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


By Any Means Human – What are yours?

Summertime is a unique time in the life of a teacher, at least in the life of this teacher.

a – it gives me time to take back my self after the non-stop of the school year.
b – it also allows for reflection on the teaching I have done and will do.
(c – and of course summer is a time for fun, without thinking about having to preserve my energy for the classroom in the morning!)

…back to the reflection…

Beyond (or before) the academic content and the tools that we teach to help students master that content is us.

Us as teachers and as people.

Who we are as humans and what things human we bring to our classrooms.

It’s our humanity that makes us unique as teachers.

So I ask, what is the human gift that you bring to your classroom (be it K-12 or conference/workshop/lecture room)? I think we all bring a whole bunch of different gifts, but I’m asking for your #1.

Think about it.

Mine? I bring calm. I’ve been told by a few students over the years that they appreciate this – “Miss, you’re so zen!” – and so I try to create more pockets of it in their lives.
How do I do this?

I’m calling on some teachers to answer this one with me. Pass it on to others if you like by linking back here.


And, it goes without saying, if you are reading this and are somehow not on that list, sorry I left you out. Didn’t mean to, please join in!

Gaining focus in reform

I really think that we are focusing on the wrong things in education reform.

Recent education reform in Quebec – and I am sure it is similar in other areas – has focused on creating new curriculum for students.

Technology reforms focus on how we can best use technology in the classroom to improve student learning and to make it more authentic.

Today I responded to John Brandt’s discussion thread in the TeachingFutures wiki about his passion for making all teachers good teachers. What he wrote got me to thinking about how to do that. Is it really through curricular or technological reform? In both cases I hear proponents of the reforms saying that teachers need to change what they are doing, that they need to become more in tune with ‘the reform’.

What if we were to become more in tune with teachers? Instead of focusing on curriculum and tools with which to teach it, what if we were to focus on the teachers who will be working with the children?

In a recent post of mine I quote Senator Barack Obama when he spoke in his 2005 speech, Teaching Our Kids in a 21st Century Economy, about the influence a teacher has on a child’s success. He said:

From the moment our children step into a classroom, new evidence shows that the single most important factor in determining their achievement today is not the color of their skin or where they come from; it’s not who their parents are or how much money they have.

It’s who their teacher is. It’s the person who will brave some of the most difficult schools, the most challenging children, and accept the most meager compensation simply to give someone else the chance to succeed.

Each time I read or hear that I repeat to myself

It is who the teacher is

There is a lot of ‘after the fact’ professional development for teachers. I call it ‘after the fact’ because it seems to come after curricular reform in answer to panicked teacher response to having to deal with change in how they teach.

It seems to me we are going about it backwards. I think that the reform that will finally take place that will actually stick will be when we reform the way we support and nurture teachers.

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