Teachers and Innovation: an Urban Emphasis


David H. Florio (1975) ,"Teachers and Innovation: an Urban Emphasis", in SV - Broadening the Concept of Consumer Behavior, eds. Gerald Zaltman and Brian Sternthal, Cincinnati, OH : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 70-94.

Broadening the Concept of Consumer Behavior, 1975      Pages 70-94


David H. Florio, Assistant Professor of Education, Northwestern University

Educational institutions are currently being inundated with innovative ideas. Teachers are demanding more and more involvement in decisions that affect the adoption and implementation of those innovations. The current nature, context, control and authority of teaching in urban school systems has a great deal to do with which of multitude of innovations are adopted and implemented in schools. The behavior of teachers as consumers is also strongly affected by the environmental forces acting on both the individual teacher and the education institution in which he or she works.

One of the central themes of teaching is the isolated atmosphere in which teachers work, separated frDm peers and other adult interaction. This is not to imply that environmental forces of the school community and larger society do not have a strong impact upon a teacher's actions and decisions. The consumption behavior of teachers vis-a-vis structural and material innovations is motivated, directed, and limited by a complex of personal, organizational, and environmental forces.

The purpose of this paper is to highlight the forces that affect teachers in their work and the decisions they make about that work. The teacher market for products, innovations, services, et al. should be a fascinating one for students of consumer behavior. The complex of forces affecting decisions by teachers offers a rich area for inquiry. The following observations will be both general in scope regarding the teaching profession and specific in part regarding how teachers consume new and traditional products, practices, and knowledge in carrying out their tasks. Generalizations are made based on observation and scholarship; however, common dangers exist in these generalizations. Of course, exceptions exist. More importantly, teaching is a dynamic profession. Economic decline, increased teacher militancy, decline in student population demands for accountability in schooling, parents and local community desire for increased involvement, the movement to restructure school finance, the policy making of the courts and legislatures are some of the many current forces impacting educational decisions. Some of these may not have a strong effect on consumer behavior of teachers; however, others., notably those with economic implications, will have a strong effect on a teacher's decision to adopt and implement innovations, as well as other aspects of their professional behavior.

The kindly school marm, who took orders as duties to be earried out, has disappeared. The transition from the docile accepting teacher to the current more assertive teacher of today has interesting consequences for the adoption of innovations and products, often done by school boards and administrators, and their implementation and use in classrooms. As more and more studies are done in educational institutions, it becomes clear that there is a wide gap between adoption and implementation. There is even a wider gap between implementing new practices and products and the maintenance of such innovations. Studies that claim many of the innovations did not have a significant impact on student production are now being criticized because many of the adopted innovations were either not implemented or were not carried on for long. Teachers, due in part to their isolated work context, have been able to subvert the implementation process of these innovations they find threatening, unfamiliar, and, most importantly, imposed by superordinates and school boards.

The following sections of this paper will attempt to bring to light several of the important phenomena impacting teachers' decision making and actions: (1) the teaching context, (2) teacher socialization into their work, (3) the organizational structure and exceptions to the classic bureaucratic organization of schools, (4) the nature of teacher work, (5) organization and control of schools, (6) environmental forces affecting schools and teachers, (7) the -limited investment of authority in teachers, '8) forces currently at work to increase teacher involvement in educational decisions, (9) some implications for study of teachers as potential consumers of educational innovations, and (10) some propositions for promoting organizational change in schools.

The emphasis here is on the urban teacher; however, many of the propositions set forth will apply to other American educational institutions. Decisions urban teachers make take place in a complex environment and work context. Teacher actions are context specific and any generalizations made here are designed to guide the student of consumer behavior in an inquiry of specific educational markets. The dynamic state of the art with regard tD research on teacher behavior necessitates a word of caution with regard to any assumptions the reader may make about any particular teacher or school system. The propositions developed constitute a useful basis for empirical work regarding the teaching profession and the forces impinging on it. For example, current pressure is being placed on teachers to work in teams. Ibis innovation is rather slow to gain support among teachers. Education is an area in which, traditionally, diffusion of innovations is rather slow. Several of the reasons for this lag in dissemination are given in the following sections. Teacher professional isolation is treated below and any interference with that phenomenon will have strong impact on the behavior of teachers. Team teaching breaks that isolation. If broadly diffused, this innovative practice will be a significant force in changing the nature of teaching.

Some Generalizations about Teaching and Schools

Teaching has been called the "lonely profession" because, with few exceptions, the work is done in isolation from peers and superiors. Although recent developments in team teaching and some attempts to open the classroom to a variety of adult input are notable exceptions, teachers generally operate without the benefit (or constraints) of direct observation by their colleagues. In fact, there is an established norm in many urban schools that a teacher's room is his or her domain, not to be invaded by other adults. The lunchroom "shop talk" is often the primary source of interaction among peers. This normative view of teaching structure and domain may account for the resistance to innovations that threaten the structure of a single teacher and a room of students.

A significant theme of research on teaching has been this isolation of the teacher. Although I shall comment later on the climate of teaching, I bring this up now to illustrate that teachers operate within a specific context. An individual teacher's proclivity to consumer innovations, products or processes, is significantly limited by that context.

The isolation of teachers also severely limits a primary function of teaching; the maximization of the individual learning potential of each student. Teachers face a dilemma in trying to develop the individual potential of students while operating in a limited structure that often precludes the effective-use of resources to accomplish their primary task. Facing 30 or more students with a diversity of interests, motivations, and capacities, a teacher, with little dependence or contact with other adults, is expected to perform a task that requires a great deal of flexibility and interpersonal interaction. Teachers must perform their task with limited authority to change or modify either the context of their work or the clients they must work with.

Many teachers enter the work with aspirations to be autonomous, creative, giving, and challenging while receiving intrinsic rewards that come from positive interpersonal contact. The setting and environment of their work often serve as barriers to achieving these aims. Teachers aspiring to the professional status accorded to other occupations also encounter a number of barriers. Professional status is given to an occupation that has a professionally agreed upon body of knowledge about task performance, entrance and evaluation of performance done by professional peers, and action directed through collegial interaction and autonomous judgment of the professionals. The term "professional" is inadequate to describe the teaching role. Both the structural factors already mentioned and factors involving control, climate, and environment of teaching have relegated teaching to, as Dan Lortie (1969) says, a "semi-profession." Ronald Corwin (1971) has said that it is the obligation of a profession to "gain control over its work." Although efforts to do this are currently being attempted by teachers through collective bargaining, the notion of collective action for standardization of teacher treatment is antithetical to the notion of professionalism.

Another problem with viewing teachers as professionals is the matter aE training and standards for entry into the teaching field. Most professions have some form of rigorous academic and clinical experiences prior to entry. Teaching has had relatively minimal academic and internship requirements for entry. There are a variety of certificating standards, usually state rather than collegially controlled. Kevin Ryan (1972) of the University of Chicago, reporting on the teacher education practices in the state of Ohio-, commented that teachers were getting a second-rate liberal education and a third-rate professional education. Comments of this sort are not limited to a single state. Teachers have long needed continuous training and heavy doses of internship experience; however, only recently have a few professional schools of education moved to expand the liberal arts and clinical experience components of teacher preparation. A positive note is that the current market for teachers has reduced the number of education students and is forcing institutions of higher education to review and reshape their professional programs for teachers.

More will be said later about the bureaucratic organization of schooling and the professional aspirations of teachers; however, it is important to note briefly the limitations of the use of the term "bureaucracy" to explain the nature of the organization and control of teaching. Although multi-layered bureaucracies do exist in urban school organizations, there are several factors that make them unworkable in the classical sense. Schools are public institutions, with their ultimate control in state governmental bodies. Robert Dreeban (1970), emphasizing the classroom end of the structure, points out the distortion of the teaching task when put in bureaucratic terms. The students or clients of the schools are not bound to the organization through some mutual exchange or contract. They are there by law, and their performance is not guaranteed according to any set of bureaucratic rules and regulations. This is not to say that there are no organizationally laid out rules. However, those rules may have little performance impact in light of the reality of the public nature of the institution and the relationship of that institution to its clients. Students do not fit into the organizational chart and cannot be hired or fired.

Morris Janowitz (1969) further challenges the assumptions of the bureaucratic model in urban school systems. The control system of the schools is not highly centralized, but is fragmented. Schools, being geographically separate from the administrative hierarchy, cannot be effectively controlled. The external governing structure limits the selection of personnel by both state certification laws and teacher training institutions. The central administration has little feedback information on what is happening in the local school. Policy is channeled through a variety of administrative personnel at different levels. In general, the system is poorly articulated and weak. Activities in local schools and classrooms are more a result of the pressures and contingencies (often crisis-oriented) at that level than of policy decisions of central boards of education or administration. This does not mean that local school personnel are free to act as they please. They are limited by legal and reward-system forces. The limited authority teachers have is often used to block innovations and changes laid on from above rather than as a tool -for flexibility.

The Nature of Teaching

There are a number of factors that summarize the nature of teaching:

1. The lack of agreed upon performance standards or criteria of effective teaching;

2. The isolated classroom (the self-contained unit of a single teacher and a group of students);

3. The diverse character of a conscripted student population;

4. The highly interpersonal nature of the teaching task;

5. The limited dependence on collegial support or exchange;

6. The demand for flexibility vs. the pressures for uniformity of behavior;

7. The monodimensional view and treatment of teacher work; and

8. The variety of constituencies teachers must serve.

The immediate work environment of the teacher in the school as well as that of the surrounding community and society has a significant impact on a teacher's decision-making behavior and follow-up action. Among the factors listed above, several are tied to the teaching environment in the school. Although several of these have been covered elsewhere, it is important to note their consequences for teacher consumption behavior.

The lack of agreed upon performance criteria for effective teaching coupled with the isolated performance of task has created a difficult situation for assessment of teacher competence. The supervisory atmosphere of most teachers in large school systems is characterized by infrequent spot checks to insure compliance with normative rules rather than to encourage successful performance. This issue is discussed in more detail later; however, it is important to note the implications the immediate environment has on the teacher regarding adoption and implementation of innovations. New practices or products that act to increase a teacher's vulnerability are generally suspect. Innovations that increase contact with supervisory personnel are often seen as threats. These fears and suspicions cannot all be laid at the feet of teacher self-doubt. As will be pointed out later, teachers have a limited authority base and any change that serves to undermine the perceived autonomy of the isolated classroom will need to demonstrate a strong basis of support for teachers in other areas, if it is to be accepted.

The third and fourth areas mentioned above, the diverse conscripted student population, and interpersonal nature of the teaching task are extremely important in motivating teachers to try innovations and/or change current behaviors. Teachers are under strong pressure to individualize instruction for each student. These pressures come from several sources: (1) the client population of parents and students, (2) the education profession, (3) external demands for increased product achievement, (4) governing bodies of state and school systems, and (5) perhaps most significant, a self-directed desire to increase personal feelings of achievement. Innovations that tend to aid teachers in the individualization process will present a strong incentive for adoption. Recent adoption of innovations that break up the isolated context of teaching have come about, in part, due to their perceived ability to increase individualized, interpersonal interaction among teachers and students. In these cases of adoption and implementation (e.g., team teaching, differentiated staffing, teacher aids), threats to teacher autonomy have been overcome by the ability to reach more individual students. Materials that have been demonstrated to aid students in their individual progress are also being adopted by teachers. A word of caution is needed. Teachers have been flooded with innovations that claim to increase individualization. A skepticism about such claims is strong among teachers; therefore, adoption often rests on demonstrable impact in specific contexts. As mentioned earlier, other factors of teaching work and organizational structure of school systems limit the adoption of these innovations. Promoters of change and innovation have often noted the difficulties involved in diffusion through complex and fragmented urban school systems. Perhaps the most significant of these difficulties is the problem of demonstration. A recent movement to develop teacher centers or laboratories where teachers can observe and participate in innovative practice is one avenue to solve this problem.

Limited dependence on collegial support and exchange is another factor affecting the teacher market for new products and practices. Advocates for diffusion of innovations need to note teacher isolation and develop strategies that will enhance peer interaction and advocacy of change. Working with the staff of a school as a unit will be a necessary developmental step in the diffusion process. The demand for flexibility vs. pressure for uniformity of behavior is treated later; however, one should note that any successful effort to increase collegial interaction and support for change will confront that teacher dilemma.

The last two factors have a strong impact on the consumption behavior of teachers. Teaching is organizationally treated as a monodimensional task. With the exception of a few recent experiments to differentiate staffing patterns in teaching, the teacher's work is not differentiated by reward or responsibility. Teacher advancement within the organizational structure is usually to a position that removes teachers from the teaching task. They may advance to positions of assistant principal, principals, supervisors, curriculum consultants, or "master teacher" in the school; however, they cannot, with few exceptions (notably department heads), advance and remain in the teacher/pupil setting.

Teacher professional mobility is currently more dependent upon superordinate approval rather than collegial interaction and review. This reliance illustrates the limited action a teacher may take in meeting the diversity of functional demands. The "upward mobile" teacher cannot expect to advance in the system by constantly confronting the authority structure and asserting autonomy. Rewards often have a great deal more to do with conforming to established practice than with effective teaching.

This leads to another factor that is part of the teaching task. The teacher serves a variety of constituencies. The teacher is an employee bound to the employer with an agreement to perform certain tasks for an agreed amount of remuneration. Teaching also requires a number of obligations to the clients, students and their parents. Teachers are public servants, certified and responsible to the larger society. Teachers are also aspiring professionals with a desire to protect their peers and their own interests. How teachers balance their responsibilities and commitments to these constituencies is a key indicator of the strength of the forces impinging on the teacher's work.

Lortie (1971) has suggested that the new level of public and private interest in education,, increased standardization of materials, team teaching, and differentiated staffing will all further restrict teacher autonomy. However, this prediction is in sharp contrast to the rising militancy and collective bargaining activities of teachers. Teachers may fight any innovation or forced change that intrudes on the professional aspirations.

The environment of educational institutions is similar to that of other public agencies; however, the impact of the environmental forces are often ' intensified due, in part, to the nature of the system of public education in this country. Public school finance is currently in a state of flux; however, for the most part local taxes provide the major portion of financial support for schools. The current economic downturn has an intensified influence on financial resources for schools. Voters are given a rare opportunity to have a direct voice in setting tax rates when they vote on school bond issues and referenda. In recent years, voters have increasingly refused to support growth in tax rates. This has a strong affect on educators' ability to adopt costly innovations that cannot be shown to reduce other educational expenditures.

The economic environment of schooling is further affected by the decline in population growth. Schools are among the first institutions to feel the impact of this social phenomenon, Schools, especially in urban areas, are already affected by a real decline in elementary school population. This trend, as well as the general decline in urban population, heightens the problems of economic viability for urban schools. Most state and federal aid to education is based on student enrollment and attendance. These economic difficulties are forcing schools to seek more cost-effective programs and practices.

What does this mean for the advocate of innovation and change in schools? As teachers bargain successfully for more and more of the educational economic pie, they will not only find less of a pie to divide, but also will find themselves in competition with other public agencies for public dollars. Innovations and changes in education that have costs sufficiently high to threaten recently won personal economic gain will meet strong resistance. Innovators will be looking for change that can reduce or, at least, retain current expenditures and will decrease competition with other public agencies. This implies that educational change advocates will be looking for new programs and resources that they can share with other agencies. This further implies a need for attitudinal change among teachers with regard to cooperation and collaboration, not only among peers, but also inter-institutionally. Research and development activities in education are already demonstrating a need for organizational-development and training to enhance personal and institutional linking. The behavior of teachers outside of the classroom is an increasingly important phenomenon for students of consumer behavior in educational institutions. Teachers are not only bargaining for personal economic gain, they are also successfully gaining more standing in the decision-making processes that affect their professional lives.

Organization and Control of Schools

In addition to the economic area, the organization and governance of educational institutions act as strong forces influencing the consumption behavior of teachers.

Teachers presently have little authority to influence or control many of the essential factors that impinge on their work: school day and year, diversity of student population, curriculum and material resources available, transfer and assignment of students, the use of school facilities, procedures for student evaluation, the implementation of innovations, and the selection of their teaching peers. In most urban schools, neither the school administrator nor the teachers have significant control over the use of the fiscal resources of the school. In fact, teachers' collective action has limited the ability of any local unit to control budgetary matters. Teacher salaries, making up the largest segment of a school budget, have been determined long before the remainder of the operating budget reaches the school.

The nature of the teaching profession, with its ambiguities, is a major factor in the public (over professional) control of schools. The lack of clear evaluation criteria, diversity of client group, conscripted client status, lack of highly defined technology, personal (intrinsic) reward system, ambiguous goals, and the absence of a professional mystique (nearly everyone has gone to school) are significant factors affecting the public view of teaching. Most apparent of those factors as a cause for public control is the lack of criteria for judgment of effective performance.

The recent trend toward state-mandated "accountability" laws and guidelines is, a clear example of the limited trust in either teachers or local school systems. The flexibility needed to deal with the ambiguities of the teaching task is severely limited by a distant and lay governing structure. The authority of teachers to deal with the teaching climate and environment is restricted in light of role expectations by both public and client groups.

Parents and local community leaders are expressing growing demands for access to the school and even the classroom. The classroom is a microcosm of the surrounding neighborhood. In the urban teaching situation, this is marked by high population density, low student socioeconomic levels, and racial isolation. Up until the recent demands for community involvement, there had been an attempt to isolate the schools from the surrounding community. In Chicago, school telephone numbers were unpublished, teachers left immediately following formal classes, children were not allowed into school before or after classes, and a variety of situational and strategic methods were used to keep parents from intruding on school turf. This effort was unrealistic in light of the fact that the community entered the school each day in the form of the student population. However, teachers must now live with the hostility that has been built up between schools and the surrounding communities, with little authority to adjust or to cooperate with parents. They cannot adjust the school day and school year that are out of line with the social norms of the surrounding community. Working parents, no crops to plant, lack of alternative recreational facilities, and few "legitimate" places for social gathering, etc. ail make the limited use of the school another brick in the wall between school personnel and their clients.

These environmental forces should be emphasized both in light of previous comments dealing with economic forces on schools and the growing advocacy process of decision making through collective action. Not only are teachers organizing for bargaining, but so are parents and community groups. Innovative strategies and programs are needed to increase the collaborative activities of educators and their diverse constituencies. The advocacy process invites dysfunctional confrontation and polarization. There is little doubt that collective bargaining is a fact of life for educational institutions; however, there is a broad area of need for collaborative action both at the local school level and among teachers and various governmental officials. Consumer behavior of teachers depends a great deal on the degree of open communications with their client populations, different constituencies, and governors at the local, state, and national levels.

Adoption and implementation of innovations is strongly affected by the perceptions of teachers regarding support and commitment of their constituencies over a period of time. Teachers often reject innovations or changes because they have experienced limited sustained support for thei efforts to change. When teachers have spent time and energy developing and implementing new programs, program cuts and reduced support have left teachers with new and difficult problems. Local community hostility over these reductions is often directed at local school personnel. Innovative teachers lose credibility in their local school. Most significantly, an atmosphere of distrust and cynicism is developed. Advocates of innovation and change should note the need for developing programs and practices that teachers can sustain through their own initiative and collaboration with client groups.

This leads to the internal control of school systems. The present structure and control processes of school systems is treated here in light of teachers' ability to determine the context and environment of their work. Their ability to work effectively with their environment will have a great deal to do with their future involvement and authority in determining how schools will function. To perform the teaching task effectively, teachers need a great deal of flexibility; however, the present organizational structure encourages routine, standard behavior. It has been pointed out that bureaucratic control is unworkable in school systems; however, many of the trappings of a bureaucratic organizational structure operate as barriers rather than as transmitters of policy. All the pejorative notions of red tape, rigidity, forms, records, and impersonal top administration come into play.

Because of the lack of agreement on a uniform set of activities that teachers should follow to carry out the teaching task, the prescribed activities for teachers take the form of bureaucratic duties, often having little to do with the primary task of teaching. In fact, most of the rules regarding the classroom are directed at student control more than at prescribed teaching performance. The goal displacement over a period of time shifts from teaching to following the bureaucratic edicts of the organization hierarchy. A teacher who consistently ignores these edicts may have found one of the few criteria used to dismiss tenured teachers in public schools. The undefined and complex nature of the teaching task and the ambiguities of goals for the product of that task make the present organization of urban public schools highly inappropriate.

Teachers are left with a major dilemma of trying to meet the individual needs of a diverse population while operating in a climate and organizational structure that encourages similarity of student treatment and conformity to routine behavior. The external reward structure is in accord with the conformity to norms. Custody is often placed above production of student achievement in the review of teacher performance. This review system is also a result of the isolated climate of the classroom. Teachers, left alone, with little training or collegial support to cope with the situation, often resort to routinization of performance. Students who do not fit into the routine are often segregated. Tracking or the more euphemistic "Student grouping" practices are examples of attempts to cope.

Sergiovonni (1969), Sarason (1971), and others have written of the sources of teacher satisfaction. High among the factors of satisfaction is "achievement." This is not necessarily achievement shown by student success in grades or standardized tests, but the feeling of satisfaction derived from the work itself. The feeling that the class was "turned on" or that some student had reacted in such a way to let the teacher feel that he or she has "connected" or "gotten through." This visceral feeling depends, to a large extent, on spontaneous interaction. The control structure and the teaching climate severely limit such spontaneity. Often, the routine takes command and mitigates against the drive to reach the individual student.

This standardization of teacher behavior and the socialization of the new teacher to the performance routine severely handicaps school systems in their attempts to attract and maintain teachers who are flexible, open, willing to live with diversity and informality, who enjoy interpersonal contact, are intelligent, creative, and are able to view causal relationships as multi-dimensional. Instead, many teachers follow a pattern of covering a given amount of material in a given time with little regard for individual learning styles and capacities. School teaching personnel, as consumers of innovations, may react to these innovations as intrusions on their routine and domain.

Two examples of innovations that have met a good deal of resistance from urban teachers are "management by objectives" and "team teaching." Any innovation laid on from the administrative hierarchy is resisted by those with little input in the decision-making process. Edicts mandating that teachers identify and operate in light of given performance objectives are viewed as intrusions-on the functional independence of teachers in their classroom domain. Teachers recognize their relative impotence to control the organization, climate, and environment and are hesitant to pursue objectives with limited decision making authority.

Team teaching is another, perhaps more severe, intrusion on the teacher's domain. This structural intrusion is often resisted in light of the limited authority teachers have in selecting their colleagues. This innovation imposes a collegial interaction that is viewed as a serious threat to both the limited autonomy teachers have and their relative freedom from peer appraisal.

These examples give light to some of the forces affecting the consumer behavior of teachers. When products, innovations, and processes intrude on the structural or functional domain of teachers, their adoption is severely limited if the decision making authority of teachers is constrained.

Limited Investment of Authority in Teachers

Thompson (1967), Bennis (1968), Havelock (1971), and other students of organizational behavior agree that "human centered" organizations function best when there is a good deal of freedom to delegate authority to accommodate the adaptation of broad-based goals to local situations. They also state that such organizations are healthier when open to the environment and when the structure provides opportunities for horizontal communication and collaboration. This implies a need for a great deal of peer interaction and autonomy for determining the means of implementing programs and innovations. These factors are not generally characteristic of urban school systems, due both to the nature of the isolated teaching climate and the authority-control structure. Programs and innovations are still often laid on from either the organization or legal control structure. Teachers react, often negatively, from within the confines of their severely limited authority.

Why is there such limited investment of authority in teachers? Chester Barnard (1938) has said that a system of authority is based on an exchange system. A person will accept the authority of another in return for a certain number of benefits. James Coleman (1963) extends this notion of exchange to the process of delegating authority. A person or unit is delegated a certain amount of authority in return for a certain number of obligations. These obligations or responsibilities to perform or accomplish certain tasks are considered the "return on the investment." The perception or assumption of the amount of return one can expect from a delegated amount of authority is the determining factor in the amount of authority delegated. The degree to which authority has been delegated can be determined by the time lag between the delegation and the review of performance: the longer the lag, the greater the amount of authority that has been delegated. An example of in-school delegation of authority can be seen in the periodic performance or supervision reviews of teachers. A new teacher might have monthly or even weekly supervisory visits by a principal or department head. A more experienced or trusted teacher may be reviewed only once or twice a year.

The predicted return on the investment of delegated authority is a key to understanding the limited investment in teachers. How can administrators predict something that has little agreed upon criteria of measurement? Teaching is an imprecise and complex task, and no single technique is guaranteed to reach each of a variety of students. The difficulty of appraisal is illustrated by the recent attempts to implement accountability schemes in schools. If achievement is measured by standardized tests, it is difficult to attribute causality to a single teacher or group of teachers in a school. Environmental factors and students' previous educational experience may strongly affect such measures. if used as the primary teacher evaluation criteria, rigid enforcement of these measures may increase teacher resistance to more reasonable staff development and information-feedback and problem-solving efforts. In any case, the central authority structure has few tools for predicting the return on investment of authority, and this, in part, accounts for the limited delegation of authority.

Another limitation on authority delegation may come from the limited education and training teachers have. This, coupled with the restricted collegial support, leaves teachers alone to meet a demanding task. Janowitz (1969) has commented that the reaction to this energy drain in dealing with student populations is a "retreat into indifference and detachment." This "unprofessional" behavior and the high turnover rate of urban teachers is often read as a lack of commitment to the interests and goals of the organization. One begins to see the negative cycle develop.

Because of the lack of criteria for effective performance appraisal and the limited authority investment, a normative set of rules are laid on the teaching task. Attempts at coercion replace the delegation of authority, Supervision is directed at conformity to norms rather than effective teaching and learning. A codified minimal set of standards of acceptable performance tends to make the minimal performance the standard rather than the base. The impersonal attitude toward teachers and the limited investment of authority can lead to alienation, apathy, and, in some cases, subversion of the organizational goals. All of these phenomena lead to a vicious cycle:



The limited acceptance of responsibility and the lack of trust in teachers are key factors in the adoption/rejection process with regard to creative innovations or processes to deal with the teaching task. The two previous examples of management by objectives and team teaching have demonstrated some of the negative results of the "Limited Authority Cycle. This would also apply to other innovations, such as differentiated staffing, open classrooms, and self-directed instruction. If teachers are given little authority to structure alternative learning settings and experiences, they in turn will find it difficult to delegate responsibility to students for directing themselves through alternative learning experiences. The red tape and bureaucratic barriers to breaking the classroom setting may stifle any attempt by teachers to use rich environmental resources as aids in the learning process.

One should note that the organizational and societal reaction to teacher behavior has perpetuated the violation of the fairness principle; "no one should be held accountable for things over which they have no control." The limited investment of authority in local school personnel has not been accompanied by a reduction in expectations. Under-investment and over-expectation is the norm. Teachers are limited to the spatial arrangement of the school and classroom, have little control over the environment or client population, have limited choices in resources and instructional style, and have little input in the selection of their peers. Yet, teachers are considered accountable for the achievement of each individual student.

Comments on the delegation of authority to teachers would be incomplete without giving some thought to legal and political forces. In addition to the many bureaucratic layers with their separate constituency sets, school systems operate in a legal and political environment that can act as a constraint in the authority delegation process. Although the negative cycle of investment based on predicted return is a primary force in the limited delegation, certain legal constraints exist to limit that delegation. State legislatures have delegated the authority to local school boards to run the schools; however, there is no plenary power of the school board to redelegate that authority. Also, city governments are often tied to the schools. Ir some cities the school budget must be approved by the city government, and, in others, the mayor may have appointment power for the school board.

The consequences for the consumption behavior of teachers seems obvious, given this limited organizational and political authority to control their own lives. Personal and organizational impotence among educators and educational institutions limits the ability of teachers to make decisions in the adoption and implementation process regarding innovation or change.

Forces Working to Break the Cycle

The political environment of education, specifically schooling, is undergoing a rapid change. Public faith in all institutions is on the decline and schools, as salient public agencies, are suffering from the effects of this phenomenon. No comment on the political environment of education would be complete without noting another significant change. Teachers and other educators are entering the political arena in growing numbers. Former attempts to keep the schools "free from politics" have given way to the growing realization that public institutions are by definition part of the politics of American life. Teachers, individually and through their organizations, are increasingly aware of the reality that avoidance of the political process relegates educators to a position of subservience. As mentioned before, many of the generalizations made in this paper are subject to charge. For example, political impotence of teachers is on the decline. Teachers are not only increasing their political strength through the collective bargaining process, but also through lobbying and support of candidates in local, state and federal government bodies and elections. Collective action both at the bargaining table and in governmental actions have significantly enhanced teacher power in the past five or ten years.

Rising teacher militancy given form in collective organizations and bargaining for benefits, rights, and control over working conditions is not a product of the negative cycle alone. However, many of the things teachers are demanding can be traced to their frustration over limited authority to deal with their working situation. Recently, Chicago teachers successfully bargained for a piece of the spending action. Although this amounted only to $28 per teacher for supplies, it is a significant break in the pattern of having to go through the bureaucracy for material resources. If this pattern continues, the behavior of teachers as consumers will increase significantly in importance. Teachers are also asking for more participation at all policy-making levels. Teacher selection and review, classroom size, selection of administrators, staff development activities-, and increased decision-making delegation to the local school unit are some examples of the expended areas being covered in collective bargaining contracts.

The spin-offs of this rising political consciousness and activity among teachers will have a strong impact on decision making and follow-up action by teachers individually and in local school groups. The political power of teachers is an indicator of many cycle-breaking forces. The Limited Authority Cycle is still a strong barrier to adoption and implementation of innovations among teachers; however, the dynamic state of the teaching profession is working to break that cycle.

Many of these forces are a direct result of teacher frustration over limited authority. Others arise from social forces operating to influence school leadership. Social science research dealing with organizational change and adoption/implementation of innovations has highlighted the need for involvement of significant actors, if successful change is to come about. Market research on the diffusion process of innovations has stressed the need for active links among individuals and organizations involved in research, development, dissemination, and use of innovative products and practices.

School boards and administrative leaders are beginning to recognize the pathology of current organizational operations. Teacher resistance to innovations and orders laid on from above is a salient point in reviewing current practices. It has been said that the bureaucratic model works fairly well in the administrative unit; however, it completely breaks up at the local school level. It is not an uncommon phenomenon to see local school administrators aligning themselves with teachers in strikes and bargaining issues.

There is an increased awareness of the need for flexibility and alternative instructional modes to perform the front line educational tasks. This has led to some shifts in the operations of administrative personnel from being dispensers of rules and policy to a supportive role, aiding local school personnel to accomplish their tasks. Funded program offices, for example, are often seen in the field helping local school personnel and community leaders write proposals. Previously, these offices wrote the proposals, then tried to implement the programs in local schools. These internal movements are happening within a general atmosphere of increasing school-community demands for involvement in decision making and a general declining faith in educational institutions. State teacher organizations are lobbying and supporting candidates with views similar to teachers. Schools have gained a prominent place in the mass media. Previously relegated to the fashion and style sections of the newspapers, educational events are now appearing in the front sections. Much of this news is negative; however, it is increasing the public awareness of the need for improvement in educational institutions.

A complex pattern of forces both inside educational institutions and in the broader social environment is emerging. The student of teachers' consumption behavior and the advocate of educational innovation development has a growing set of variables to consider.

Implications for the Study of Teacher Consumer Behavior

Several questions present themselves for inquiry into the behavior of teachers as consumers.

* How do teachers become aware of the need for innovation and change?

* What incentives are most useful in the adoption/implementation processes?

* What are the organizational characteristics most significant for the innovation processes?

* What personal attributes of teachers act as aids or barriers in the change processes?

* What are the attributes most salient to teachers for their decision to adopt or reject innovations?

* What diffusion strategies are most useful among educational institutions?

* What are the environmental forces affecting-change?

Teacher behavior is context specific, and it is imperative for students of that behavior to be aware of the internal and external forces impinging upon that context. Teachers' adoption of new products, services, and innovations is both constrained and encouraged by the normative forces of the teaching environment and climate. Current events impinging on traditional practices and structure are significant variables in the consumption decisions made by teachers.

Teachers have and will continue to resist innovations forced on them with little decision making input. The continued use of products and innovations is dependent on the "ownership" felt by the teacher for those things. That ownership will only come from the involvement of teachers in planning and implementing programs dealing with innovations. Further, innovations intruding on traditional functions and structure must appeal to teacher aspirations, satisfactions, and professional goals. If innovations are viewed as a threat to the already severely limited authority of teachers, there is little chance for their acceptance and adoption.

Teachers are aware of the force of the local constituencies. Innovations must also be sold to parents and students for effective implementation. This will involve-a participation in decision making from the local school community. Promoters of new products aid innovations will need to aid teachers in the development of program ownership for that local community.

Given the above statements and questions, the student and/or advocate of teacher adoption of innovation and change will need to consider several variables under each of the following areas: (a) educational organizations, (b) environmental forces, (c) personalities, and (d) innovations.

(a) The organizational climate presents a number of forces impinging on the innovative process. First, one must consider the cosmopolitan or local orientation of the professional staff. This relates to the degree to which teachers orient themselves to the broader world surrounding their work. How strong are the professional links outside of the institution? Do teachers keep up on current trends and developments in the field? Do teachers actively seek solutions to problems both from external educational resources and from other fields of knowledge and inquiry?

A second consideration is the way in which the professional staff derives satisfaction from work. Based on the work of Herzberg (1959), Thomas Sergiovanni (1969) and Sergiovanni and Carver (1973) have suggested that a teacher's motivation for work can be classified according to their degree of hygiene seeking or motivation seeking. This is generally translated from Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Lower order needs such as personal security, financial well-being, interpersonal relations, etc. are given the hygiene label. Higher order needs such as esteem, autonomy, achievement, and self-actualization are placed in the motivation category. Those teachers most concerned with hygiene factors are called hygiene seeking and are less apt to be involved with the development and change of the organization. The reverse is true for those motivation-seeking teachers, whose primary concern is with higher order needs. Sergiovanni and Carver (1973) suggest that motivation seekers are concerned with achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement. Hygiene seekers concern themselves with salary, interpersonal relations, status, supervision, policy and administration, working conditions, job security, and their personal lives. When translated to teaching, several of the factors given above are limited. The mono-dimensional treatment of teaching places barriers on the advancement considerations for those interested in continuing the teaching work. Other considerations are limited by the organizational and governance structure of educational institutions.

A third consideration is the general authority structure of the organization. To what degree are teachers able to make decisions independently of peers and superiors? Are most decisions made by administrators with-little regard for teachers' opinions or ideas? To what degree are school decisions made through interaction among the members of the professional staff? Must teachers get approval before taking actions that are innovative or changed from current practice?

A fourth consideration is the innovative atmosphere of the organization. The innovativeness of teachers and the school is an important factor in understanding the consumer behavior of teachers. Is the school among the first to adopt new programs or practices? Does adoption take place only after careful review of the innovation by other institutions? Does the school and/or staff lag behind other schools in trying new programs and practices?

A fifth factor is the administrative mode of the school. This can be divided into two parts: (1) the formal/informal style of the administration and (2) the open/closed nature of interaction between teachers and administrators. The degree to which formal lines of communication follow classical bureaucratic patterns is a central consideration here. The administrative mode of the school is directly tied to the authority patterns of the institution.

A sixth consideration is the degree of centralization or decentralization of the school system. Is the school free to try innovations or must the central administration grant approval for such action? Are new programs and practices mandated to the school by the central administration?

The conflict management style of the organization is a seventh factor. Are the issues surfaced and dealt with openly or are they glossed over in an effort to deny the existence of*the conflict? To what degree are all interested parties involved in discussion and problem-solving activities centered on the conflict?

Communication patterns in the school should be treated as an eighth consideration. Authenticity, openness, and freedom of expression are all significant factors that should be tested. Closely tied to communications is the ' atmosphere of trust that exists among the professional staff members.

A final consideration of the organizational climate is the degree of support for change. Are faculty members given time and support for developing and reviewing new ideas, programs, and practices? Are adequate resources provided for innovative action? Is there support for risk taking and room for failure?

(b) The environmental climate of the school is a second general area for inquiry. The environment of the organization offers the following variables to consider as they impact the innovative or change processes of the school:

--the open/closed relationship of the school and community

--community support for innovation and change

--the strength and impact of teacher organizations and collective bargaining on change efforts

--the impact of th& mass media on adoption and diffusion of innovations

--the socioeconomic status of the school client population

--the degree of client (student and parent) participation in school decisions

--the overlapping membership of school staff members in other organizations, community groups, associations., etc.

(c) The third general area offering several considerations is the personal characteristics of teachers in relation to the school and the education profession. A number of the organizational considerations should be included in a personal teacher inventory: innovativeness, cosmopolitan/ local orientation, motivational orientation (hygiene/motivational), risk taking, authority to act and decide, open or closed interpersonal relations, awareness of change or trends in the field, involvement in decision-making and conflict resolution activities, et al. other considerations also would be included in a personal inventory.

Teaching style is a strong influence on the innovation and change decisions of the teacher. Is the teacher's primary consideration the subject matter or the individual student? Is the classroom characterized by tight, inflexible structure or is it open and subject to constant revision? Is the emphasis placed on imposed or self-discipline?

The degree of isolation or interaction with peers is an important consideration. Does the teacher work in a team situation or alone? Does the teacher actively participate in discussions and groups dealing with school problems?

The role perception of the teacher should also be inventoried. Is that perception limited to classroom activities or school-wide considerations? To what degree does the teacher see his or her role involving the development of the profession outside of the school?

Feelings of impotence and efficacy will have strong implications for adoption/implementation decisions in the innovative process. How able is the teacher to influence the organization and environment? What has been past experience in affecting change or trying innovations? Is the teacher able to get colleagues to try innovations similar to his or her own efforts?

(d) A final general area of consideration is the innovation or change itself. Studies can be made that will indicate the general atmosphere for change in an organization from the three previous general areas: organizational climate, the organizational environment, and the personal teacher inventory. However, the specific nature of a particular innovation or change is equally significant. Two considerations are significant here: (1) the type of innovation and (2) the attributes of the innovation.

In educational institutions, two classifications by type are significant: (1) whether the innovation is structural or curricular and (2) whether the innovation is a material product or a process. Structural innovations are designed to change the organization or configuration of entities within the institution. Curricular innovations are changes in the content or method of transferring knowledge in the teaching setting. Material innovations are actual physical products used in the organization or instructional setting. Process innovations are designed to change the way in which tasks are performed. These classifications are used here for purposes of clarification and are not necessarily a means to divide innovations into exclusive categories. A new product introduced into a classroom may also demand a new process of instruction (e.g., teaching machines or simulation games). Structural and curricular innovations are more easily separated.

The type coupled with the particular attributes of an innovation have strong impact on the adoption decisions teachers make. A complete listing of the attributes of innovations will not be given here; however, several categories of attributes [The development of this list of innovation attribute categories is an extension of the work done by Gerald Zaltman, Northwestern University, Graduate School of Management, and Robert A. Cooke, University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research; done at Northwestern University.] will be helpful indicators for the study of teacher consumer behavior regarding adoption of innovations.

Costs are foregone opportunities to expend financial or human resources in other areas. The financial and/or social expenditures incurred in the decision making, adoption efforts, and maintenance of an innovation are the significant costs for consideration here.

Efficiency is the consideration given to the ability of an innovation to achieve its intended purpose in relation to other products or practices. Comparative estimates are given for dollars spent, time saved, problems avoided, and discomfort incurred.

Risk deals with uncertainty. Questions arise over the unintended consequences of adopting an innovation as well as the expected functional and dysfunctional consequences. What are the consequences if the innovation fails? If it produces negative feelings in the environment? If I become responsible for its success dr failure?

Communicability is important to spreading the innovation through the organization. To what degree is the innovation easily and effectively disseminated to others? How easily can I explain the process and intended purposes of the change?

Clarity of results deals with the ease of associating the consequences of an innovation with its adoption and continued use. How difficult is it to assess the affects of this practice/product?

Compatibility deals with both the similarity of the innovation to other products or practices ongoing in the institution and the degree to which the innovation fits into the organization without disturbing the general situational context.

Pervasiveness is the degree to which the innovation affects different elements in the social structure of the organization. Closely tied to this is the divisibility of the innovation or the degree to which the innovation can be tried on a limited basis.

Complexity is tied to the difficulty of understanding, implementing and operating the innovation in the organization. This attribute is closely tied with a teacher's knowledge, skills, and personal feelings of efficacy.'

Perceived relative advantage by the potential adopter over alternative products or practices is essential to the change process. Critical here is the relative advantage not only over alternative innovations, but also over the status quo.

Demonstrability deals with both the ability to show how the innovation can be used and how its benefits can be shown to others. This attribute is directly tied to the communicability of the innovation. Can the innovation be tried on a pilot basis for demonstration purposes? Are there handy examples for review?

Structural radicalness involves the degree to which the innovation's adoption would bring about changes in the structural components of the organization: communication, authority, incentive/reward system, etc.

Terminality deals with the optimal points in time (terminals) in which the innovation must or should be adopted to maximize its usefulness. Are there specific times during the school year when the innovation has to be adopted or could it be introduced at any point?

Reversibility deals with the ability to return to the status quo if the innovation ceases to be used. This attribute is directly tied to the structural radicalness and pervasiveness of the innovation.

Degree of commitment has to do with the need for commitment of financial, human and other resources of the institution needed for the successful adoption, implementation and continued use of the innovation.

Impact on interpersonal relationships or the social system of the organization is a significant factor in the adoption process. This attribute should be considered both for the formal communication and authority structure as well as the 'informal organization of the social system.

Publicness vs. privateness of an innovation is the degree to which it becomes available to various members of the system. if the innovation is available to one member, is it automatically available to most members? The salience of the innovation to the environment is also tied to this attribute.

Size of the decision making body deals with numbers of individuals involved in the decision to adopt or reject the innovation. This attribute becomes increasingly important when moving from a decision to adopt to the action process of implementation. As mentioned earlier, many innovations "adopted" by superordinates are not implemented by subordinates in school systems.

Number of gatekeepers deals with the number of channels through which information concerning the innovation must travel to reach the target group. Also important here is the number of people involved in the approval process within the authority structure of the social system.

Susceptibility to successive modifications is the degree to which the innovation can be revised, modified, refined, or developed once in use. This is closely tied to the type of innovation. If the innovation is a prepackaged product, there is little room for teacher tinkering.

Gateway capacity deals with the ability of the innovation, if adopted, to open avenues for further innovation and change in the-organization.

Ego involvement is the degree to which a person's normative structure is affected by the adoption and use of the innovation. Are beliefs and values challenged and/or changed by the use of the innovation?

The interaction of these organizational, personal, environmental, and innovation phenomena influences the consumer behavior of teachers in educational institutional settings. They offer a wealth of considerations for the student of teacher consumer behavior. Advocates of change, change agents, organizational developers, and innovation champions have looked into different elements over the recent years. Market research, R&D efforts, diffusion strategies are being developed. The consideration of the variables given here along with those being developed is essential to the understanding of the complex processes involved in decisions to adopt/reject and implement or discontinue educational innovations.


It has been the intent in the above sections to provide the reader with a broad perspective of teaching work and the significant considerations for those interested in the innovation or change process in educational institutions. To understand the work of teachers and the forces impinging on their decisions as consumers of new ideas, products, and practices necessitates an awareness of the nature of teaching, the social and organizational context of teacher work, the system of authority and control in and over educational institutions, socialization patterns, professional aspirations, environmental forces affecting educational institutions, and forces for change both internal and outside of those institutions. I have attempted here to highlight significant factors in each of the above areas.

The emphasis has been on the urban teacher; however, the factors and variables described are applicable to teachers in a variety of settings. The implications for consumer research are general and applicable to any school teacher.

Many of the descriptors given for the teaching profession seem to be negative forces in the innovation process. Isolated teachers being socialized into bureaucratic orientations are dealing with an oppressive control structure while having to work with diverse, conscripted clients. The Limited Authority Cycle seems to perpetuate disincentives for teachers to adopt new programs, practices, and products. Teachers are given limited training and background to deal with the contingencies of their work. Limited opportunities exist for teachers to advance and remain in the profession. Public and local community hostility is coupled with statutory mandates for an undefinable accountability for performance. Conflicting demands to conform to standard practice and pressures to professionalize teaching impact the teacher. Teachers are increasingly coming under public scrutiny and intrusion of perceived domain. Financial resources for public education are on the decline and public expectations for improved performance continue to rise.

Taken in isolation, these factors would indicate little need to study innovative behavior of teachers. There would not be any. However, innovation is not declining in schools. New ideas, products, practices, and programs are introduced, adopted, and implemented in varying degrees. Forces are working against the disincentives to innovate. Teacher aspirations for professional status, collective action, entry into the political processes, reaction to frustration over limited authority, social science research, government funded programs and incentives to change, the shift of power from local to state and national levels, pressures from local communities, and the like create powerful forces for change among teachers and educational institutions. Not all of this change will be or has been positive. However, teaching is in 6 dynamic state of existence; both progressive and conservative forces are actively impacting teachers.

The student or advocate of teacher behavior regarding change and innovation is faced with a complex pattern of elements interacting both inside educational institutions and in the organizational environment. I have attempted to provide some significant variables to consider in four important areas: (1) the organizational climate, (2) the environmental climate, (3) the personal characteristics of teachers, and (4) the innovation or change itself (type and attributes).

The foregoing suggests several propositions significant for the developing strategies for innovation. First,, there is little feeling of ownership and commitment to adopt or implement an innovation when one has been left out of the decision making process considering that innovation. Second, the decision to involve teachers in such decisions may have significant effects on the organization and control of educational organizations. Third, failure to consider environmental forces (legal, political, economic, and social) in the early stages of innovation decisions will insure later confrontation with these forces adding to frustrations in attempts to implement and continue the use of innovative products or practices in educational institutions. Fourth, including social actors in the environment, emphasis on client participation, when making decisions to adopt or reject innovations, will further challenge the social and authority structure of educational organizations. Fifth, opening the organization to the environment will either ameliorate the process of implementing innovations or will create confrontation depending on (a) attempts to retain the organizational status quo with regard to centralized authority and control or (b) a willingness to share control and decision making authority. Sixth, provisions to implement innovations will need to involve opportunities for review, evaluation, redefinition, and modification if the innovation is to survive the changing nature of both environment and organization. Finally, if these provisions are provided, the organization will have established a process for constant development and change.

The propositions have been tested in limited instances. Models of change and innovation are being developed and redeveloped as new ideas are tested and added considerations are included in such tests. Broadening the concept of consumer behavior to education and professional actors in that area will enhance the understanding of innovation and change both in educational institutions and, by comparison, that of other social systems. There is little doubt of the need for further study and understanding. The hope here is that stimulation has been given for such inquiry and that there has been provided some guidelines for the study of teachers' consumption behavior.


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Bennis, W. Beyond Bureaucracy. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1966.

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Corwin, R. G. "Social Organization of Schools: School as a Formal Organization," The Encyclopedia of Education, Vol. 8. New York: Macmillan, 1971.

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Sarason, S. B. The Culture of the School and the Problem of Change. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Inc-, 1971.

Sergiovonni, T. J. "Factors which Affect Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction of Teachers," in F. D. Carver and T, J. Sergiovanni (eds.), Organizations and Human Behavior. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1969.

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David H. Florio, Assistant Professor of Education, Northwestern University


SV - Broadening the Concept of Consumer Behavior | 1975

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