At LINC, we work hard each day to drive the changes in our education systems that will better prepare educators and students for the modern global challenges they face. We ground our coaching work with educators in the Model of Generative Change, an approach developed by Stanford University Graduate School of Education Professor Dr. Arnetha Ball. Its foundation is the premise that productive teachers and learners create ongoing growth through self and shared reflection and iteration, a skill known as generativity.
Generativity has been a cornerstone of Dr. Ball’s research. She published “Model of Generative Change” in 2009 and asserts that teacher generativity inspires student generativity. For both audiences, Ball extends a philosophy of knowledge creation and creative thinking that produces results unique to any situation. After all, what we do know is that teachers cannot know what challenges the future holds. For these new, unanticipated circumstances that arise, teachers – and their students, as future stakeholders – need to feel empowered with an approach to learning that can adapt to fit any challenge.
Generative learners can tackle in-class and out-of-class challenges as they become adept status-quo questioners, risk-takers, vulnerable guides, and empowered voices. According to Dr. Ball’s socio-cultural, sociolinguistic, and ethnographic research, this is done by moving through four stages of growth. In our work with educators, LINC facilitates this progression to empower teachers as agents of innovative classroom transformation and as pedagogical problem-solvers. By maintaining what we call a “reflect-tinker-grow” mindset, educators can proceed through the four stages of the Generativity cycle and remain committed to repeating it as new pedagogical challenges arise.
Stage 1: Reflection
To become a generative teacher/student/person, the process starts with taking stock of your own learning journey and acknowledging any long-held perspectives you’ve surmised along the way. The reflective exercise is best done through narrativization, also known as telling and hearing your and others’ stories. Dr. Ball shares, “Most teachers teach how they were taught; and most people in successful learning environments have not thought too much about how they learn.” Through this stage, it becomes possible to focus on bridging the disconnect between the teacher’s life and perspective and the often very different experiences of his or her students.
American psychologist Jerome Bruner famously proposed the notion of narrative as a way of reasoning. He explained that storytelling allows us to see in what context and with what intentions we create our own identity, which impacts the perceptions and practices in our classrooms. Knowing this, Dr. Ball recommends using this tool given its “gentle approach for having people come outside of themselves.”
Stage 2: Agency
After awakening to the reality of multiple viewpoints, it’s critical to ask if there is a held desire to bridge this newly discovered gap. This desire must be internally motivated. Dr. Ball reinforces, “The hardest thing to change is people’s attitudes. Sometimes it’s a struggle and sometimes forward movement does require a struggle.”
Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin used the phrase ideological becoming to describe how we develop our way of viewing the world. He also expressed how struggling plays an important role in developing this avenue of consciousness. While it may be uncomfortable, encountering new and potentially oppositional perspectives can spur tectonic shifts to change, to act, and to open up.
Stage 3: Advocacy
With newfound agency, those in search of generativity can’t help but act. They sincerely investigate challenges and do action research around people and ideas that perplex them. This scientific cycle of problem identification, data collection, application, and evaluation sparks momentum and learnings. Soviet psychologist Lev Vygovsky wrote about the nature of such internalization in his Social Development Theory. At this stage, teachers have internalized a shared goal and accepted their role as change agents towards that goal.
Stage 4: Efficacy
The highest (but not final) stage is when teachers become fully generative. Dr. Ball describes this teacher as a creative, pedagogical problem solver. At this stage the teacher is in an ongoing practice of self-reflection, iteration, and co-creation of new knowledge with students. The approach required for one student or class might be drastically different from the approach required for another student or class. Now with students as part of a teacher’s ongoing action research and reflection, infinite pathways become available to ensure that learning needs are met. Simultaneously, student and teacher become learners. This generative stage does not represent an end point as now the teacher may exist in any stage of this continuum as new practices and strategies are introduced.
Vygovsky outlined that there is a zone between what someone is able to do on their own and what someone is able to do with guidance. He called this one’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and asserted that only at the edge of the ZPD can the most profound learning occur. In a generative classroom environment, teachers recognize students as stakeholders who can support their professional learning just as students rely on teachers to support their learning.
Teachers must find their own ZPD, often through our personalized professional development, in order to be able to truly teach students how to find their own ZPDs and be agents of their own learning. This is the mission our team at LINC is fulfilling: to empower educators as generative learners so that they, in turn, can empower students as generative learners. This is key to instilling generativity and preparing students for an uncertain future. Teachers can’t simply talk about these educational theories with students. They have to model them. They have to be the generative learners that they are being asked to help create.