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Implementing Change: Supporting Teachers with the Concerns-based Adoption Model

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    Christina Lesh



We often hear that with any innovative idea, there are adopters and resisters. There are those who willingly explore change - even relish it - and those who are reticent to embrace it. In education, the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (C-BAM) provides a framework which reveals that resistance is often the result of concerns left unanswered. C-BAM provides an approach for reading and responding to concerns so that resisters can confidently embrace the new idea. Here, I share a story of a leadership failure that I might have avoided, had I known about C-BAM.

In Spring 2011, as I wrapped up my third year as a K-8 principal at an urban charter school in Buffalo, NY, I was steeped in Common Core State Standards that were going to be implemented statewide the following school year. I thought about how to best support my teachers through the transition to these new standards and wondered what the best curriculum resources were for our students.  

During that school year, I had observed math lessons and noticed that the current math curriculum was not being fully used. In conversations, teachers expressed that they didn’t like the math resource. Our classroom and state test scores confirmed that we weren’t achieving strong results by using it.  Being on the brink of adopting the Common Core standards, I saw that we had a chance for a fresh start.  

I conferred with a small group of classroom teachers and middle school math teachers.  We ultimately decided not to purchase a new math curriculum. We would spend our precious few resources on professional learning and coaching for the entire 2011-12 school year. I developed a clear plan, month by month, outlining the professional learning that teachers would receive. During the summer, a small group of teachers worked closely with a math curriculum expert to construct a scope and sequence for each grade level. We conceived of a roll-out to ensure that teachers knew how to read the documents, when the professional learning would fall in calendars and how to collaborate with colleagues during common planning time. I was convinced that I had set the stage for teachers to feel engaged and supported through the transition to the Common Core standards.     

And like so many things, just when you’re convinced you’re right, something happens to reveal otherwise! I heard teachers asking, “But why are we shifting to these standards?” instead of embracing them. The teachers did their best to implement the scope and sequence, but I continued to hear their confusion. One day in late fall, one of my most motivated, skillful teachers confided in me: “Christina, we just don’t understand why you took the textbooks away.” Wow. Leadership fail.  

Once I was introduced to a framework called the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (C-BAM), I was able to put my finger on all the mistakes I had made in our shift to the Common Core standards. I had done tons of learning myself. I felt urgency to shift and so I poured myself into how to support teachers through that shift. But I never created space or time for teachers to do their own learning about the new standards or the instructional shifts. I never engaged them in a conversation about what support they needed as they introduced these new standards to students.

Principals do need to be the lead learners of innovations. They also must ensure their teachers have opportunities to do their own learning and processing of new ideas before setting expectations for any new shift in practice. We invite you to join us for our upcoming free interactive webinar, The Language of Concerns: Supporting Teachers through the Common Core Transition. We will explore how to read and respond to teachers’ concerns in a way that most effectively overcomes resistance to change. Join us to hear about the critical moves that leaders can make to engage, support and hold teachers accountable during times of change. Participants will examine the stages of the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (C-BAM) and consider the implications for their own staff.

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1. Valencia, S. W., & Killion, J. P. (1988). Overcoming obstacles to teacher change: Direction from school-based efforts. Journal of Staff Development, 9(2), 2-8.
2. Holloway, K. (2003) A Measure of Concern: Research-based Program Aids Innovation by Addressing Teacher Concerns. National Staff Development Council,  February/March (2003),
1-7.
3.  Fullen, M. (2002) The Change Leader. Educational Leadership, 59 (8), 16-21.