Quick summary of literature on the Teacher-Centered Systemic Reform

As preparation for our next meeting in iEarth & bioCEED’s course on “Leading Educational Change”, I am reading up on “Teacher-Centered Systemic Reform” (TCSR).

The motivation to develop TCSR as a new model to plan and ealuate change arose of observations of “the school reform paradox: change without difference”, i.e. a century worth of school reforms that did not fundamentally change what happens in schools in the US. Previous attempts to understand why change did not happen were insufficient since they only focussed on individual facets. Woodbury & Gess-Newsome (2002) thus proposed the TCSR model, which they describe as a “multifaceted yet focused and dynamic model of educational reform”.

The TCSR model considers of three factors: the general context, contextual factors of structure and culture in the system a teacher is working in, and the teachers’ personal context.

Contextual factors of structure and culture are for example the local context (e.g. what are the governing policies around education, standards, curricula, assessment; how are teachers educated and evaluated; what teaching materials are being used; what are the student demographics; what are cultural norms), the school context (e.g. type & size of school, physical settings, budget, schedules, technology, …), the department & subject area context (e.g. teachers’ teaching loads, budget choices), and the classroom context (e.g. student demographics, class size, time of day, materials & technology, …).

Personal contextual factors are for example demographic things like gender and age, how prepared a teacher is, how much teaching experience they have, and their ongoing efforts to learn about teaching and learning generally and as applied to their subject.

Those factors all interact with and influence the teachers’ thinking when it comes to their knowledge and beliefs regarding teaching and learning, choice of content, etc., thus influencing their practice.

The TCSR model can be used to develop or evaluate reforms. For example, when a new technology is supposed to be introduced in teaching practice, it is helpful to consider that it is most likely to happen if it is congruent with the teachers’ beliefs and knowledge, but also that it needs to be available at their school and supported by culture at the school and in the wider context. In evaluation, the TCSR model provides different factors whose influence can be investigated.

The TCSR model has been applied in different ways, for example:

Birt et al. (2019) use TCSR to understand why new college instructors react to reform attempts the way they do — or don’t: The local teaching environment inhibited some reform attempts to the point that instructors felt their hands were tied, and using the TCSR model helped identify barriers. Birt et al. then identified agency as a new factor to be included in the TCSR model, that can help instructors overcome hindering influences of the context they are working in. They state that “empowering new instructors to enact teaching practices that go against the grain and support student learning, rather than maintain the status quo, is paramount.

Ferrare (2019) uses TCSR to support the assumption that classroom practice is determined by teachers’ beliefs and the context they are in, which is then confirmed by their own study on >70 teachers and >140 hours of classroom observation. They focus on the connection between teacher beliefs and observable practice, and find that educational reforms need to address beliefs in order to change practices.

While I appreciate the different lenses on what makes teachers change their instruction and the checklist of factors to keep in mind as potentially important, I’m not sold on the TCSR model as useful for my purposes as no mechanisms are considered or suggested.

Birt, J. A., Khajeloo, M., Rega‐Brodsky, C. C., Siegel, M. A., Hancock, T. S., Cummings, K., & Nguyen, P. D. (2019). Fostering agency to overcome barriers in college science teaching: Going against the grain to enact reform‐based ideas. Science Education, 103(4), 770-798.

Ferrare, J. J. (2019). A multi-institutional analysis of instructional beliefs and practices in gateway courses to the sciences. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 18(2), ar26.

Woodbury, S., & Gess-Newsome, J. (2002). Overcoming the Paradox of Change without Difference: A Model of Change in the Arena of Fundamental School Reform. Educational Policy, 16(5), 763–782.doi:10.1177/089590402237312

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