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Expediting and Sustaining Change
Diffusing Innovation in Dynamic Educational Settings By Jeff Dungan and Jessica Hale 02-May-18
Change is critical in most organizations. International schools attempting to redefine 21st-century education for their students are constantly innovating pedagogies and school structures. International schools tend to be dynamic, fast paced, nimble learning environments constantly innovating to meet the demands of evolving student populations. Hayden, Rancic, and Thompson (2000) found common characteristics of international schools included open-mindedness, flexibility of thinking, and action with the pragmatic skills of students. International schools in the East Asia region are well-resourced and often looking for ways to differentiate themselves in the highly competitive global educational marketplace. The International School Consultancy (2016) reported international schools in Asia are growing faster than any other market in the world claiming 54 percent of international schools worldwide. All too often, though, international schools wanting to remain relevant adopt innovations only to see them lose momentum and evanesce. Indeed, sustaining changes and making them remain in light of staff or school leadership turnover in many ways is the holy grail of institutionalizing educational innovations in international schools. However, ask someone what the word innovation in the context of international education means to them and you are likely to get many different answers. Indeed, defining the term innovation can be somewhat nebulous. Everett Rogers (2003), the preeminent scholar on diffusion of innovations, defined an innovation as “an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption” (p. 12). The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2014), a seasoned research institution of innovation and education, defined educational innovation as the “introduction of new products and services, processes for delivering services, ways of organizing activities, and new marketing techniques to improve the provision of education based on the social and educational objectives as measured by stakeholders” (p. 25). Diffusing innovations is largely a social construct. The viability of diffusing and sustaining change depends on the support of school leaders, leveraging targeted staff members who are perceived as change agents and opinion leaders within the school, and vetting innovations based on characteristic criteria to increase diffusion rates and expedite the diffusion of an innovation. Recently, two studies were conducted in the Asia region as part of two different doctoral dissertations. Dungan (2017) studied EARCOS school leaders’ use of formalized planning including diffusion of innovation theory and opinion leadership when diffusing innovations within their schools. Dungan’s main focus was how these aspects of innovation diffusion influenced their decision to adopt distance education into their delivery of instruction. Hale (2017) examined international schools in the Asia region to determine identifiable characteristics of innovation in a school. Hale sought to find both perceived characteristics of innovation and global leaders’ observed characteristics of innovation. Conclusions from Hale’s study established specific practices of innovative schools and a support model for leaders desiring to create an innovative environment. Although these studies differed in objectives, sampling, and methodology, similarities did emerge regarding the role of leadership, opinion leadership, and the characteristics of innovations that led to school-wide adoptions. The authors believed that by isolating some of these similarities in their studies, international schools may benefit in being able to vet innovations and diffuse them more rapidly within their schools. Additionally, schools and school leaders that are open to the notion that an innovation can be modified and remixed as an entirely new innovation, known as positive deviance (Pascale, Sternin, and Sternin, 2010), are more likely to see innovations remain even in light of staff and leadership turnover. School leadership’s role in diffusing innovations Hale’s (2017) study found a leader’s role in innovation in a school included characteristics of support, collaboration, communication, and being connected or networked. Innovative school leaders were perceived as those who fostered an openness to risk-taking and built a culture where staff experienced a freedom to fail. Participants unanimously claimed support from leadership as the most important characteristic to ensure an innovative environment in a school. More specifically, leaders who provided support through vision, establishing relationships, and the use of existing resources were found to foster empowered communities capable of generating novel ideas and implementing innovations. Leadership’s role was not to introduce the innovations themselves but, instead, to provide support to organizational stakeholders tasked with implementation of an innovation (Hale 2017). Furthermore, participants in Dungan’s (2017) study noted that organizational positioning was an important factor for individuals to be perceived as critical to successful implementation of an innovation. Individuals in administrative positions were perceived as better positioned than teachers, specialists, or instructional coaches due to a wider sphere of influence and having more time to dedicate to diffusing and institutionalizing innovations at the organizational level. School administrators were also noted to have greater access to financial resources to facilitate training and professional development groups that were impacted by an innovation. Similarly, Hale’s (2017) study noted individuals in mid-level administrative roles are better positioned to identify areas for innovations and gauging community support. Thus, these individuals play an integral role in supporting school leaders’ initiatives by leveraging their social networks in order to rally support for implementing change. Dungan (2017) found that school leaders articulated pressures from various school stakeholders to maintain the status quo. Fear of being perceived as a disruptive innovator by their leadership peers and school, stakeholders diminished their desire to make disruptive pedagogical innovations, even when they saw value in doing so. Interestingly, the notion of school leaders who were perceived as highly innovative by other international school leaders was shown to be a function of their cosmopoliteness (degree of networking and connectedness to other school leaders), the degree to which their networks were heterophilic (made up of ideas and opinions from different sources and fields), their perceived competence, and the schools they led (Dungan 2017; Rogers 2003). >Change leaders & opinion leadership Change leaders and opinion leaders carry different roles in diffusing innovations in an organization. Fullan (2011) identified change leaders as those who are driven towards practice instead of theory, exercising the characteristics of resolve, motivation, collaboration, confidence, impact, and simplexity. Rogers (2003) noted that opinion leaders serve as direct conduits for innovations to enter organizations, help change organizational norms, and accelerate changes in behaviors or systems within organizations. Differentiating these two roles can have a powerful impact on identifying individuals within an organization to effectively identify and implement organizational changes. Change Leaders Fullan (2011) described a change leader as “having the capacity to generate energy and passion in others through action.” Foundational to leading change, Fullan advocated practice driven theory. In other words, engaging in theory as a way to move forward instead of as a constraint. Change leaders learn through experience and utilize theory to support and inform behavior. Similarly, Pascale et al.’s (2010) concept of “Positive Deviance” claims an individual’s ability to react effectively to difficult situations is rooted in learning from experiences rather than theory. Learning through practice and real-world experiences tends to be abstract and ultimately creates an adaptive (and effective) decision-making process that can be utilized in complex situations. Exercising resolve through purpose and practicing empathy requires time to build meaningful relationships. Change leaders are coalition builders that develop relationships through trust and consistency. Participants in Hale’s (2017) study identified the need for leadership to draw on people’s expertise and make them feel valued. Javidan and Walker (2012) described social capital of global leaders as the capacity to build trusting relationships. Similarly, Fullan (2011) claimed the most effective change leaders are able to intrinsically motivate individuals to do more while fostering environments that allow for individuals to positively influence their peer group. For example, Anderson-Butcher et al. (2010) identified innovative factors for school improvement. These included identifying change leaders who could make recommendations and ultimately influence the entire community while building organizational capacity through professional learning structures. Breaking autonomy in schools and working across learning environments will create a bottoms-up approach for learning. Similarly, Dungan’s (2017) study described change leaders as capable of building coalitions and getting “others on board.” Participants noted change agents in their network or their schools had earned the trust of and established a rapport with their peers or other stakeholder groups. Fullan supported this notion finding that a collaborative culture is built through focus, coalitions, and capacity building. In fact, the OECD (2013) identified collaboration through networking and knowledge sharing as one of the most important sources or “pumps” of innovation. Dungan (2017) and Hale’s (2017) studies both found networked/connectedness as a characteristic of change/innovative leaders. Moreover, both studies advocated the use of social media as a space for leaders to connect and collaborate. Dungan’s study found that change leaders were described as “technologically savvy” and leveraged technology for their own learning and to find and explore potential innovations. Additional characteristics that were consistently recognized in change leaders within schools were high levels of proficiency in their current roles, a growth mindset, risk taking, and a confidence in how their role influences the organization. Thus, change leaders are confident through humility because they are ultimately learners. Christensen, Allworth, and Dillon (2012) labeled this the “school of experience,” a place where one develops skills through real-world situations. Therefore, the attributes of change leaders are rooted in using their own practice as a testing ground for learning through reflection and applying research relevantly and contextually. Earl and Fullan (2003) expressed the importance of utilizing data to demonstrate successful diffusion and institutionalization of innovations in order to promote efficient decision making. It is through analyzing data change leaders are able to both see their impact and identify areas for improvement. Opinion Leadership Opinion leaders are instrumental in diffusing innovations within organizations. Opinion leaders accelerate organizational shifts by removing barriers that might otherwise impede the progress of diffusing an innovations change (Valente and Davis, 1999). Rogers (2003) observed that opinion leaders were critical in organically diffusing innovations within organizations and were more successful in doing so than mandates for change offered by superiors. Dungan’s (2017) study observed and supported Rogers’ findings; nearly all of the EARCOS school leaders included in his study consistently referenced three qualities that functioned in opinion leadership: (a) the opinion leaders’ values and traits, (b) the individual opinion leaders’ perceived competence or expertise, and (c) the opinion leaders’ social position and network within an organization. In contrast to change leaders, opinion leaders are not always the earliest adopters of innovations. The paradox of opinion leaders’ position within organizations means that although they may still adopt an innovation before the late majority does, they do not become the earliest proponents of an innovation because it could jeopardize their standing as an opinion leader. Participants in Dungan’s (2017) study noted that opinion leaders, more than change leaders, possessed significant organizational knowledge. Opinion leaders were able to see innovations through a lens of “existing school structures” and had the ability to examine innovations as being “complementary or congruent to the school’s mission and vision.” In this way, participants noted opinion leaders tended to be more pragmatic than individuals they recognized as change leaders. Tenure was also noted as an indicator of an individual’s standing as an opinion leader within the school. Participants noted it was difficult to possess significant organizational knowledge if a teacher’s tenure at a school was brief (pp. 114-115). Opinion leaders when compared to change agents have greater influence over peer groups and will more often monitor organizational feelings toward an innovation. Opinion leaders exert their influence once the relative advantage and observability of an innovation are clear (Rogers 2003; Valente and Pumpuang, 2007). In this way, opinion leaders tended to be perceived as more pragmatic than individuals perceived as change leaders by EARCOS school leaders (Dungan, 2017). Opinion leaders’ greatest role within any organization is that of influencing others. Valente and Pumpuang (2007) found that opinion leaders influence their communities in at least four different modalities: (a) persuading others, (b) establishing or reinforcing organizational norms or best practices, (c) leveraging existing organizational resources in aiding in the diffusion of an innovation, and (d) raising awareness of an innovation. More recently, scholars have begun to focus on social media’s effect on opinion leadership identification and emergence. The availability of knowledge and need for advice and opinions has reinforced the need and importance of opinion leadership in mediatized environments (Van der Merwe and Van Heerden, 2009). Numerous studies found opinion leaders, more than ever before, better positioned to offer advice, information, and opinion through social networks like Twitter, blogs, and other forms of multimodal communication (Erdal 2011; Kavanaugh et al. 2006; Kavanaugh et al. 2007; Said-Hung and Arcila-Calderón 2011). Schäfer and Taddicken (2015) argued that opinion leadership is as important and prevalent as ever and that opinion leadership is still prevalent in social media environments. Schäfer and Taddicken noted that opinion leaders today have the ability to enact leadership “in novel, mediatized, and potentially more powerful ways” (p. 973). The ever-increasing availability of media and interconnectedness of people via social media networks provides more opportunities and need for advice and orientation. Dungan (2017) noted similar findings. EARCOS school leaders consistently identified opinion leaders as being more connected and networked than individuals whom they did not consider EARCOS school leader opinion leaders. Network school leaders cited included social media networks, namely Twitter and individuals who presented at regional educational conferences.
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