Three Ways to Motivate Teachers to Participate in Education Reform

Posted by Matt Berringer on October 24, 2014

By Heather MacCorkle Edick, M.S.Ed

Education ReformDuring a recent training session on standards-based education, this question came up:

With all the education reforms going on, how can the reform leaders motivate the teachers? How do they get buy in?

The best answers I can give are below.

Show Them the Relevance

The teachers I know—including me—did not enter the profession because of the enticing salary. They walked into their first interviews and their first classrooms knowing that their finances would never be as robust as their classmates who chose other professions. Instead, they chose to teach because they wanted to help students learn. For some, that administrators think using merit pay will elicit better performance might even be insulting. After all, tying student performance to salary was never a consideration for them, and continuous improvement is integral to their mindset as teachers (Ramirez, 2010). Additionally, some of these programs actually compel teachers to not share their best practices for fear that they will have to compete with their peers for the bonuses available; this undermines the development of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) (Hui, 2014). Education is not a business, and our students are not products, they’re students—impressionable human beings entrusted to our care by their parents.

Therefore, the real enticement for teachers is to show them how the reform is relevant. Teachers need answers to questions such as:

  • How will this reform benefit my students?
  • How will it help me to become a better teacher?

The first question’s answer feeds the second’s answer quite naturally. Whatever we can do to help students grow and learn will make us better teachers. It’s pointless to avoid answering these questions thoughtfully. Perhaps while trying to answer them, one might find that the reform-du-jour is worthless or that it makes sense for education in the 21st century. Either way, the question-to-answer process is necessary.

  • What are we putting aside to carry out this reform?

That’s another important question to ponder and answer. Often, reforms are stacked atop one another like Jenga pieces. Something has to go to make room for this new idea. Otherwise, just like in the game, the entire structure comes crashing down at some point.

Provide Professional Development

Professional development provides the foundation upon which reform can be built and sustained. However, many teachers are still exposed to professional development that consists of workshops that introduce them to isolated and generic topics, rather than those that will help them become better teachers (Gulamhussein, 2013). As of September 2013, 90 percent of teachers still took part in these professional development workshops, when what they really needed was practice in implementing new teaching methods, not just learning about them (Nagel, 2013).

Here’s an idea: Try action research as a way to work reforms into the culture and routines of the schools and district. Action research is “a disciplined process of inquiry conducted by and for those taking the action. The primary reason for engaging in action research is to assist the ‘actor’ in improving and/or refining his or her actions” (Sagor, 2000). Why limit professional development activities to In-Service days when teachers could be working on development projects while also teaching? Think of it as formative assessment for teachers, since one of the most powerful forms of formative assessment is self-assessment. The steps of action research are pretty straightforward:

Figure out a focus for your research.

  • During an In-Service day, ask teachers to figure out what they would like to research within their classroom. Let them brainstorm with other teachers on this.
  • Administrators could also align the action research project focus to the reform they want to implement.

Associate theories with your research (e.g., constructivism, behaviorism) and refine your understanding of those theories as they relate to your focus.

  • This part requires teachers to understand their own style of teaching and what works for them, as well as to question whether they are truly well served by the methods toward which they gravitate.

Generate research questions and research protocols.

  • This would be a great activity for an In-Service day, since teachers might need help generating research questions and protocols—especially if they have never done so before. They might need scaffolding to complete it correctly.

Collect the data.

Analyze the data.

  • At the next In-Service, teachers could work on analyzing the data in groups using guided practice activities. This might be intimidating for teachers who are not comfortable sharing information that could be considered damaging or embarrassing. The point of action research, however, is to help reflective practitioners develop. Reflecting on one’s mistakes provides ample opportunities to find areas of improvement. If the data analysis is done within a context in which teachers feel safe, just like our students’ ideal learning environments, reticent participants should come around with practice.

Report the results.

  • The first couple of times that one reports the results of action research can be frightening! However, it can also be empowering. As Sagor (2000) said, “[T]he simple knowledge that they are making a contribution to a collective knowledge base regarding teaching and learning frequently proves to be among the most rewarding aspects of this work.” Reporting can take place during faculty meetings, teacher conferences, or In-Service days. It can also take place within a virtual learning environment, such as within a Moodle course for teachers’ professional development.

Create an action plan and then implement it.

  • The reflective teacher then takes the information gathered during the project and creates an action plan with it. The last step, implementing the plan, can actually lead to another project that focuses on questions that arise from the implementation. That starts the process over.

Professional development can take place at any time. For example, instructional coaches can set up courses within a virtual learning environment like Moodle for any topic and enroll the teachers within the course, specifying a course end date. Within that asynchronous setting, teachers can work on their learning any time and still feel a part of the community through forums and online workshops. PD can also be the basis upon which Professional Learning Communities—virtual and brick-and-mortar—are created. These communities are powerful networks that remind teachers they are not alone in their work. In other words, even if their classroom door is closed, they will not feel forgotten. Teachers at any stage of their professional journey can benefit from the strong relationships formed around questions and answers.

Source the Technology Teachers Need and Teach Them How to Use It

Let’s look at the etymology of technology.

Greek tekhnologiā, systematic treatment of an art or craft : tekhnē, skill; + -logiā, -logy. (American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)

When I hear the word, “systematic,” I hear “purposeful” and “meaningful” as well. As people master their craft, they increasingly choose the best tool for the job, or they create one that will do the job better. The same is true for the art of teaching. The technology required to make any reform a success should be chosen carefully. If necessary, create one that will do the job better!

Another definition of technology is, “The specific methods, materials, and devices used to solve practical problems” (“technology [Def. 4],” 2005). Teachers will need to know which resources are needed, which they are going to receive, and how to use them effectively. The baptism-by-fire method normally used to learn a new tool is not effective. Even though that statement is common sense, most people still have to learn about complex software and other tools without much, if any, training. This is as true for teachers as it is for anyone else.

Technology does not have to be complex software or SMART boards, though. It can include such low-tech items as the pencil and a ream of paper, and these items could actually be more effective than some fancy piece of equipment, given the context. If teachers do not have access to these basic things (and that is the case in many urban areas), then any reform that depends on them will fail. Therefore, sourcing the technology that teachers will need to carry out the reform and training them to use the tools efficiently and effectively can make all the difference.

There you have it, as they say. These are the best ways I can think of to motivate teachers to take part in education reform, to make them feel respected as professionals, and to feel integral to the success of the school and district.


Gulamhussein, A. (2013, September). Teaching the teachers: at a Glance. Retrieved October 20, 2014, from

Hui, T. K. (2014, March 5). Wake County school leaders criticize the use of merit pay for teachers | Wake Ed Blog | Retrieved October 20, 2014, from

Nagel, D. (2013, September 10). Report: Effective teacher development crucial to the Common Core. Retrieved October 20, 2014, from>/p>

Ramirez, A. (2010). Merit Pay Misfires. The Effective Educator, 68(4), 55–58.

Sagor, R. (2000). Guiding school improvement with action research. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Retrieved from

Scaffolding (2014, August 26). In S. Abbott (Ed.), The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from

technology[Def. 4]. (2005). The Free Dictionary. Retrieved from

Heather MacCorkle Edick, M.S.Ed, is Team Lead—Staff Education, SunGard K-12 Education. She blogs regularly at THIS LINK.

Topics: education, education reform, K-12