Journal of Educational Change

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 181–204 | Cite as

Teachers’ agency, efficacy, engagement, and emotional resilience during policy innovation implementation

  • Kristen Campbell WilcoxEmail author
  • Hal A. Lawson


This multiple case study investigated 143 teachers’ responses to focus group questions about their experiences with the simultaneous implementation of three disruptive innovations as part of the U.S. Race-to-the-Top (RTTT) agenda: the Common Core Learning Standards, data-driven instruction, and annual professional performance reviews. We asked: How do teachers describe their experiences implementing these three RTTT innovations? How do teachers describe supports for their adaptation to these innovations? And, for each of these questions, and since the study purposefully included schools with above-predicted student outcomes (i.e. odds-beaters) as well as a comparison set of typically performing schools, we inquired: In what ways do odds-beating school teachers’ experiences differ from their peers in typically performing schools? Guided by an emergent framework that emphasizes the relationships among teacher agency, engagement, efficacy, and emotional resilience and how these vary in different school contexts, findings suggest that district office innovation leadership and resource allocations, school leadership structures and strategies, and collaborative teams and communities of practice vary and relate to teachers’ experiences of innovation implementation. This study advances an empirically-grounded and theoretically rich framework for investigation of teachers’ performance adaptation during policy innovation implementation and suggests implications for future research, policy, and practice.


Common Core State Standards Teacher evaluation Data-driven instruction Teacher agency Teacher efficacy Teacher engagement Teacher emotional resilience Case study Policy implementation 



This article was crafted with the help of doctoral student Mary Jo Morgan who extracted codes and assisted with the first stages of analysis. We would like to also recognize the following people for their assistance with recruitment, data collection, and data analysis in the larger study from which this one emerged: Francesca Durand, Linda Baker, Kathryn Schiller, Kathy Nickson, Michael Lawson, Shari Keller, Hal Lawson, Dorothy Porteus, Karen Gregory, Ben Malczyk, Michelle Bianchi, Sarah Zuckerman, Fang (Lisa) Yu, Sharon Wiles, Nisa Felicia, Juliana Svistova, Lynn Lisy-Macan, Deb Byrne, Piera Camposeo, John Costello, Heather Kurto, Aaron Leo, Christl Mueller, Gretchen Oliver, and Kemm Wilson. Most importantly, we would like to acknowledge all of the teachers, teaching aides, support staff, ENL teachers, and special education teachers who took time to share their experiences with our research team.


  1. Baard, S. K., Rench, T. A., & Kozlowski, S. W. (2013). Performance adaptation: A theoretical integration and review. Journal of Management, 40(1), 48–99. Scholar
  2. Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1996). Foreword. In R. B. Cairns, G. H. Elder Jr., & E. J. Costello (Eds.), Developmental science (pp. ix–xvii). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Christensen, C. M., Horn, M. B., & Johnson, C. W. (2011). Disrupting class: How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns. New York: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  5. Cooper, K. S., Kintz, T., & Miness, A. (2016). Reflectiveness, adaptivity, and support: How teacher agency promotes student engagement. American Journal of Education, 123(1), 109–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Creswell, J. W. (2015). 30 Essential skills for the qualitative researcher. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
  7. Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The flat world and education: How America’s commitment to equity will determine our future. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  8. Day, C., & Gu, Q. (2013). Resilient teachers, resilient schools: Building and sustaining quality in testing times. Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Derrington, M. L., & Angelle, P. S. (2013). Teacher leadership and collective efficacy: Connections and links. International Journal of Teacher Leadership, 4(1), 1–13.Google Scholar
  10. Durand, F., Lawson, H. A., Wilcox, K. C., & Schiller, K. (2015). The role of district office leaders in the adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards in elementary schools. Educational Administration Quarterly, 52(1), 45–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Elmore, R. (2004). School reform from the inside out: Policy, practice, and performance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  12. Eppley, K. (2015). Seven traps of the Common Core State Standards. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 59(2), 207–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Evans, B. (1996). The human side of school change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  14. Ferguson, R., Phillips, S., Rowley, J., & Friedlander, J. (2015). The influence of teaching: Beyond standardized test scores: Engagement, mindsets, and agency. Cambridge, MA: The Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University. Retrieved from
  15. Fullan, M., Rincon-Gallardo, S., & Hargreaves, A. (2015). Professional capital as accountability. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23(15). Retrieved from
  16. Giddens, A. (1979). Central problems in social theory: Action, structure and contradiction in social analysis. London: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Goddard, R. D., Hoy, W. K., & Woolfolk, A. (2000). Collective teacher efficacy: Its meaning, measure, and effect on student achievement. American Education Research Journal, 37(2), 479–507.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Heifetz, R., Linsky, M., & Grashow, A. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  19. Honig, M. I. (2006). Complexity and policy implementation. In M. I. Honig (Ed.), New directions in education policy implementation (pp. 1–23). Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  20. Honig, M. I. (2009). What works in defining “what works” in educational improvement: Lessons from educational policy implementation research, directions for future research. In G. Sykes, B. Schneider, & D. N. Plank (Eds.), Handbook of educational policy research (pp. 333–347). New York: American Educational Research Association and Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Klassen, R. M., Yerdelen, S., & Durksen, T. L. (2013). Measuring teacher engagement: Development of the engaged teachers scale (ETS). Frontline Learning Research, 1(2), 33–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Knapp, M. S., Copland, M. A., Honig, M. I., Plecki, M. L., & Portin, B. S. (2014). Practicing and supporting learning-focused leadership in schools and districts. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Koschmann, M. A., & McDonald, J. (2015). Organizational rituals, communication, and the question of agency. Management Communication Quarterly, 29(2), 229–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kurto, H., Wilcox, K.C., Saddler, K. (in press). Accessibility of the Common Core for students with disabilities: Results from a multiple case study. Journal of the American Academy of Special Education Professionals. Google Scholar
  25. Lawson, H. A., Durand, F., Wilcox, K. C., Gregory, K., Schiller, K., & Zuckerman, S. (2017). The role of district and school leaders’ trust and communications in the simultaneous implementation of policy innovations. Journal of School Leadership, 27(1), 31–67.Google Scholar
  26. Lawson, M. A., & Lawson, H. A. (2013). New conceptual frameworks for student engagement research, policy, and practice. Review of Educational Research, 83(3), 432–479. Scholar
  27. Levine, D. M., Stephan, D. F., & Szabat, K. A. (2013). Statistics for managers (7th ed.). NY: Pearson.Google Scholar
  28. Lipsky, M. (1980). Street-level bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the individual in public services. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  29. Lord, R. G., & Brown, D. J. (2004). Leadership processes and follower self-identity. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.Google Scholar
  30. Maxwell, J. A. (2012). Qualitative research design: An interactive approach (Vol. 3). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  31. McFadden, M., & Munns, G. (2010). Student engagement and the social relations of pedagogy. British Journal of the Sociology of Education, 23(3), 357–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., & Saldaña, J. (2013). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  33. Nagaoka, J., Farrington, C., Ehrlich, S., & Heath, R, Johnson, D., Dickson, S, et al. (2016). Foundations for young adult success: A developmental framework. Chicago: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. Retrieved from:
  34. Noddings, N. (1986). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  35. Priestley, M., Biesta, G., & Robinson, S. (2016). Teacher agency: An ecological approach. New York: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  36. Pugliesi, K. (1999). The consequences of emotional labor: Effects on work stress, job satisfaction, and well-being. Motivation and Emotion, 23(2), 125–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Reis, S. M., McCoach, D. B., Little, C. A., Muller, L. M., & Kaniskan, R. B. (2011). The effects of differentiated instruction and enrichment pedagogy on reading achievement in five elementary schools. American Educational Research Journal, 48(2), 462–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rice, J. K., & Malen, B. (2003). The human costs of education reform: The case of school reconstitution. Educational Administration Quarterly, 39(5), 635–666.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 80(1), 1–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Stosich, E. L. (2016). Joint inquiry: Teachers’ collective learning about the Common Core Standards in high poverty urban schools. American Educational Research Journal, 53(6), 1698–1731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sun, M., Loeb, S., & Grissom, J. A. (2016). Building teacher teams: Evidence of positive spillover effects from more effective colleagues. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. Advance online publication.
  42. Supovitz, J. A., & Spillane, J. (2015). Challenging standards: Navigating conflict and building capacity in the era of the Common Core. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  43. Wilcox, K. C. (2005). What makes elementary schools work. Albany, NY: State University of New York. Retrieved from
  44. Wilcox, K. C. (2008). What makes high schools work: Findings from the 20072008 high school best practice study in New York State. Albany, NY: State University of New York. Retrieved from
  45. Wilcox, K. C. (2009). Best practices in middle school science: Nurturing adolescents to become the next generation of scientists. Albany, NY: State University of New York. Retrieved from
  46. Wilcox, K. C., & Angelis, J. (2007). What makes middle schools work: Findings from the 20062007 middle school best practice study in New York State. Albany, NY: State University of New York. Retrieved from
  47. Wilcox, K. C., & Angelis, J. I. (2011). What works for diverse and special needs students: Best practices from higher-performing elementary schools. Albany, NY: State University of New York. Retrieved from
  48. Wilcox, K. C., Baker, L., & Angelis, J. I. (2013). The ABCs of graduating at-risk students on time: Promising practices from higher-performing high schools. Albany, NY: State University of New York. Retrieved from
  49. Wilcox, K. C., Jeffery, J., & Gardner-Bixler, A. (2016). Writing to the Common Core: Teachers’ responses to changes in standards and assessments for writing in elementary schools. Reading and Writing, 29(5), 903–928.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Wilcox, K. C., Lawson, H. A., Angelis, J. I., Durand, F., Schiller, K., Gregory, K., et al. (2017). Innovation in odds-beating schools: Exemplars of getting better at getting better. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  51. Wilcox, K. C., Schiller, K. S., Durand, F., Lawson, H. A., & Gregory, K. (2014). Common Core Odds-Beating Study: Methods and procedures. A report for the New York State Education Department as part of the School Improvement Study. A report for the New York State Education Department as part of the School Improvement Study. University at Albany, State University of New York.Google Scholar
  52. Yin, R. K. (2014). Case study research: Design and methods (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  53. Zee, M., & Koomen, H. M. Y. (2016). Teacher self-efficacy and its effects on classroom processes, student academic adjustment, and teacher well-being: A synthesis of 40 years of research. Review of Educational Research, 86(4), 981–1015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Zuckerman, S. J., Wilcox, K. C., Durand, F. T., Lawson, H. A., & Schiller, K. S. (2017). Drivers for change: A study of distributed leadership and performance adaptation during policy innovation implementation. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 1–29.  http;//doi.org10.1080/15700763.2017.1384500.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University at AlbanyAlbanyUSA

Personalised recommendations