Follow up to a Rant

Oct 26

Last week I posted a rant entitiled, "We have to Stop Doing This to Teachers". I lamented about a number of conversations with teachers about the struggles of doing good work and dealing with change. Anytime you tag your post with the word "rant" it usually means there is some unfinished thoughts. (I guess you could say that about every one of my posts)

Rather than commenting on each person, I thought I'd highlight some of the more salient remarks and perhaps add some commentary of my own.

 

Alan writes:

I am less sanguine about the consensus for change. Competing philosophies of education still hold teacher’s attention. The teacher’s priorities also act as a barrier. Dean mentioned concerns that the focus is to narrowed on Math and Reading (add writing to this). Sure there are marginal teachers, or sound teachers in a slump; however, as Dean remarked, most teachers are innovators. We all have private action research projects we have committed ourselves to and these compete with the division’s primary curricular goals.

I'm not so sure I'd use the word innovator but certainly each teacher brings their personal bias and strengths which adds diversity to students' educational experience. While no one explicitly states that health or art are less important, the message is implied. It reminded me of a post and the comments of a previous rant from about 11 months ago as well as this quote:

Dave writes:

I’ve never seen a detailed breakdown of teachers’ time. If a group of teachers voluntarily started keeping these notes, and if administrators and support staff paid attention and gathered the data, we’d have a much better picture of the problem, could work towards some solutions, and make actual progress because we’d have data to show the decision-makers.

This could be an interesting research. My sense is that so much of the is interrupted in terms of student learning which includes obstrusive assessments. I had a number of teachers last week tell me that they spend more time working at home than they ever have. Again, this is anecdotal, perhaps some hard core data would be of value. Two can play that game.

Megan:

I am convinced that it can only happen when teachers are taught about the power of the personal learning network. By reading and writing and reflecting, teachers can not only connect with those down the hall but also with others from around the world. Through these networks, teachers can begin to grow professionally in their own ways and on their own time line. Of course, this takes great leadership (and possibly PLCs which teach and foster a 21st century mentality), but I think it’s a way to make transformative changes in schools and in teacher-attitudes from the bottom-up.

Although a few of the teachers I spoke with fit into this category, I agree that the support and power of personal learning networks are valuable. That said, our current division uses the term PLC very badly. In fact, what we do is not a PLC and it certainly isn't personal. Teachers are given 3 days throughout the year to work collaboratively on fairly targeted areas.  The work itself is important but somehow the personal part needs to be included. This argument always falls back into a lack of time and will to provide teachers the ability to learn from and with each other. That's why those who are developing this online have the edge. They use their own time and efforts to do this work. There needs to be a better balance between personal learning and professional learning. Not that the two terms can't coexist but as a district or school, there may be certain goals that don't necessarily align or meet every teacher or student's needs but we can't ignore the professional judgement and needs of individual teachers.

Gord, a school administrator from my division writes:

There is no disagreement among teachers, administrators, or senior administrators that the changes we are discussing/implementing are positive and promising for improving student learning. In fact many of the changes we have been wanting for years are coming to fruition. The challenge of course is not in the believing or understanding of the change, but rather the complexity of the implementation. Teachers need time and training to successfully implement the transformation. Just as we do with our students, chunking, scaffolding, and mastery of outcomes come one at a time and build on one another. What we are doing right now is serving a buffet of change and asking teachers to taste a little bit of everything, without really having time to digest anything. Thus, as the instructional leader in our school, I find it my responsibility to filter out some of the myriad of choices and present them one at a time rather than force feeding everything and causing a mass case of indigestion. Change is good and will be a constant for all, but how we manage change and take others with us in the journey is critical to a true transformation.

Sue King,

To me, one of the biggest issues is that deep level change is needed – significant change – and that is not possible to do incrementally while school is in session in the manner we currently do things. I think a very different approach is needed – but the state leaders in education seem hell-bent on staying on the course of accountability via low-level standardized assessments given to all in order to “hold teachers and schools accountable for student learning.” Though the “student learning” being measured is not, to me, genuine learning. I am ready for a change – just do not know how or with whom to join to create something different – something that can start small but be brought to a larger scale in a reasonable amount of time!

Deep level change. That's an ongoing problem with education. We nibble at a variety of approaches and rarely dig deep. I'm excited about the possiblity of our new Saskatchewan Curriculum. It offers the possbility to go deep. Fewer outcomes that focus on big ideas and supporting indicators to guide assessments. Designing learning that answers the questions, "Why do I need to learn this?" and "What is it that I want my students to remember 5 years after they graduate?" is a worthy goal. There are huge implications about how to do that. That's a major shift we're dealing with right now.

Bill Ferriter,

I’ve never wanted to be anything but a classroom teacher–and have turned down many, many high paying opportunities to work beyond the classroom to stay true to that commitment. But I’m actively looking for a way out….and I’ll do almost anything: consultant, college professor, instructional resource teacher etc.

Pretty harsh reaction to someone who obviously is a valued teacher. I worry more and more of our best will be thinking this way. Not that those options are bad, I'm one of them, but certainly seeing those options as a way out, doesn't bode well for the future of the profession.

Finally, a bit of a dissenting point and one that is worth considering and responding to. Joel says,

I don’t think it’s fair to paint teachers as victims or martyrs. Professionals in many fields take responsibility for the product and the process of their work, and it seems that teachers may finally need to step up to the plate on both of these fronts.

I’m always amazed by teachers who think that education is some kind of ultra-noble exercise that is unaffected by the laws of organizational dynamics. It seems we’ve largely neglected our professional responsibilities for quality control, productivity, corporate culture and innovation. We’ve handed the reigns of our profession to administrators, staff development experts, teacher’s unions, and local and federal policy makers.

What did we expect? Did we really not see this kind of reform coming?

My response to Joel is that the "pull up  your bootstraps" approach does have some merit, however, there are so many mixed messages that the whole idea of reform is a muddied notion.  As he states early in his comment,

I’m a sixth grade teacher in Tucson, and I feel much of the pressure you describe. It feels like trying to rebuild the engine of a car while the car is still cruising down the highway.

Reminds me of the EDS ad about airplanes. That challenge is particularly unique to education since we can't ever stop.

Thanks for all those great comments and insights. This is why I write; to learn. Does any of this strike a nerve? Did we miss something?

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  • http://blog.benwildeboer.com Ben Wildeboer

    The challenge (IMHO) is that education really needs some “deep level change.” Most systemic change is driven by political decision making, which sadly seems more interested in the appearance of change or progress than actual change.

    Also, as was mentioned, we can’t just stop. It’s hard to make some major changes without taking some time off to plan, prepare, and implement. Perhaps we should take a tip from sustainable farming practices and have a “fallow year” for all schools. A year off for each school community to put together and plan for major systemic changes. While I know that’s a pipe dream, think of what powerful change might flow from a system that supported that type of time for reflection and restructuring.
    .-= Ben Wildeboer´s last blog ..Suggestions for resources: Do you agree? =-.

  • http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/the_tempered_radical Bill Ferriter

    I think the hitch here is that the people who are deciding on and then promoting change are not the same as the people who are charged with implementing change—which causes a HUGE disconnect between what’s desired and what’s doable.

    I’ll never forget my favorite principal of all time finding me in the hallways once and saying, “Bill—what we’re asking you to do isn’t hard. Just do it.”

    Considering that I was already putting in twelve hour days and getting paid next to nothing, I wanted to punch him!

    The fact of the matter is that most school leaders live in the world of imagination. Their job is to dream new directions rather than to do the heavy lifting that change requires—-and because they haven’t been responsible for implementation in a long, long while, they’ve forgotten exactly how hard changing practices really is.

    What’s worse is that there’s an impression—-perhaps earned by teachers who HAVE grown lazy over time due to tenure—–that any resistance to new plans or programs is automatically resistance to change. “These teachers are just complaining because they don’t want to be held accountable,” the thinking goes. “Teachers are the worst audiences.”

    In reality, accomplished teachers push back at plans for change that are poorly crafted and show a lack of understanding of the complexity and constraints of our positions.

    I’m not interested in designing systematic remediation and enrichment activities for students because I’ve got less than 50 minutes of independent work time a day and no efficient tools for collecting data. I’m not motivated to find ways to integrate my work with the special programs department because we don’t share a planning period. Integrating technology into the classroom is impossible because everything in our system is blocked.

    How do we fix the problem?

    Easy: Require EVERY school leader to consult real live practitioners before making ANY decisions about new directions for schools. Create teams of teacher-consultants or advisory councils that are pulled together several times each year to gauge the gut reactions of your workforce. Listen when your best and your brightest tell you that they are exhausted.

    Classroom teachers have the knowledge and the experience necessary to translate policies into practices. We can help to reframe imagination and to craft realistic plans for implementation.

    All ya gotta do is listen.
    Bill
    .-= Bill Ferriter´s last blog ..Part Two: Teacher Tips for Blogging Projects =-.

  • Marilyn

    Thanks for saying what I have been thinking and feeling about our school initiatives. You said it so eloquently.
    Presently I feel like I am in a house of cards that is going to tumble.  It's very scary…I think walking on quicksand would feel the same way.
    Ta 

  • Blais

    Our current school leadership system does pose a lot of issues just as you stated.  School leaders and politicians are not the ones in the classroom interacting with our students.  They don't have to implement new policies but they are held accountable for them.  Do we really need principles in our schools anyway?  Sure, they serve the purpose of keeping the whole school on track.  But couldn't teachers be given that responsibility?  Afterall, they are the ones that know what's going on in the classroom and what needs to be done.  Teacher driven leadership would be an entirely new system for schools to implement but I think it would be possible.  The possible effect on students could be incredible.  How many teachers have to implement policies in their classroom that they know are detrimental to the students in a particular class?  Just a thought…