How do school leaders navigate factors influencing teaching, learning & pedagogical change?
How do school leaders navigate factors influencing teaching, learning & pedagogical change?
How do school leaders navigate factors influencing teaching, learning & pedagogical change?
A portrait photo of Jane Larsson Executive Director at CIS 2022
Mary Powell


By Jane Larsson, CIS Executive Director & Mary Powell, CIS Associate Director of School Support & Evaluation—Strategic Initiatives

This article was first published in CIS News in September 2023


Emerging findings from pedagogy research with participating school leaders, teachers, administrators, parents, and students.

We’re leading a pedagogy research project in collaboration with the Jacobs Foundation, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER UK), and the Klingenstein Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, to explore the concept of pedagogy in an international school context, to understand how schools make decisions about teaching and learning, and to learn how they evaluate the implementation of their decisions.
Our overall goal is to provide resources through an open source toolkit to support schools as they lead pedagogical change in their communities.

This initiative began in 2022 with these guiding questions:

  • How do schools select, adopt, plan, implement and evaluate pedagogies?
  • What factors lead to changes in practice? (cultural, historical, curricular, contextual?)
  • How & where do schools access evidence to make decisions?
  • How do perspectives between stakeholders align and diverge within a school?

We consulted more than 400 school leaders, 550 teachers, 400 parents, and 500 students at 135 CIS member schools in 56 countries on 6 continents via 21 focus groups and a survey completed by 1,900 people. 
Diverse and nuanced perspectives were gained on the major factors affecting choices in teaching and learning. All stakeholder groups agreed that the needs of students and their future pathways should be a central focus for schools.

Where their feedback diverged, we found that teachers and leaders tended to emphasize their own role in decision-making. Most school leaders, teachers and students viewed parents as having a significant impact, and parents disagreed with each other about how much influence they should have. 

Some schools reported that engagement with community stakeholders happens before decisions are made, in others, decisions are made “top-down” with opportunities for feedback during the implementation phase.

Where perspectives aligned, we found that professional learning is almost universally cited as a driver of change. Curriculum (and curriculum providers) and governmental regulators were the most-cited factors influencing pedagogy and are seen as fixed and unchangeable.


CIS Pedagogy Research_Curricula chart

A snapshot of the curriculum frameworks participating schools have in place. Research gathered in collaboration with the Jacobs Foundation, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER UK), and the Klingenstein Center at Teachers College, Columbia University


And while student needs are highly valued, it was noted that student voices may be under-represented.

'Because we are covering [x curriculum] there is a limited range of approaches teachers can include. This is because the exams which students are expected to take have a specific format and they have to be prepared for that'—Student

The students surveyed generally expressed a high level of understanding of their school’s approaches to curriculum, instruction, and assessment. 

We asked stakeholders: ‘How, if at all, or at what frequency, would you say that your school evaluates its curricula?’ 

'This is done every year. It is like a festival. A week-long activity'—Teacher

'The details of such evaluation, if there is any, are shrouded in mystery. Teachers do not know unless they are members of the senior management committee'—Teacher

'Curricula are reviewed every four years. This is perhaps too short a period. Often, whole-scale changes to standards or pedagogy are made. This is because teachers and leaders come and go frequently, and often new leaders make radical changes to reflect their own educational and pedagogical philosophies or experiences'—Teacher


'We don't have a fully regular cycle of review, but—mostly necessitated by the rapidly changing educational landscape—we review our curricula on a regular basis'—Leader

'As parents, we are not always aware of the changes in the curriculum, though we trust the leadership team in this matter when it happens across the school. However, most of the time, these changes are applied in each division separately without consulting with another division, which creates gaps in the learning process'—Parent

Student responses to questions about inclusion via diversity, equity, and anti-racism (I-DEA) suggest that belonging/inclusion is central in their minds. They report that individual teachers take students’ perspectives, and particularly their needs, into account, but that this happens less frequently at the school-wide level.

'I have heard many students complain and I see the slightest changes happening but after a few weeks it goes back to how it used to be, but when parents are involved, the school starts changing'—Student

In summary, the major factors affecting pedagogical change management and choices in teaching and learning include:

  • a desire for students’ pathways through secondary and higher education to enable success and mobility
  • the need for instructional agility in the face of global change as schools prepare students for the future
  • calls for inclusive and equitable practices that are culturally responsive and foster global citizenship
  • the pressures of navigating complex governmental regulations, external curriculum and assessment requirements, and the expectations of school networks and governing bodies
  • resource limitations
  • tension between stakeholder perspectives
  • so much more

It is notable that cross-cutting elements, linking traditionally separate or independent parties or interests, impact pedagogy and pedagogical change management regardless of how change is approached. These include:

  • programme of study (a significant driver)
  • parent views
  • transitions (to the next stage of education, including higher education)
  • teacher engagement, attitude, and professional learning
  • prioritizing global citizenship and inclusion
  • future-readiness and future-proofing
  • learning resources and infrastructure
  • student voice

'I would like to see [the children] somewhat prepared for fast changes, to be able to listen, to be able to work together, to be able to rethink things when plan a is not working, to be able to step up for what they believe'—Parent

Coming up in Phase 2 of the research

The project team has now turned its sights on developing a resource kit to support school leaders as they consider how pedagogical choices and decisions are made in their communities. It will support leaders as they self-assess their school’s effectiveness in managing pedagogical change and will guide them in making evidence-based changes that effectively balance a school’s vision, stakeholder voices, and learner needs.

We’re excited about all we are learning through this project on pedagogical decision-making and how it will lead to the creation of valuable resources to inform and validate practices.



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How do school leaders navigate factors influencing teaching, learning & pedagogical change?
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How do school leaders navigate factors influencing teaching, learning & pedagogical change?