT) guides teachers and school leaders through the stages of planning, implementing and evaluating change in their schools, in five steps:
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The Agents of Change Toolkit (ACT) guides teachers and school leaders through the stages of planning, implementing and evaluating change in their schools, in five steps:
Check the purpose
Establishing a need for change is a key step in starting off a change process. This can happen in response to a bigger external change agenda or strategy, or as an attempt to address an issue, or any kind of internally identified scope for improvement in practice.
Agree desired outcomes
Change is a messy process. Different players will have different understanding of what the desired outcomes should be or how they could be achieved. Agreeing a shared vision of what an improved practice may look like is critical for actors’ commitment to enact change.
Negotiate action plan
Planning a course of action that those involved will undertake together to achieve the agreed desired outcomes is central to the change process. Different players will have different roles and will need to negotiate and coordinate collective action.
Implementing the plan is what gets the change process going. It does not mean that everything will go according to the plan, or that everything that was planned will be possible. Actors might identify new issues or additional players that need to be involved.
Evaluate the impact
Evaluation and reflection on the impact is essential for identifying both intended and unintended outcomes of change activity. The extent to which the desired change has been achieved may involve different perspectives and use research to inform further planning.
Identifying a common purpose is a critical step for enacting the kind of change that members of a school community, or another organisation, feel committed to. Staff often find themselves responding to external change agendas that they may agree with to varying extents or understand in different ways from those intended by others in the system. Teachers working towards change are often driven by what they believe in and see as worthwhile purposes and improvements. Their sense of purpose can help drive teacher agency (Pantić, 2015). Thus, identifying shared aims at the outset is critical for people to engage with change processes, understanding what they could bring to the collective effort to make change relevant to the purposes that really matter to them as professionals, and ultimately make a difference for their students and larger communities.
Whole-school change processes can be initiated in different ways and involve different levels of top-down and bottom-up approaches. For example, they may involve an effort to respond to national strategies led by the leadership team, or various forms of practitioner-led efforts to improve aspects of their practice, e.g. through individual or collective professional inquiries, collaborative research projects, or various combinations of these processes. In all cases, taking time to check participants’ sense of their personal and professional purposes is a key step for aligning the aims to their individual and collective commitments.
This might be done in a process of consultation around particular ideas or setting up one or more workshops to reflect on purposes and identify a need for change that is meaningful to those involved. At this stage visioning beyond any practical constraints is important to establish what is desired and to connect the change aims and efforts to this vision.
This example of change process comes from one of the ACT workshops. School X, which will remain anonymous, decided that:
Callum, a secondary school teacher, identified the following issues that need addressing:
He could use the playful activity The A-Ha Moment. The A-ha Moment phase 1 can provide an opportunity to other teachers to increase their awareness of their surroundings, resources and inspire a shift in their perceptions. It can make M, as the person who introduces the game, a familiar face. It can also allow M to get to know what was it that his colleagues paid attention to as they posted their sticky notes and who were those that seemed uninterested. At phase 2 of The A-Ha Moment, M can mention planning with SDGs in mind can start small by reusing what is already available in decreasing waste.
It might be easy to agree on the common aims for the school such as closing the poverty-related gap or creating an inclusive school community. However, while most teachers and other stakeholders would endorse the need to address inequalities in education, their understanding of the implications for practice might vary depending on their role. For example, a headteacher’s perspective of what change would look like might differ from that of classroom teachers or other players in the system. Identifying different actors’ strengths and the approaches that could be taken may help shape the potential outcomes to pursue. Taking time to discuss differences and understand the diverse perspectives of the desired outcomes enables actors to identify and work together towards a shared vision of success.
At this stage, the participants might need to make choices depending on the agreed common aims as well as on what is possible within given contexts. For example, what kind of data exists or could be collected in their school to evaluate the progress towards desired change. Collaboration with researchers can help identify measures for tracking the impact of their change effort or to develop new indicators that matter to their school community.
Staff from school X agreed that:
M and his colleagues can use Evaluation Busters. They can use the playful activity to encourage group discussions and bring in all staffs’ perspectives on how they perceive what the school is already doing to support sustainability. From there they could discuss tangible aims that introduce a whole school approach. They could decide all lessons to be tied by themes concerning climate change and other issues of sustainability. Each subject could be used to study issues of waste. For example, history would be useful in taking a historical approach to humans producing and getting rid of waste and so on. To avoid additional workload, teachers could decide that a flipped classroom would be a good approach for students to become involved in what they feel passionate about and develop their academic skills. Students could work in small research groups and produce and electronic report or a webpage that brings in their findings at the end of term.
“Numerous conversations I’ve had with my headteacher about this [closing the attainment gap] has involved a repeated discussion of the number of tariff points particular students are going to need to pick up to statistically ‘close the gap’. I am concerned that this preoccupation is being communicated to students as a message that being part of our school community is about getting the right grades for us” (secondary teacher, Scotland).
In this example of a change project from a secondary school in Scotland aimed at closing the attainment gap, the headteacher suggested to compare baseline data about attainment at the beginning of the project with that at the end of change ‘intervention’ targeting a group of students. However, the teacher who led the change project worried that creating a ‘closing the gap’ group could also have an undesired effect of labelling and implicitly blaming these students for ‘dragging down the school stats’. She approached researchers at the University of Edinburgh to incorporate an inclusive pedagogy approach that focuses on attainment alongside other outcomes in a way that includes all students, while avoiding labelling associated with designating groups of students as needing something different from what is ordinarily available. The agreed desired outcomes in this context might involve measures of improvement in the process itself as well as in the actual attainment results.
Callum planned the following:
Callum agreed this with his group (Sustainability Partnerships) and an ecologist who is currently working on a project for City of Edinburgh. This ties in with lots of other strands surrounding Net Zero and the people involved in figuring out the strategy have been very receptive to the idea of increasing biodiversity while linking it to schools and greater outdoor learning and leadership from young people. The project hasn’t actually started yet, but having the agents of change toolkit break it down in a logical way made it easier for Callum to spot links to what others are doing and made it easier for them to understand the idea behind the rewilding project.
Whole-school change processes involve the coordination of collective action to achieve the agreed desired outcomes together. This may involve actors in specific roles as well as identifying both formal and informal resources and strengths of the actors within and beyond the school community. Collaboration and understanding of one’s own network are essential when working through ACToolkit. Research has shown that teachers who act as agents of change tend to have larger, more diverse, social networks and engage in more collaboration (compared to those who engaged in role-implementation) (Pantić et al, 2021). Agents of change can exercise agency at different levels, including at the classroom level (working with students) and the school level (e.g. to disseminate a change in practice). They can also work with different actors, including colleagues, families, and other external professionals, so actors should consider how to best utilise their networks when negotiating plans.
Depending on the nature of change, a school might set up a working group that coordinates the collective effort and/or assign particular leading roles to particular actors. This stage also involves agreeing on particular communication strategies, use of particular tools or instigating relevant consultation processes to plan the most effective and inclusive ways of making the desired change, however big or small improvement might be seen as feasible at a given time.
Staff from school X decided that:
Callum set the following plans:
This is still at an early stage and Callum has identified a fair number of key figures who he needs to talk to in the medium term in order to flesh out the action plan, but in the first instance Callum wants to work with his ecologist contact who is far more knowledgeable and better-connected!
The implementing stage is key for enacting the change process. This may seem obvious, but it is surprising how often change projects stop at the planning stage or at the early stages of the implementation. Schools are very busy places and unless actors invest time and energy in implementing change, and dealing with any barriers, the plans can easily stay just that.
Appropriate resources need to be put in place to enable actors to undertake the planned action. Often, time is the biggest resource that people need to initiate and follow through change processes, but adequate communication tools and ways of mobilising existing sources of support or expertise, as well as perseverance in overcoming hurdles are equally important.
Callum planned to do the following:
Callum has been working on a smaller rewilding project with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust tied to an exchange trip to Canada. This is less ambitious involving just 20 pupils and one site, but he will learn a lot about the practicalities, opportunities and obstacles from doing this.
Evaluation is another critical stage in change processes that sometimes tends to be omitted in the midst of business and messiness of school lives. Schools are often asked to produce data and reports that get to be looked at at other levels of governance or as part of administrative processes. But how often do schools and teachers have time to reflect on the outcomes and processes of the aims they set out to achieve together?
Reflection is also essential when working through ACToolkit. An additional tool, the Teachers’ Reflection on their Agency for Change (TRAC) log, could be used alongside ACToolkit. TRAC gathers information on teachers’ aims and actions, relationships between actors, the outcomes of the collaborations, and reflective practice, in order to examine the impact of teacher agency (Pantić, 2021). TRAC log includes a feedback component for network learning to show users with who and how they collaborate (Pantić, 2021). The ability to see their social network can help users reflect on their actions as a collaborative change, rather than individual change.
This stage links back to the outcomes agreed at stage two and any indicators defined for checking to what extent they have been achieved. Use of data and research evidence and/or collaboration with researchers can be particularly useful at these two stages. It is also important to consider any unintended or undesired outcomes and make adjustments in the subsequent change cycles. Educational change processes are often as much about the journey as they are about the destination. This is why professional reflection is key for understanding what has been learned in the process, what have been participants’ experiences, and acknowledging the complexity of challenges schools face.
Callum found it useful to think about evaluation at the outset as it makes you notice things that might otherwise slip by. Here are Callum’s ideas for evaluation of this project:
Re-evaluate the current survey of ecology in Edinburgh in terms of ecologically rich and poor areas of the city and ecological deficits of communities. Do this on a regular basis. What difference has the rewilding project made?
Using the ACToolkit
We envision that the toolkit will be beneficial for teachers, headteachers, leadership teams, early years settings, universities, other education professionals, Local Authorities, and professional learning.
The toolkit addresses two areas of change:
Although the five steps are presented as distinct stages of change activity, it is important to keep in mind that change is an iterative process that may involve several cycles as well as moving back and forth between the different stages, and raising questions along the way. For example, actors may use evaluation (step 5) to hone the desired outcomes (step 2) without changing the desired purpose (step 1). The enactment (step 4) might inform the planning (step 3) in the next or in the same cycle of the change process. By following this cycle, educators are guided through the process of planning, implementing and evaluating change in their educational establishments. Each minigame supports educators to address one or more of these steps to achieve change.
Below you can view and download the short form to sign up to use the toolkit. You can also get in touch if you wish to discuss possible research support as you complete your change project. If you have used the toolkit, we encourage you to share how you have used ACToolkit. We always want to hear how people have made use of the toolkit and hope that exchanging examples will inspire other schools interested in similar areas of change. We can also facilitate exchange of resources and experiences between schools internationally within the thematic communities of practice, see the Case Studies page here with the four main themes and contact points.
Please contact us to register your interest in the toolkit, submit a form, or ask us any questions.
We may be able to offer you research support as you complete your change project. This may be depend on the support you request and the topic of the project you are working on. The support could involve finding a suitable measure for the data you wish to collect (such as a questionnaire), help you analyse or interpret data, or help you find a way to evaluate the change. In return for receiving support, you would share information about your project with us for example, how you planned, carried out, and evaluated your project. We would then anonymise the information and share it on our website. You can let us know what you would like support with when you return your form to us.
Please check the Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity (CREID, University of Edinburgh, https://www.ed.ac.uk/education/rke/our-research/social-justice-inclusion/creid) to get an idea of the research support we might be able to offer. CREID undertakes research exploring issues of inclusion and diversity in relation to children, young people and adults in education and related areas of policy and practice (including health, social welfare, training and employment) and in Covid-related research in education,, migrant integration, and sustainability. The website contains a lot of information about different research projects, relevant events, publications, and other resources.
Tell us how you will use the toolkit
Please use this short form to tell us about your planned change project.
Provide an example of how you used the toolkit
If you used the toolkit we would love to hear about your experience. Please use this short form to share what you did. Your feedback will help to inspire others interested in similar projects and allow people to learn from each other.