The Fine Line between Authentic Change and Educational Fads
“Good ideas come from talented people working together”–Instructional Improvement in Community District #2, 1997
Authentic educational change is difficult to achieve. Influencing teachers’ beliefs and values regarding existing classroom learning structures and processes is a demanding task that takes time and persistence. It is especially difficult during periods of decline. Over the weekend, I had a conversation with a teacher who just left the field. She was a ten year veteran. She told me about an initiative her school leaders tried to implement. Her administrators bought iPads for every teacher. They provided training during teacher in-service and expected teachers to use the device in their instructional delivery throughout the rest of the year. As with most change, some teachers picked up the technology and quickly enhanced their lessons while other teachers used it sparingly. Through this initiative, did the school leaders change any core beliefs on how students learn in the classroom? Were any new knowledge or practices commonly shared by the teaching staff? Did the initiative promote collaboration between staff members to create a common technical culture? As with any change, time will tell. However, building leaders need to keep in mind the initiatives they are promoting in their schools. As New Jersey teachers face new evaluation procedures and Common Core standards, at what point will teachers view change as just another educational fad that will soon pass?
To promote real instructional change rather than an educational fad, administrators need to focus on one aspect of teachers’ repertoire during current decline–instructional design and delivery. Authentic educational change focuses on teaching materials, approaches and beliefs. Principals need to bridge teachers’ attitudes and values towards teaching and learning and create a culture of shared meaning when it comes to instruction. Subsequently, school leaders need to create open and accessible structures where teachers can talk freely about their vision of instructional design and delivery in the classroom.
If I can choose one article that changed my professional perspective, it’s definitely Elmore’s 1997 case study about Community School District #2. The laboratory approach that Superintendent Anthony Alvarado employed where all teachers were paired together to routinely observe, critique and repeatedly implement revised lesson plans is a guide for today’s school leaders. Alvarado understood that the most effective sources to support teachers in the classroom were fellow teachers. He built capacity and working conditions where teachers were encouraged to take instructional risks, try new materials and develop a shared understanding of good teaching practices. Similarly, administrators also participated in labs by observing other schools and administrators. In all, Community School District #2′s leaders were committed to one change concept–pedagogical practices.
In today’s classroom there is a great deal of uncertainty. Teachers wonder what mandates are coming next. As the year progresses, I encourage school administrators to focus on one thing and one thing only–instruction. Continue to build capacity where teachers can share their expertise which will drive educational change. Continue to provide opportunities where teachers rely on each other for instructional support instead of relying solely on their administrators. Continue to set clear goals and values while giving decision making power to classroom teachers. Hopefully through these open approaches, educational change won’t be such a tough feat, especially during current decline.
Elmore, R. & Burney, D. (1997). Investing in teacher learning: Staff development and instructional improvement in Community School District #2, New York City. Philadelphia, PA: Consortium for Policy Research in Education.