: The Engagement Balance – Structure and Flexibility Luca explores why the EEF identify ​‘Engage’ as being crucial for successful and sustained change in complex systems.

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The Engagement Balance – Structure and Flexibility

Luca explores why the EEF identify ​‘Engage’ as being crucial for successful and sustained change in complex systems.

by Cornwall Research School
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Luca HS

Luca Owenbridge

Deputy Director of Cornwall Research School

Luca Owenbridge is Deputy Director of The Cornwall Research school and a History and Maths teacher based in Penzance, Cornwall. He came to teaching after working as a Policy Analyst for the Department for Education in London. Click here to read more.

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The first EEF guidance report on implementing change in schools focussed on the understanding of implementation as a process. This process helps schools to do implementation.

Their recent update and new EEF Implementation guidance report moves towards an understanding of how to do implementation well. They assert that understanding the behaviours and the contextual factors will help schools to do implementation well.

The behaviours they identify are Engage, Unite and Reflect. This blog will unpack what we mean by engaging and how we achieve this in schools.

Will they actually listen to what we’ve said?” I overhear teachers asking at a session aiming to foster engagement in a school wide process of codifying good learning behaviours by gathering teachers’ expertise and experience.

This session is being facilitated by Cornwall Research School who are guiding staff conversations with a grounding in relevant evidence and the direction of travel set out by leaders. As with any collective action, occasionally conversations must be guided back on track to ensure they are addressing the question at hand.

Once collected these are categorised thematically and presented back to staff later, with a focus on behaviours and themes that came up repeatedly. Staff can hear their own voices in these articulations and the decisions taken by leaders on which behaviours to prioritise.

This vignette speaks to two of the key challenges in successfully engaging stakeholders in change.

1. Positive engagement relies on an underlying culture of trust between staff and leaders.

2. A balance must be struck between stakeholders feeling genuinely engaged and listened too, with the fact that leaders must set and hold strategic direction.

After reviewing the extensive literature on the behaviours required for successful and sustained change in complex systems the EEF identify Engage’ as being crucial.

Engage
“The way in which people are involved in implementation and the quality of their interactions really matters”.

There are several principles leaders should follow to secure positive engagement and enhanced implementation outcomes.

1. Engage people so they have the potential to influence change – Crucially, this is not about giving every individual the leavers of change, but about genuinely listening to the balance of opinion whether you are engaging staff, students or parents and showing people they have an impact on decision making. It is important to be clear with stakeholders the extent to which their views can influence any given process of change. When the school community feels included in decisions that affect them, and that their perspectives are valued, then implementation outcomes are likely to improve. This takes time, trust and is essentially cultural.

2. Engage people in collaborative processes – Easier perhaps, this involves ensuring activities like the above are regular and genuine. They should never feel tokenistic. Collaboration allows staff to share knowledge and expertise, bounce ideas off each other, and solve problems together. You could use implementation teams with a range of stakeholders to plan, manage and review and should ensure people understand how their roles contribute to collective endeavour.

3. Engage people through clear communication and active guidance – Balancing all this with actively guiding and steering the process is challenging and should be done sensitively. This involves leaders communicating the direction of travel, explaining decisions, motivating staff, corralling efforts, and preventing implementation being dragged off track.

The challenge here is to balance a structured approach with one that does not become too rigid. Whilst leaders must set strategic direction and guide engagement there should be some inbuilt flexibility in the implementation cycle. One way of achieving this is to ensure enough time is set aside for any engagement work.

Engagement goes beyond staff and includes how leaders engage all stakeholders from students to parents and the wider community. For further evidence informed best-bets’ when engaging with parents see the EEF’s guidance on parental engagement. EEF_Parental_Engagement_Guidance_Report.pdf (d2tic4wvo1iusb.cloudfront.net)

If schools and leaders can embed these principles in their engagement work implementation has a better chance of sustained success in complex social settings.

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