This post is actually a comment in the conversation around school change over at Public School Insights – Casting Call for Teachers. It’s pretty much in the same state, maybe an extra sentence or two. I think it helps to clarify what I mean when I say “Teachers are the only real agents of school reform.” It’s a stark statement but holds truth.
I think there is a confusion with what I term as passion in teaching and teacher-hero. I absolutely do not believe in the teacher hero, unless it is as a community hero who just does the right thing (there are different understandings of hero – some have capes, like the movie star heroes, but most heroes are privately so and don’t even realize they are.)
I disagree that retaining a model of passionate teaching will result in failed culture change. Retaining that model as hope for the future can only succeed in creating more instances of it – we see what we ask questions about.
If it was understood that I thought teachers could/should act completely independently of anyone else I did not explain myself very well and for that I apologize.
I am a big believer in whole system change initiatives. In particular through theoretical and methodological lenses like appreciative inquiry, open systems theory, and participatory action research. These theories state that all parts of any system have an effect on each other part, even when we don’t realize it. Each part is important, there is a symbiotic relationship through the parts of any system. Therefore all (or as many as we can get in the room) parts of a system need to be involved in any kind of change process for it to become transformational, as Sheryl so wonderfully put it.
We do, however, have to recognize that the parts play different roles. In the educational system all of the roles are important and depend on each other – admin, teacher, support, children, families, boards (governing and school or district), government, health, social services… the list can go on. Even if all of the parts seem to be running in fabulous order – policy is good, the school is clean, parents are supportive, etc – if the teacher does not translate that policy into practice in her/his classroom, it doesn’t happen for the children.
That is why I say that teachers are the only REAL agents of school reform – agent as acting agent. We are not the only participants in reform, we are not the only ones who can trigger reform, but we put policy into practice on the front lines. We act on it. In good situations that passion breathes life into the lessons we work on with our students, and the school-based policy we help to create with our colleagues and administration. In difficult situations we need passion to be able to spin bad policy into good practice. That’s a given. Otherwise, the practice will merely reflect the policy upon which it was based.
We see what we ask questions about. If we continue to ask questions about how to fix a broken system we will see broken systems all around us. If we ask questions about how to generate balanced, participatory learning cultures, we will start to see places where they exist. And where they work.
With much respect and thanks to Chris Parsons for his valuable feedback :)
Parts are still under construction, but I am beginning to get more focused.
Without further ado, here is version 2.
Context and Question
although the school improvement programs and projects under scrutiny varied in terms of content, nature, and approach, they reflected a similar philosophy. Central to this philosophy was an adherence to the belief that the school is the center of change and the teacher is the catalyst for classroom change and development. (Bezzina, 2006, p.160)
“…classroom teachers are the only real agents of school reform. It is
teachers who translate policy into action; who integrate the complex
components of standards, curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment into
comprehensible and pragmatic instruction; and who balance an
ever-changing array of political, economic, social, and educational
factors while trying to meet the individual needs of children.”~Ending the Silence by Donna M. Marriott (2003)
Teachers are recognized as key players in the learning process, even as change agents within that process, yet they are often not involved in how education reform is implemented (Weiner, 1999). When they are, it is in a reactive manner, by rebelling against curricular change and policy – either directly (Warr, 2006; Laurendeau, 2008) or indirectly, by simply not changing the way they teach. I believe that if teachers were more central to the processes of reform then true changes in education could be possible. Such a shift is ideological and I agree with Weiner when he wrote, on the eve of Quebec curricular reform in 1999,
Whether the promise of this revolution can be fulfilled hinges upon the ability of teachers and the government to transcend a history of conflict and mistrust and build a very different working relationship over the next several years (p. 12).
Weiner describes a revolution in education reform that would require a paradigm shift in the way teachers are involved in reform processes in schools, a paradigm shift within the relationship between policy makers and the teachers who implement policy with students. Change in education usually falls under curricular and/or technological reform and evidence of this is seen in the variety of school change initiatives across North America (Collinson, 2006). I suggest that for change to occur the focus needs to shift from curricular and technological reform to a reform in the way we support and nurture teachers, a reform of relationship.
Lam (2005) has identified structural conditions that promote teacher learning and, in turn, student learning. I believe that these conditions are possible through a more open and flexible relationship between teachers and policy makers. Weiner wrote about a revolution in this area almost 10 years ago yet the system, despite new policy intended to change it, remains resistant. I believe this is hinged on the fact that the relationship I described above has not changed.
I would like to investigate this more deeply through a review of the literature, but that is not enough. Observation of organizational dynamics within schools and talking with teachers, school administrators, and curricular policy makers about their underlying beliefs around educational reform and change is key to understanding the complexities of the educational system. Observing, understanding, and considering the whole system, its underlying values, and the relationships that are embedded within it are key to effecting authentic, lasting change (Argyris, 1999; Bonner, et al, 2004; Flood, 1990; Jackson, 2001).
A system’s underlying values, those that are explicit in the actions of its members, can shed light on why we do what we do. Argyris (1993, 2002) points towards a need for clarifying our underlying values in order to ensure that our espoused values are congruent with our values-in-use, in other words, in order to ensure that what we do is in line with what we say we want to do. Therefore, as a point of entry, I would like to examine beliefs about the underlying values of the teacher’s role in the learning process, as they permeate the system, in order to see the effect these beliefs have on policy around educational change processes, such as education reform in Quebec.
Such observation would help to begin answering the question: If teachers were more central to the processes of educational reform, then would there be less resistance to change initiatives in schools? Eventually, I could follow this with, “what is the effect of recognizing teachers as agents that must be equally involved in the process of educational reform?”, however at the moment there is a need to explore the first question. What could happen if teachers were centrally implicated in the processes of school reform?
How do I check to see if what I think has relevance? That if we support and nurture teachers as a change process, rather than focusing on curricular or technological change, that we will be able to effect actual change in the system?
(Section unchanged from previous iteration)
Post-modern organizational development
I will be looking at the school organization through this lens, with its emphasis on relationship, contextual, narrative-based generation of ideas, and the dismissal of the notion of objectivity. They are all key elements of post-modern organizational development and discourse (Bush, 2006; Midgley, 2003; Cummings & Thanem, 2003). Another element of post-modern OD for this intervention is the concept of merging theories of change and the understanding that not one theory is relevant for all situations (Marshak, 1993). Theories and change models must be culturally significant for the system in which they are being used in order for them to generate meaningful change. (Rosen, 2006)
Within that context, I will most likely draw upon:
Reflective Action Research Cycle (Rosen, 2005, 2006), the structure, in which the action research cycle is subverted, to place reflection as the entry point. Reflection continues to permeate the whole process, forming the ground, the basis of the action.
Reflective Action Research Process, Rosen 2005
Argyris and Schon Theory of Action, the mechanism through which we can become aware of why we do what we do, the actual values and beliefs behind our actions, and possibly re-align our actions with our values. It helps to connect thought to action.
Appreciative Inquiry and Improvisation, See Appreciative Inquiry
Dialogue and conversation, as a tool for inquiry.
Conversation is a powerful tool for uncovering values, beliefs, and the assumptions that frame them in order to create change in organizations. Wheatley (2002)describes conversation as the way people think together. Maturana believes that conversation is what frames all of our activities together as humans. He describes the centrality of conversation to human existence (Fell & Russell, 1994) and his biological theory of cognition is, “…a reflection on how we exist in language as languaging beings, it is a study on human relations,” (Maturana, n.d., in Ruiz, 2002, ¶ 10). Maturana himself wrote “…everything human takes place in conversations…we live in conversations,” (Maturana et al, 1996, ¶ 19-21). Achinstein (2002) supports the use of conversation for dealing with conflict when she writes, “conversations about conflicts can create new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things,” (p. 435).
Conversation, when people are really listening to each other, allows for the emergence of the beliefs and values that underlie an issue for participants.
The use of conversation as a theoretical framework for making decisions is found in many helping professions. In bioethics, Hester (2004) discusses the importance of exploring methods for creating healthy dialogue from within situations rather than trying to fix them with external tools. An ethics based on contextual dialogue and relationship is becoming widely discussed within the helping professions. It is recognized that more than one perspective is necessary to come to an ethical decision (Childs, 2001; Huotari, 2001; Irvine, 2004; & Prilleltensky et al, 1996), in particular when a variety of professions with competing professional values, are working together with the same client. The importance of values, the backbone of moral ideals through which ethical decisions are made, has also been recognized as an integral aspect of decision-making in sustainability ethics, an ethic that deals with conservation and environmental issues (Tryzyna, 2001).
Preliminary outline of steps…
– Extensive review of the literature.
– Review of anecdotal evidence from within a school system.
– Conversation, through interviews and group dialogue will be the main method of gathering data.
– Suggestions for further study, possibly concrete steps for action depending on outcome of above.
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