Title: 'It takes two to tango': Structuring actors and acting structures in the implementation of educational innovations
Authors: März, Virginie
Issue Date: 9-May-2014
Abstract: Research has amply documented that the implementation of educational innovations takes very diverse and often not sustainable forms in practice. In order to understand the diversity in implementation practices, this dissertation starts from two dualities that have figured vividly in the innovation literature: change versus stability and agency versus structure.Firstly, the diversity in implementation practices reflects an inherent tension between change and stability in school organizations. Despite the fact that constant change is the norm today, schools are at the same time required to perform as relative stable and reliable entities. We therefore conceptualize the relationship between change and stability as interdependent and complementary. Secondly, we focus on the duality in research approaches emphasizing the ability of individual actors to make a difference in the flow of events (agency) versus those approaches highlighting structural and cultural constraints on action in understanding (the variation in) implementation practices (structure). Rather than treating these as opposing ideas - requiring us to privilege one over the other - this dissertation explicitly aims at developing and empirically grounding a theoretical approach that acknowledges and integrates the interplay of social actors and the structural reality in which they operate. We therefore draw on concepts from two complementary theoretical traditions: neo-institutional theory and sense-making theory. Whereas sense-making theory privileges the role of social actors and their individual and collective sense-making, neo-institutional theory emphasizes the role of more formal structural aspects and institutional rules in understanding organizational behavior. The main research interest in this dissertation can be formulated as follows: How can we understand implementation practices from the interplay between meaning-making actors (making sense of structure) and structural factors (structuring the sense-making)?In response to this research interest, we designed and conducted three qualitative-interpretative studies, each starting from a particular implementation practice.In the first study, we applied a sense-making approach to study the implementation of a new mathematics curriculum in secondary schools. More particularly, we analyzed how teachers’ sense-making of the new curriculum was mediated by their personal beliefs about the content, their normative ideas about good teaching, and the structural reality in which they were working. As such, the analysis highlighted how teachers’ interpretation and implementation of the reform strongly depended on the congruence between the normative ideas in their personal interpretative framework and in the rationale underpinning the reform. Based on the first study it also became clear that it is not enough to take into account only the role of human actors and their sense-making in understanding implementation processes.In a second study, we therefore addressedand unravelled the important role ofmore structural factors in implementation processes by focusing on the role of an artifact as an (institutional) actor in school organizations: the Educational Care and Support-file (ECS-file). The data analysis revealed how the artifact (and its materiality) had a constitutive role in the actual implementation process. The ECS-file not only transferred care-related data, but also changed the discursive interactions in the school team around pupil/student care. Moreover, we determined how the ECS-file acquired its authority from the institutional pressure mechanisms in the schools’ organizational field.In the third study, we re-introduced the actor in our analysis. We focused on the impact of the introduction and subsequent withdrawal of mentoring-hours on the actual mentoring practices in one school. This case study identified how the mentoring-hours not only introduced additional resources for mentoring, but also installed a new institutional logic with regard to mentoring in the school. Moreover, it demonstrated how organizations are not only the instantiation of institutional logics, but are also places where people and groups make sense of and creatively use logics. The fact that the mentors internalized the new logic because it lent legitimacy to their position as a mentor illustrated how the institutionalization of mentoring operated in part through the actions of local actors in the organization. This micro-organizational analysis provided insight into the nuances of how messages from the environment entered into schools and how such messages were (re)interpreted, filtered, and strengthened through local actors’ social interactions.The reports of the three studies are preceded by an introductory chapter, and followed by a final chapter in which we provide a conclusive overview of the results of these studies, together with a general discussion, directions for future research, and implications for the educational practice.
Table of Contents: INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER 1 - Problem statement
1. Change and stability, agency and structure: toward a reframing
1.1. The only constant is change
1.2. Stability or the need to look beyond change
1.3. Duality: reframing the challenge for implementation research
2. Conceptual framework
2.1. Neo-institutional theory
2.1.1. (Non-)rationality and legitimacy
2.1.2. Institutions
2.1.3. Institutional pressure
2.1.4. Attention for agency and micro-cognitive processes: a blind spot?
2.2. Sense-making theory
2.2.1. Implementation practices as complex and meaningful (inter)actions
2.2.2. Personal interpretative framework
2.2.3. Dominance of local actors: underestimating the role of the broader institutional context?
2.3. Toward an integrated and multi-layered lens
3. Research design: three empirical studies
3.1. Study 1
3.2. Study 2
3.3. Study 3

CHAPTER 2 - Sense-making and structure in teachers’ reception of educational reform: A case study on statistics in the mathematics curriculum
1. Introduction
2. Reform of the statistics curriculum: rationale, goals, and objectives
3. Conceptual framework
3.1. Individual and collective sense-making
3.2. Micropolitics
4. Research questions and methodology
4.1. Participants
4.2. Data collection
4.3. Data analysis
4.4. Methodological reflections
5. Results
5.1. Supporters and opponents of the curriculum innovation
5.2. Emotions and micropolitical action
5.3. Sense-making and structure
6. Conclusion and discussion

CHAPTER 3 - Artifacts as actors in educational innovation: Using data to facilitate the transition from primary to secondary school
1. The ECS-file
2. Educational innovation: implementation of an artifact
3. Conceptual framework: artifacts and routines
3.1. Artifacts in education: from analyzing functionality to understanding materiality
3.2. Organizational routines
3.2.1. Internal structure of organizational routines
3.2.2. Artifacts in organizational routines
3.3. Research questions
4. Methodology
5. Results
5.1. The materiality of the ECS-file
5.2. Inventory of organizational routines
5.3. ECS-file and the performative and ostensive aspects of the filling out-routine
5.3.1. The performative aspect of a routine: networking and (re)positioning
5.3.2. The ostensive aspects of a routine: a broad vision on care
5.4. Conclusion
6. Discussion

CHAPTER 4 - The authority of artifacts in educational innovation: The case of the ECS-file in Flanders (Belgium
1. Introduction
2. The ECS-file
3. Conceptual framework: a neo-institutional perspective on artifacts
4. Research methodology
5. Results: the authority of the ECS-file
5.1. Implementation of the ECS-file
5.2. The ECS-file as a source of institutional pressure
5.2.1. Local Consultation Platform: internal and external coercive pressure
5.2.2. Normative pressure: (re)positioning in a network of expectations
5.2.3. Mimetic pressure: implicit pressure through external actors
6. Conclusion and discussion

CHAPTER 5 - Shifting policies, changing practices? Impact of a turbulent policy environment on local mentoring practices
1. Introduction and problem statement
2. Theoretical background
2.1. Using a neo-institutional lens: how institutions structure meaning and (inter)action
2.1.1. Searching for organizational legitimacy
2.1.2. Institutional logics
2.2. Inhabited institutionalism: re-introducing social actors
2.3. Research questions
3. Methodology
3.1. Data collection
3.2. Data analysis
4. Results
4.1. Mentorship in St. John secondary school
4.1.1. Phase 1: before the mentoring-hours
4.1.2. Phase 2: introduction of the mentoring-hours
4.1.3. Phase 3: after the budget cut
4.2. Organizational change and stability in St. John’s mentoring practices
4.2.1. Mentoring as a vocation
4.2.2. Mentoring as a profession
4.2.3. Continuity through change: mentoring as an instrument for local policy
4.3. Pursuit of legitimacy: from being a teacher (mentor) to being a local policy actor
4.3.1. Internal source of legitimacy: commitment
4.3.2. External source of legitimacy: mentoring-hours
4.3.3. Internalized source of legitimacy: active and creative use of the logic
5. Conclusion and discussion

CHAPTER 6 - General conclusion and discussion
1. Summary
1.1. About dualities and balancing between two theoretical frameworks
1.2. Empirical work
2. Legitimacy and materiality in implementation practices
2.1. From rationality to legitimacy
2.1.1. Organizational legitimacy
2.1.2. Innovation as a strategy to gain legitimacy
2.1.3. Legitimacy in social interactions within the school organization
2.2. Materiality
3. Final considerations
3.1. Limitations and future research
3.1.1. From a theoretical ambition toward an empirical in-depth study
3.1.2. From actions to interactions
3.1.3. From innovative artifacts to actors as change agents
3.2. Practical implications

Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Centre for Innovation and the Development of Teacher and School

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