The Change Process

by Jean Tower

People trying to quit smoking have been found by researchers to move through certain predictable phases as they change their behavior. The basic change model was developed by the psychologists James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente (see The Five Stages of Change at FiveStagesOfChange.htm). Others have generalized these phases to other types of behavioral changes. For example, the same phases are applicable when people try to change eating habits, stop procrastinating, or start exercising. The five phases are: awareness or precontemplation, interest or contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.

I’ve been thinking about the five steps and how these phases might manifest themselves in making professional changes. For example, as we attempt to institute significant changes in our instructional practices, what behaviors or actions would characterize each phase? In my descriptions below, I write about A. Teacher, a teacher starting to use technology in teaching and learning.

Awareness or Precontemplation
In the awareness phase, A. Teacher knows a few colleagues using technology, but isn’t sure what technology could do for her or for her students. Therefore, she has no desire to use it. A. Teacher thinks it might be too hard. In this phase many people convince themselves that there really is no reason to change – that the benefits do not offset the risks. Research says there are four major categories for getting stuck in precontemplation: people are reluctant, resigned, rebellious or rationalizing. A. Teacher simply isn’t ready.
How does one move into the next stage? Something or someone helps them get beyond their reluctance. Maybe a close colleague who has already made the changes that A. Teacher is considering convinces them to become more interested.

Interest or Contemplation
The interest phase is marked by a growing interest, but a resistance to commit. A. Teacher is ambivalent. She sees projects that her students have done in other classes using technology and she wishes that the students were creating similar projects in her class, as well. She acknowledges that there may be compelling reasons to get on board using technology but she has not overcome inertia. In this phase A. Teacher is more open to hearing about projects and software and web 2.0 tools.

As A. Teacher moves into the preparation phase, she has learned more about using technology. Some fellow teachers have shown her the process of how they managed a unit using technology, and she has talked to the Technology Specialist, who was very helpful and agreed to support her in a technology-infused project with students. This is a research phase – A. Teacher visits the classroom of a colleague to see a similar approach in action. A. Teacher is ready.

A. Teacher is now in the action phase of change. She has begun a major unit using technology and students will present their projects to the class and post them on the web. She appreciates the support from others, but is feeling more independent. She feels it has been worth the effort when her students do really good work, the school Principal congratulates her on an innovative approach to an existing unit, and she receives email from parents praising the projects that are posted on the web.

As A. Teacher moves into the maintenance phase, she strategizes about the next project and about ways to incorporate technology into the classroom on a daily basis. Technology use becomes second nature to her and she finds that her colleagues now come to her and ask for help in creating technology-infused project guidelines and rubrics. In maintenance A. Teacher might feel self-congratulatory about the progress she has made. Eventually, A. Teacher may become one of the risk-takers in the building, willing to try new tools and participate in pilot projects and transforming teaching and learning.

As I think about the various stages, I work to imagine what might help someone have the “click” moment or experience that moves them to the next level. If we can build enough of these experiences and support structures into our schools, perhaps we can have all of our teachers moving briskly along the change continuum. Wouldn’t that be great?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Liz B Davis September 23, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Great post. I love the comparison and it is right on. Too bad they don’t have nicotine patches for technophobes.

Clint Lalonde September 23, 2009 at 10:24 pm

Nice post. I would love to see those who make it to the Mantainence phase encouraged to move onto the next phase – a Mentor phase. I wonder what kinds of mechanisms need to be built into the system to move someone to that Mentor role to bring along the next set of precontemplative teachers?

Rebecca Davis September 24, 2009 at 7:19 am

I like the way you breakdown the process, but I would add a set-backs phase between action and maintenance. Often technology doesn’t work well the first time. How do you deal with that failure or help someone else in that position?

Rusha Sams September 26, 2009 at 5:19 am

Great post. Great organization. A real sense of teacher stages. Hopefully, there will be one more stage as A. Teacher shares his/her expertise with others. Could be called Mentoring or Reach Out stage.

Jean Tower September 27, 2009 at 10:33 am

I really like the idea of an advanced stage after maintenance. Mentoring sounds just right. Thanks for the idea.

Jean Tower September 27, 2009 at 10:34 am

Rebecca – You are so right about the setbacks that occur. I think that moving from one stage to the next could reasonably have many little setbacks in the process.

Jean Tower September 27, 2009 at 10:38 am

Liz – Yes, technophobe patches would be a big seller! Your comment led me back to your blog and a couple of relevant posts that I really enjoyed. Letting go ( and the 8 Stages ( Thanks.

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