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Evaluating teacher well-being with the Concerns-Based Adoption Model

By September 27, 2021 September 29th, 2021 No Comments

“How are you?” is a tried-and-true conversation starter, but in our work collaborating with superintendents across Kansas recently, we picked up on a desire to develop a fuller picture of teacher well-being, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only are educators adapting to changes in teaching strategies, but they are also facing other stressors, such as caring for their own families, that can lead to burnout and leaving the profession. Fortunately, we had a framework we could share to help leaders understand and support their staff through this challenging time: the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM) is a way to assess how teachers are coping with change and promote well-being by building strong relationships, a leadership skill that will always be in demand.

CBAM includes three tools:

Stages of Concern to support understanding a range of emotions that individuals are experiencing regarding a specific change.

Levels of Use to understand how teachers are implementing (or using) a curriculum, program, or routine.

Innovation Configurations to map the spectrum of behaviors and expectations within a change initiative.

Developed, refined, and validated by researchers at the University of Texas more than 50 years ago, the CBAM components provide education leaders with practical tools to improve implementation of new programs through a focus on supporting teachers.

CBAM has been used to inform the execution of strategic school plans, evaluate the process of implementing evidence-based programs, support teacher professional development, and develop equitable mental health and wellness supports in schools. The following are descriptions of the three CBAM tools as well as some tips for superintendents and principals on how to apply these strategies.

Navigate the Stages of Concern to Evaluate How Teachers Feel About Change

It’s natural for people to have varying feelings and responses to any type of change. Teachers are often faced with new curriculum and other modifications to school programs and routines. When confronted with such change, teachers may express a range of worries that span the seven Stages of Concern: Unrelated/Unconcerned, Informational, Personal, Management, Consequence, Collaboration, and Refocusing. We’ve described these below, but keep in mind that these concerns and the process of change are not always experienced by individuals in a linear progression.

IMPACT 6 Refocusing Concerns about the broad benefits of the innovation, and interest in the exploration of major changes or alternatives to increase student effects are most prominent.
5 Collaboration Coordination and cooperation with others regarding use of the innovation is the focus.
4 Consequence Attention focuses on how the innovation is affecting students (or the client/recipient of services).
TASK 3 Management Concern about efficiency, organizing, managing, scheduling, and time demands are predominant.
SELF 2 Personal Concern or uncertainty about one’s own ability to meet the demands of the innovation is expressed.
1 Informational Awareness of the innovation and interest in learning more about it is communicated. Little to no worry about oneself relative to the innovation is communicated.
UNRELATED 0 Unrelated/Unconcerned Little to no concern about the innovation is expressed. Concerns may focus on something else or be absent altogether.

Say your school had to rapidly shift to a specific online learning platform. Maybe some of your teachers were familiar with this platform (Unrelated/Unconcerned) and, likely, teachers new to this online platform had interest in learning more (Informational). As more information about the new learning platform was provided, teachers became more concerned about their technical skills or lack thereof (Personal), or may have worried about time needed to integrate planned lessons into the new system (Management).

As teachers began to feel more efficient and organized, many wondered how the new platform might affect their relationships with students (Consequence). Once teachers have engaged with the new platform, many will desire to share ideas about its use with other teachers and learn about their experiences (Collaboration). Perhaps some of your educators then wanted to tinker with other platforms to see if the student learning experience could be more engaging (Refocusing).

There are several methods leaders can utilize to evaluate these concerns. Education leaders may find value in conducting one-on-one interviews with teachers to understand where teachers are on the continuum and potentially determine how to address concerns in that moment. Using open-ended writing prompts during staff meetings is also an effective method to gather concerns from a larger group of teachers. Finally, for large-scale change initiatives, an instrument called the Stages of Concern Questionnaire allows for data collection among a large group to determine the extent to which teachers are experiencing certain concerns. Once leaders have a clearer picture of teachers’ concerns, they can provide appropriate and differentiated supports based on the needs their teachers express.

Map Where Teachers Are in the Change Process With Innovation Configurations

Innovation Configuration (IC) maps provide a clear and specific portrayal of what implementing a new program or practice looks like when it meets both teacher and student needs well, and when it does not. IC maps describe pathways that a teacher may navigate to get to the ideal state of program or practice implementation. Along with professional learning and coaching support, teachers can use IC maps as a tool to help them adjust to the unique and evolving circumstances of educating children during a pandemic, which is key to not only student learning but also to the well-being of teachers.

IC maps place each component of a new intervention on a continuum to delineate the different actions and behaviors of key persons involved. The continuum, as we show below, is intended to convey ideal implementation as well as acceptable and less desirable variations.

 Innovation or Program
(a) (b) (c) (d)
Ideal implementation Acceptable implementation version 1 Acceptable implementation version 2 Less desirable implementation

The process of developing the IC map is collaborative, with school leaders gathering input from staff at regular intervals to identify implementation variations and clarify expectations. With IC maps, leaders have a tool they can use to inform the actions they may take to support the work their teachers are doing to reinforce continuous school improvement programs and processes.

Apply the Levels of Use to Evaluate How Teachers Are Adapting to Change

The COVID-19 pandemic required many of our teachers to be instant experts in multiple teaching modalities. Acquiring a new skill can be overwhelming. Before judging the efficacy of a new innovation, education leaders should look at actual changes in practice—the degree to which staff are using the program, practice, or routine.

Levels of Use of an Innovation
Users Renewal Exploring the benefits of the innovation and interest in making major adaptations or shifting to a new innovation to increase student effects are most prominent.
Integration Collaboration with others regarding the innovation is predominant. The focus of collaboration is on improving benefits and outcomes for students.
Refinement Desire to strengthen the use of the innovation to improve benefits and outcomes for students is the focus.
Routine Comfort with conventional, day-to-day use of the new skill is expressed. Few, if any, changes in use are considered.
Mechanical Use Attention focuses on efficiency, organizing, managing, scheduling, and time demands. Changes in use are made to improve the teacher’s experience.
Nonusers Preparation Attention focuses on getting ready to use the innovation for the first time.
Orientation Awareness of and interest in acquiring information about the innovation is communicated.
Nonuse No use of a new innovation is desired. Interests may be focused elsewhere or absent altogether.

When talking with teachers, leaders can reference or provide the Levels of Use Manual as a self-reflection tool for assessing how their staff are familiarizing themselves with and adapting to change.

Whether CBAM tools are used individually or as a set, supporting teachers through times of change has positive effects on student learning. Using CBAM tools to listen to and respond to needs during a pandemic or at any time not only improves implementation but also builds strong relationships that foster staff and student well-being.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought rapid change for educators amidst an environment fraught with health and political uncertainties. Education leaders rightfully recognized that providing quality learning experiences for students meant greater focus on addressing the well-being of teachers. While the CBAM tools are especially relevant during this era of unparalleled educational change, this process for understanding how to address teachers’ concerns for successful student learning innovations is timeless in its ability to build strong relationships that support well-being.

Dr. Katie Allen, a managing consultant at McREL International, is the Deputy Director of the Region 12 Comprehensive Center. She assists in the coordination of the Center’s work in Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri and supports technical assistance on key education opportunities to state education agencies.

Dr. Tameka Porter, a managing consultant at McREL International, is the Kansas State Co-Lead for the Region 12 Comprehensive Center. She directs and supports projects focused on establishing evidence-based practices and policies for measuring continuous school improvement and using data-driven approaches to improve student achievement outcomes.

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McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.