Reforming Reform v.2

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?

Methodological Question

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

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.

Some References

Achinstein, B. (2002). “Conflict amid community: the Micropolitics of teacher
collaboration.” Teachers College Record 104 (3), 421-455.

Argyris, C. (1993). “Education for leading-learning” Organizational Dynamics, 21(3), 5-17

Bezzina, C. (2006).”The road less traveled: Professional communities in secondary schools”,Theory Into Practice,45(2),159 — 167

Bush, G.R. & Marshak, R.J. (February 2006). Contrasting classical OD and the
post-modern reconstruction. In G.R. Bush & Associates, Revisioning
organization development: A post modern perspective, (chapter 1).
Unpublished Manuscript. (Used by permission).

Collinson, V., et al. (2006) “Organizational Learning in Schools and
School Systems: Improving Learning, Teaching, and Leading”,
Theory Into Practice,45:2,107 — 116

Cummings, S. & Thanem, T. (2002). Essai: The Ghost in the organism. Organization Studies 23(5), 817-839.

Fell, L, & Russell, D. (1994), “An Introduction to “Maturana’s” Biology.” In L. Fell,
D. Russell, & A. Stewart (Eds.), Seized by agreement, swamped by
understanding. Sydney: Hawkesbury Printing. Retrieved on March 20,
2005 from

Gaudreault, S. (2007). “School organization, collaboration, professional development, and guidance: The key to success for pilot schools.” Schoolscapes 8(1) retrieved on November 7, 2008 from page=rencontre_6

Greenwood, J. (1998). “The role of reflection in single and double loop learning” Journal of Advanced Nursing, 27, 1048–1053

Hester, D.M. (2004). “What must we mean by ‘community’? A processive
account.” Theoretical Medicine 25, 423-437

Jackson, M.C. (2001). “Critical systems thinking and practice” European Journal of Operational Research 128, 233-244.

Lam, J.Y.L. (2005). “School organizational structures: organizational effects on teacher and student learning” Journal of Educational Administration 43(4), 387-401

Laurendeau, S. (2008). Open Letter to the Honourable Michelle Courchesne, Minister of Education, Recreation and Sport retrieved on November 9, 2008 from

Marriot, D.M. (2003). “Ending the Silence” Phi Delta Kappan 84(7), 496-501.

Marshak, R.J. (1993). Lewin meets Confucius: A Re-view of the OD model of
change. Journal of Applied Behavioural Science 29(4), 393-415.

Maturana, H., & Verden-Zoller, G. (1996). Biology of love. Retrieved on March
20, 2005 from

Meyer, P. (2005). Organizational improvisation & appreciative inquiry: An
exploration of symbiotic theory and practice. Retrieved on June 13, 2006

Midgley, G. (2003). Five sketches of post-modernism: Implications for systems
thinking and operational research. OTASC 1 (1), 47–62.

Rosen (2005). Conversations for ethical decision making in secondary schools:
A Report on exploratory sessions. Unpublished manuscript, Concordia
University, Montreal.

Trzyna, T. (2001). Raising annoying questions: Why values should be built into
decision-making. California Institute of Public Affairs publication No. 105,
Sacramento, California. Retrieved on May 23, 2005 from

Warr, A. (2004). “Letter from QPAT to minister of education regarding new evaluation policy ” QPAT Liason 15(4), 7-8

Weiner, M. (1999). “Quebec teachers, submerged in a sea of reform.” McGill Journal of Education, 34(3), 261-274

Wheatley, M. (2002). Turning to on another: Simple conversations to restore
hope to the future. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Wheatley, M. (2004). Why I wrote the book. Retrieved on August 3, 2005 from


Questions about learning with tech…a start

…technology integration in schools is not easy to achieve, no matter how much evidence we have that it can help learning. It’s also important to integrate technology appropriately, as critics are quick to point out that computers, besides being expensive, can harm young children who sit for hours in front of them instead of being engaged in the “real world” (Alliance for Childhood, 2000). So what is known about how people learn and the role technology may play in their learning? How might that knowledge provide guidelines for appropriate uses of technology that can help students and teachers?

Questions to ponder from the ERIC Digest: How People Learn (and What Technology Might Have To Do with It).

***added April 1, 2008***

Elona pointed me toward this great article by Mark Prensky called Turning On the Lights The last section does offer some answers to the questions posed above. Give it a read….

Prensky, M. (2008) Turning on the lights. Educational Leadership, 65 (6), 40-45.

Black-focused public school in Toronto by 2009…What do you think?

Toronto trustees vote in favour of black-focused schools -Tuesday, January 29, 2008

“A proposal to create Canada’s first black-focused public school was approved by Toronto District School Board trustees Tuesday night.

They have recommended the creation of an alternative school that features a curriculum and teaching environment oriented around black history and culture.

Some parents have said they want to try something new because the current system isn’t working. As many as 40 per cent of black students don’t graduate from Toronto high schools.

Angela Wilson is a mother of two who has been at the forefront of a push for Afrocentric or black-focused schools for years.

“Make our education system better for everybody,” she said.

“It’s not a one size fits all education system. It’s actually working its way to be one size fits few — and the few that are successful do not look like me.”

Trustees were supposed to have discussed a report delivered last week that makes four major recommendations:

  • Open an Africentric alternative school in 2009.
  • Start a three-year pilot program in three other high schools.
  • Work with York University to improve school achievement.
  • Develop a plan to help failing students.

Supporters said those options will keep black students engaged and in school, but opponents said it will lead to greater isolation.

“I just feel being with a mixed group of people is better, you know, you get to learn different cultures, different aspects of different people, the way they live,” said Grade 10 student Terrin Smith-Williams.”

hmmmm….not sure what I think about this yet.

My gut feeling is that it is a cop out. It is a way of saying we are addressing issues of student learning without looking at the whole system.

Or…perhaps it is a step toward a new system. Creating student-centred schools that focus on the different communities they are in.

Like I said…still thinking…

What about you? What do you think about this proposal…ready to go next year!

Powered by ScribeFire.

Should school boards be abolished?

[cross posted at LeaderTalk]

Over the past few years I’ve been hearing people talk about the idea of abolishing school boards in Quebec.

This past week it was in the news again:

Dumont ready to bring down Quebec gov’t over school boards

ADQ Leader Mario Dumont said Tuesday he’s willing to force a confidence vote over the future of Quebec school boards.

The Action Démocratique du Québec is tabling a motion for a confidence vote in the national assembly over the Liberal government’s refusal to abolish school boards.

If the Parti Québécois supports the motion it would be enough to topple Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal minority government, which would force elections in December. ..

…Dumont said the continued existence of school boards is a fundamental issue in Quebec.

School board elections held last weekend failed to draw more than 20 per cent of registered voters — proof it’s time to review their mandate, the ADQ leader said.

The Parti Quebecois did not end up supporting the motion (no one wanted early elections) but I am sure this is not the last we hear of this.

I’m wondering what you think about the idea of getting rid of school boards. The idea behind it is so that money can go directly to schools instead of being spent on the boards’ bureaucratic machines. (Uh oh…did I just give away my bias? ;) )

Some things I imagine…

Imagine if money that was used on school board consultant salaries, for example, was used to support teachers as they consult with each other within their own school communities and across different school communities?

Imagine if some of that money could be used to hire external consultants that a school community could choose based on the specific needs of each school.

Imagine if external consultants had to compete for the privilege of working in a school community – imagine the quality of consulting that would result.

Imagine if teachers were forced to create things like policy about their own practice.

Oh…the places we could go!