Purpose ' The paper seeks to present and assess a conceptual framework and methodology used by schools for engaging with change and determining the scope of change implementation. Design/methodology/approach ' The approach employs theories of paradigm change, border pedagogy, and border crossing to frame a school's engagement with the constructs of practice that represent its program of innovation. Documentary, survey, interview, and observation methods are used to gather data about four types of engagement with the constructs: aspiring, reporting, understanding, and practicing. The study applied the methodology to four schools recognized for their technological innovation and broader representativeness of the US educational establishment. Findings ' The methodology established the differential engagement of schools with change and identified a stable relative position of each school on a trajectory from aspiration to practice. These outcomes stand in contrast with findings derived from prevailing methodologies in terms of consistency of stakeholders' perspective within schools. Research limitations/implications ' The discussion of findings occurs within the context of existing literature about site-based school reform and the potential of the framework and methodology as a way to engage with change and innovation as well as account for its progress within schools. Limitations include the need for more widespread application of the approach in order to extend its generalizability. Originality/value ' The paper builds on the existing research in the area. It provides new theory and practice for engaging with site-based innovation. A methodology is provided to assist school leaders and schools to engage, enhance, and evaluate their change processes.