The School Positive Change Toolbox

Adopting new practices to better support student learning can have a positive impact in your school, sometimes even rapidly, but this takes time and requires effort. This toolbox is designed to help you in introducing new approaches to teaching and learning by helping you define goals and the steps to achieve them.

Introducing change in my school

COVID-19 has put pressure on school leaders to adapt quickly to emergency remote schooling. However, as a school head, your role is not only to react to problems and change, but also to lead school improvement. Adoption of new practices at whole school level calls for most school staff to change their usual ways of teaching. Although they might be aware of the benefits of the new practices, it is a different matter to actually make the change at whole school level.

What do you think you need to do to encourage teachers in your school to give the desired change a try?

If you decide to implement a new practice in your school, particularly digital formative assessment, this toolbox can help. It has been designed to help you define goals, the steps to achieve them, and the potential benefits and risks of your plan. The approach is based on the Theory of Change (ToC).

©Zsofi Lang -

©Zsofi Lang -

What is the Theory of Change?

The ToC is a widely used method for planning social innovations. It is used by many educators aiming to improve teaching and learning. It is a framework to guide reflection, guiding you to answer questions you might have about who to involve and which school processes to adjust. Much more than a simple checklist it is a structured and easy to use guidance tool helping you bring about the change you aim for in your specific context.

How to drive change in my school?

Each person will have a different knowledge level and might have a different idea than you about digital formative assessment (DFA). Research in schools (in English) using the Theory of Change indicates how important it is that all actors have the same understanding of the goal to attain and the actions to accomplish. It is also important to clarify any misconceptions. For instance, some teachers may think that it involves spending more time on grading student tests while some parents may think there will be fewer exams, although DFA is not necessarily related to grades and exams. If you can agree on a common vision and definition, this will minimise resistance to change due to differences in understanding.

Teachers and students are those most impacted by the change you seek. Including them in discussions about your plans from the beginning will help you understand their needs and take them into account when planning your actions. As teachers will invest time and effort in implementing DFA, their commitment is crucial. Such inclusive leadership can reduce resistance to change and increase teacher buy-in.

While some teachers will be new to your ideas and might even have some doubts, others might be very motivated. In addition to involving all stakeholders in discussions around DFA, support those teachers who come to you with new ideas. They can add momentum to your plans, while other teachers will see that their ideas are valued and may become more open to expressing their own views.

As suggested in this video, you can try a new practice on a smaller scale, as a pilot. This will help you test the new practice before investing the time and effort on a full-scale change. For instance, invite a few volunteer teachers to try DFA in their classroom for a single semester and then evaluate the results. Based on them, you can identify the benefits and limitations and make changes to your method before implementing the change at whole-school level.


If teachers understand the benefits of DFA and learn how to implement it, they will be more likely to adopt it. However, as Dylan Wiliam suggested in the video about introducing change, this may not be the reason some teachers hesitate. These teachers may very well know what works for their class and be aware of the benefits of DFA, but changing practice is a change in routine. Changing routine means that teachers need to invest extra time and effort to move away from something that works well enough for them and takes minimal effort. An incentive may help them make the change, and it is important that teachers feel supported when embarking on it.

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Why can change be difficult?

Why are some people more accepting of change while others are more sceptical? It is important to understand why some teachers resist making changes in their practice. Here are some reasons why.

A teacher might have a very different understanding of formative assessment or, more generally, change in school. One way to check for differences in understanding is to conduct your own formative assessment, by asking what they think formative assessment is, and what benefits or harm the initiative might have for the school. Your teachers may have a different view from you of the potential impact of your initiative. If that is the case, compare ideas and incorporate their suggestions in your final plan.

Some teachers may not trust the initiative because they perceive it as not taking their best interests into account. This might also stem from a general lack of trust in the school leadership. Minimise the perception that this is a top-down initiative, by, for example, involving teachers in the planning of the initiative and inform them as thoroughly as possible about your intentions.

Change means uncertainty, which can be stressful. Some teachers may be resistant because they have a low tolerance of a change in routine and established practice. It may be difficult to identify this because these teachers might also be reluctant to admit that they worry about their ability to adapt to the new situation. It is important that the school leadership establishes a culture where it is safe to talk about this. If self-efficacy is the source of resistance, then teachers may become supportive of the initiative and agree that it can be good for the school if they have a chance to strengthen the appropriate competences. If teachers are supported through training, guidance and peer exchange, they may be more open to adopting new practices. It is also important to recognise that the initiative might demand more effort from teachers. If so it may therefore be more effective to involve busy teachers at a later stage in the initiative.

The template

The toolbox offers a clear template structured around 8 rubrics, describing the steps needed to bring about positive change. This tutorial animation video explains how Michael, a school leader from Denmark, completed this template. The template is adapted to the school context from Nesta’s Theory of Change toolkit.

If you would like to learn more about school leadership, check out the free online course “Learning Leadership for Change” which also provides some Theory of Change exemplar action plans from school heads.


Completing the template

We invite you to create your own Theory of Change plan to introduce DFA practices in your school. Download the template here and check out Michael’s completed example here. See below for an explanation of each field to fill in the template.


What are the main improvements you aim for, or challenges your school is currently facing, that you can tackle with DFA? What do you precisely aim to achieve with DFA in your school? The first step is to define clearly the improvement to be implemented or problem to be solved, and the vision. This will help you define change agents in your school community and the actions to take.

Who would you first approach among teachers concerning DFA? The path of least resistance might be to first approach teachers who are open to trying new practices or teachers who are already implementing formative assessment or using digital educational tools. They can help you plan your actions and fill the template, as well as be the agents of change in your initiative.

If you define your actions and outcomes in a clear and concrete way, it will be easier to understand how you know that those outcomes are actually achieved. For instance, you may plan to deliver training on how to use an online communication platform for formative assessment. If you expect that one of the outcomes will be that teachers give more feedback to students using this platform, your teachers and you can observe whether there actually is an overall increase in feedback given than compared to before the training.

Why did you choose one specific action over another? For instance, you may think that peer learning between teachers might be a better training approach than inviting external experts to run training sessions on DFA in your school. Why? The elements outlined in the template may guide your reflections at each step. We all have cognitive bias, leading us to think something will work because we have assumptions about its effectiveness. Are your assumptions based on past experience and observations? And do they still hold in the context of your school? It is good to take a moment to consider these assumptions and whether they are based on strong foundations. Discuss them with colleagues and make revisions if necessary.