Using a Systems Perspective of Value Creation to Analyze, Critique, and Extend Frameworks for Teacher Professional Development



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Decades of research indicate that professional learning initiatives targeting teachers of grades K-12 in the United States have been largely unsuccessful; they have neither changed teacher practice nor improved student learning. Those that may have been successful for some teachers under certain circumstances have not led to sustainable success that could be implemented with the same success across contexts, and therefore, the new knowledge gained could not be scaled to the system level. These data suggest that there has been a longstanding problem of a lack of knowledge about how to effect improvements consistently and to scale reform via traditional professional learning experiences. A new approach to improving education, called the Networked Improvement Model, addresses this problem by describing an organized system for professional learning that captures teachers’ practical knowledge, refines it, and transforms it into a collective knowledge base. Even more, there is increasing evidence that by harnessing the power of networks combined with the discipline of improvement science, this new approach not only is capable of systematically improving how the field of education can improve itself by increasing the quality of learning of teachers, it can also accelerate improvement of the whole profession. However, albeit the compelling new theory, there was not an explicit visual theoretical framework for the new model. Operationalizing the techniques of a variant of Best Fit Framework Synthesis referred to as meta-frameworks, this research synthesis produced an explicit framework for the new model that captured both its design components and the processes within it that create value for the first time. The purpose of this study was to better understand how the Networked Improvement Model defines a new design for professional development of teachers that has the promise to improve learning reliably over diverse contexts and populations, and more specifically, how specific design changes can be introduced in this new model to optimize value. The evidence representing the Networked Improvement Model was taken from a collection of publications that was aggregated on the principal website for the new initiative and curated by the Carnegie Foundation, the developer of the Networked Improvement Model. Of the 37 publications included in the collection, 17 met the inclusion criteria. Themes from the literature were systematically coded against definitions established for each of the constructs that comprised the a priori model, which comprised three existing frameworks on the topics of learning organization, innovation, and value creation. Results demonstrated that the Framework for the Learning Organization was a good fit for accommodating themes from the new model and providing the skeleton for an explicit visual structure for it. Themes evident in the Networked Improvement Model favored themes in the Framework for the Learning Organization, particularly in the category of Organizational Architecture and the subcategory of Theory, Methods, and Tools. Results also demonstrated that the embedded frameworks for value creation from innovation and learning afforded more granularity for understanding the intricacies within the value creation processes; however, the literature on the new model was not as robust in these areas. In fact, there were many “holes” in the available evidence on the Networked Improvement Model, especially evident by the lack of themes abstracted onto the embedded value creation frameworks. Additionally, the construct of Motivation emerged as a salient theme in the evidence on the new model, thus warranting the addition of the construct of Intrinsic Motivation to the final expanded framework. Last, results indicated that evidence from the small subset of Exemplars tended to limit focus on the Learning Organization, Results, and Innovations in Infrastructure. The final framework that resulted from this study portrays both the design components of a new form of professional learning for teachers of grades K-12 in the United States as well as a multidimensional system of value creation, that when in sync, makes it possible for practitioners to benefit from the expertise of their colleagues and for the field to benefit from successful local improvements by fostering connections that increase in scale across boundaries—from the classroom, to the organization, to the system-level. While the Networked Improvement Model is recognized as an innovation in and of itself for providing the platform and methods for accelerating learning by aggregating new knowledge and diffusing it across the whole profession, the Intrinsic Motivation of teachers to learn and improve was recognized as key to exploiting the power of this innovation. Conclusions were organized according to the two goals of this synthesis which were: to better understand the design of an innovative professional development system based on the Networked Improvement Model and to better understand how and why that system works to create systemic value across varied circumstances that ultimately has the power to accelerate learning reliably over diverse contexts and populations in the field of education. Conclusions related to the first goal indicated that the design components of such a system could be captured and situated within the Framework the Learning Organization, and even more, that its defining characteristics—namely, improvement science, NICs, and the fundamental principle that variation in performance is the core problem to address—could be accommodated by the Organizational Architecture as Theory, Methods, and Tools, Innovations in Infrastructure, and Guiding Ideas, respectively. Intrinsic Motivation was recognized as an additional construct integral to the design of such a system; without the Motivation of the teachers to put change into action, improvement at any level is not possible. Further, the expansion of the framework to include the theme of Intrinsic Motivation exemplified that the resulting explicit framework, although the first explicit framework for this model, should be considered as no more than a first attempt to capture the many mechanisms that comprise an innovative system for professional development based on the Networked Improvement Model; and that as evidence continues to evolve pertaining to the new model, it is expected that the explicit framework will also continue to evolve. Conclusions related to the second goal indicated a lack of evidence, particularly empirical evidence, in the available literature on the Networked Improvement Model that focused on the process of value creation. As such, it was not possible to fully realize the second goal of this study. However, the void in the literature alluded to the novel contribution of this study. That is, the embedded value-creation models in the proposed framework added a novel level of granularity that delineates the value-creation process in a way that both clarifies and specifies detailed sub-processes vital to understanding, analyzing, critiquing, and extending the theory of action for operationalizing the new model. In other words, although the results from this synthesis were not able to fully address the second research question concerning how and why the new model works to create value, this study still contributed a multi-dimensional framework that can be used to articulate this process in great detail in future work. Accordingly, implications were limited by the conclusions of this study. Rather than proposing implications for research, practice, or design, findings were more appropriately framed as opportunities for future work targeted toward methodologists, particularly those invested in contributing to and refining an alternative model for professional development. In this way, suggestions for future work focused on continuing basic research concentrated on fleshing out intricacies within the theory of change and the theory of action for the new model instead of suggesting implications associated with applied research. Seven opportunities to continue this work were offered. First, there may be opportunities for others utilizing the BFFS method to benefit from using mappings to demonstrate ‘best fit’ of an a priori framework. However, more research and development are needed before this could be employed as a viable option. Second, there may be opportunities for follow-up studies to continue to explore and refine the composition of embedded frameworks that together comprise a fluid theory of action for creating value from learning and innovation. While the concepts of Absorptive Capacity and Social Learning were merged to create a fluid theory for this study, it might be worthwhile to investigate the integrity of this merger of constructs from two different fields. Third, there may be opportunities for future research to explore the possibility of exploiting the visual framework proposed in this study to improvement initiatives in other sectors. However, before attempting to capture the defining criteria of reform in other fields and investigate how the design components interact to build value in those fields, the relevance of the resulting framework must first be warranted. Fourth, there may be opportunities to address voids in the evidence of the theory of action by building up the literature that addresses the process of value creation. These opportunities might include opportunities for the Carnegie Foundation to address the lack of evidence in particular areas evidenced by this synthesis, to expand their proposed model to incorporate constructs from the final framework in this study that were not well-represented in the evidence on the Networked Improvement Model, or to defend how their current model already addresses these voids. Fifth, there may be opportunities to explore the dynamics of new themes, including but not limited to the theme of Intrinsic Motivation that emerged from this study. Given that the resulting model from this study is expected to continue to evolve as the theory itself continues to evolve, there are limitless opportunities to explore additional constructs that may also not be represented by the proposed framework. Sixth, there may be opportunities to build up the empirical evidence to supplement the final explicit theoretical framework that resulted from this study. Particularly, producing empirical evidence of efficacy and effectiveness across each of the constructs that comprise the expanded framework for a specific initiative related to teachers of grades K-12 in the United States might help to generate a coherent exemplar of the framework in action, in turn, contributing to a deep, rich, and broad knowledgebase to reinforce the relationships among the myriad of constituents within the proposed explicit framework for a system of professional development based on the Networked Improvement Model. Last, and an extension of the previous, there may be opportunities to develop reporting standards that streamline the syntheses of empirical evidence. In order to produce evidence that is useful to various methodologists collaborating on this endeavor for making meaningful comparisons among various initiatives, it might be helpful to establish reporting standards that capture the complexities of context and intricacies of implementation such that they can be measured and compared within and between improvement initiatives. After decades of change efforts that have repeatedly failed to significantly improve teacher practice or student learning over time, it is hopeful that by further exploring how value is created as innovation and learning progresses within this new model, successful educational reform will be able to become a reality in America.