Diffusion of Innovation: Fanning the Flames

As I’ve grown this blog (and my podcast) I’ve been able to track my RSS feed, and as such have been able to discover what the most popular entries have been.  One, which has been a constant on my monthly lists is the blog post on "Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation, and How It Can Apply to Change in Schools."  This post is a follow-up.  I've included the basic diagram, and if you haven’t read the initial post, the link below will take you there.



The overall simplicity of Rogers’ model helps to conceptualize how one can allocate their efforts in growing new, innovative practices for a faculty.  This can come in the form small group practices to district-wide.  However, even when considering the Rogers’ model, healthy change is slow.  To reach back to the metaphor of the sparks, those innovators who have the fire to charge ahead on their own to inspire others, we must create the necessary conditions for that spark to take hold and blossom into a bright light.

This year, one of my schools is implementing a school-wide Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) program.  This didn’t just get decided over the summer as “a thing to do.”  No, the previous two years were spent building up a small network of sparks.  The first year, there were about three or four teachers who were inspired by the work, and dove deep into it.  The second year, those teachers offered trainings in the morning and afternoon to spread out their availability for the early adopters.  Now, as we get into year three, we have assembled faculty groups in which the sparks and early adopters are evenly distributed.  To assist in facilitation, our school’s instructional coaching team is embedded in the teams as well.  As you can see there is an intentional support structure at play—the necessary conditions.

Even in year three, we are not expecting to have full implementation.  Instead, it is more likely that we will nudge our way into the early majority phase, and if we’re really lucky then perhaps we’ll touch the late majority phase.  What it comes down to is how deep the CRT work ingrains itself in the practice of the faculty.  We have already had several teachers who are inspired to the point they want to take the formal certification process—a pleasant surprise for the team leader, who had anticipated some requests later in the year.  In all, even though we are still in the honeymoon phase of the first weeks of school, this work is feeling positive.

What such deliberate cultivation has done, is create a support system for this work, which is completely new to many of the faculty members.  Now the innovators, the sparks, have people they can lean on, and who can provide thoughtful and encouraging feedback to the sparks as well as to those new to the program.  Like I said, things are feeling good right now.

Lastly, I do want to hearken back to the first post on this, and make it clear that the ultimate goal is to reach the laggards.  You want full implementation of any plan.  I worry sometimes that perhaps my brief post from last year may be misinterpreted, especially the more it gets shared around.  The thing that should be kept in mind is that all of the faculty should be treated fairly throughout the slow process of transformation.  The laggards, those folks who may have seen it all before and view whatever change is coming as a phase that will pass, they have had successes, and are in education for what I can only assume are positive reasons.  Even if they are not on board at the beginning, one must remember, they will be by the end.  So, with that in mind, one may allocate resources so that the sparks will grow, but should not do so in a way that excludes others.

In closing, if one were to take the metaphor of the spark to its logical end, perhaps it would go something like this:  As we prepare to build a fire, a really good fire that will warm our community and provide light and social connection, we must arrange our materials intentionally, and those big pieces of wood, the ones that burn the longest and keep the best coals, those are kept to the side, not because they are not necessary, but because creating the perfect conditions to get them to ignite is our ultimate goal.