Rogers' Diffusion of Innovation and How it Can Apply to Change in Schools

I recently attended a day-long workshop with Zaretta Hammond (Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain), from which there will also be a forthcoming podcast a week from now. In this workshop, she brought up Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation Theory.  I had heard of this before with the roll out of products in the business world, specifically technology, but to hear it applied to education reform and practice really helped me to understand a little more about how the process of changing educational practice functions.

First of all, there are five categories of people in Rogers' model.  See the diagram.



So, as Hammond introduced this into our conversation, she used Rogers' breakdown to show how a school leader interested in innovating practice should direct their efforts.  She was using this as a visual to conceptualize the way that we as leaders in our district could effect the adoption of Culturally Responsive Teaching.  However, as I thought of her explanation, I began to realize that this also applied to some models of instructional coaching.

If you've listened to the podcast you're probably aware that the coaching model I work under is strength-based as well as one that operates by teacher request.  In this model, it means that I am not directed to go seek out specific teachers and tell them what they have to do.  Instead, I walk the beat, check in with teachers, strike up conversations, and offer my support.  So, with this approach, the Rogers theory is one that I can test the waters and see who might fall into the category of Innovator or Early Adopter.  There's almost a sort of sales pitch involved with how we have to approach our model, which means that we have the luxury of target marketing.

I'm trying to equate these to the categories of adopters of innovation from the diagram, as per Hammond's presentation; unfortunately, I didn't have time to jot down her designations, so I'll do my best to make decent substitutions.

  1. Innovators-- "Hey, I heard/have an idea... I'm going to go with it!"
  2. Early Adopters-- "I heard you were trying something new, sounds interesting... I'm in!"
  3. Early Majority-- "People seem to be having luck with this approach, I guess I'll try it."
  4. Late Majority-- "Everyone's going to have to do it this way anyhow, so I better start."
  5. Laggards-- "If I don't do this thing, it's going to work against me.  Can't avoid it now."

I do recall Hammond calling the first group, the innovators, the "sparks."  It has a nice ring to it.  But the thing is, and I'm coming to a close soon, is that she told us that the first two categories were the ones to target when it came to introducing change.  Get the ones who are already on board and let the innovation grow.  A one-and-done PD session on something is not going to transform a faculty.  At best, it might open the eyes of a staff member to the possibilities of whatever practice it is.  This doesn't automatically make that person a "spark."  Sparks are vulnerable, delicate things.  They can go out.  That's why there needs to be a deliberate structure of support to help foster the development of those who want to innovate.  By trying to get a laggard to adopt a new practice, you're wasting effort.  If you embrace intentionality and purpose, laggards will end up following the crowd anyway.

*** Read Part 2 here: ***