Education is ripe with ideas for improving teaching and learning. Unfortunately, when education leaders translate those ideas into school-based initiatives, many fall short of their aims. Even those with generous philanthropic backing, a solid research grounding, and careful planning and design all too often miss their intended marks.

One major reason school initiatives fail is because they are coercive. Well-intentioned leaders thrust new programs into classrooms in a top-down manner and compel teachers to change their practices to keep up with the new program. Lackluster results then follow because the initiatives never account for the goals, struggles, and day-to-day priorities of the professional educators charged with faithful implementation.

To increase the likelihood of an initiatives’ success, education leaders need to consider the true interests and motivations of their teachers. But understanding how to align an initiative with teachers is neither simple nor obvious. Leaders often fall into a few common traps: expecting strong support for an initiative based on its perceived virtues; tailoring initiatives to group demographics; creating solutions for product categories rather than people; and listening to what people say rather than what they do.

The Jobs to Be Done Theory offers a valuable framework—validated through research across many sectors—for understanding what causes people to adopt new products, services, or initiatives. All people have Jobs to be Done in their lives—the progress they are trying to make as they strive toward a goal or aspiration within particular life circumstances. We call these Jobs because just as people “hire” contractors to help them build houses or lawyers to help them build a case, people search for something they can ‘hire’ to help them when “Jobs” arise in their lives.

Through interviewing teachers who had recently adopted new instructional practices in their classrooms—such as blended learning or project-based learning—we uncovered four distinct Jobs that characterize how many teachers strive to make progress with their students and in their classrooms.

  1. Help me lead the way in improving my school
  2. Help me engage and challenge more of my students
  3. Help me replace a broken instructional model so I can reach each student
  4. Help me to not fall behind on my school’s new initiative

As we uncovered teachers’ Jobs, one key takeaway became clear: one-size-fits-all initiatives rarely offer acceptable solutions for all the varied Jobs among a school’s teaching staff. For example, an initiative that appeals to teachers with the “Help me lead the way in improving my school” Job will likely fall flat among teachers with the “Help me replace a broken instructional model so I can reach each student” Job because it does not offer radical enough alternatives to the status quo. Likewise, a teacher with the Job of “Help me to not fall behind on my school’s new initiative” approaches new initiatives very differently from a teacher focused on “Help me engage and challenge more of my students.” Jobs Theory reveals that teachers need qualitatively different experiences to fulfill their Jobs to Be Done. In the body of this paper, we recommend ways to design initiatives for teachers experiencing each of these Jobs.

We hope that this research shifts how school leaders and policymakers think about education reform, instructional innovation, and change management. The success or failure of any school improvement initiative hinges on how well the teachers on the frontlines carry that initiative forward. If such reforms hope to deliver on the progress they promise, they should start with a clearer picture of the progress that teachers themselves are seeking.


  • Thomas Arnett
    Thomas Arnett

    Thomas Arnett is a senior research fellow for the Clayton Christensen Institute. His work focuses on using the Theory of Disruptive Innovation to study innovative instructional models and their potential to scale student-centered learning in K–12 education. He also studies demand for innovative resources and practices across the K–12 education system using the Jobs to Be Done Theory.

  • Bob Moesta
    Bob Moesta

    I’m a research fellow at the Christensen Institute and the CEO, and Founder of The Re-Wired Group, which provides end-to-end innovation consulting that revolutionizes markets through the application of quality and disruption principles to product development. I specialize in solving seemingly unsolvable problems and increasing the skills of innovators, and have personally launched more than 3,500 products, services, and businesses across nearly every industry.

  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.