As much as I would love for this blog post to be about the brilliance of David Bowie, the only thing I honor him with is the title. For so many people (myself included), change is a difficult prospect. Change for the sake of change is usually unnecessary. Change for survival is needed, especially as we consider the world of education.Change for the sake of our sanity is also a part of that previous statement. So, if change is needed, why don’t we do it? In short, overcoming our fear of the unknown is the greatest impediment to change.
I took the job of Social Studies Curriculum Specialist, because I believed I could make a change in a district in dire need of changes. Getting to this point did not happen overnight. As a matter of fact, it took a long time to even reach the point of comfort with change. I waited 10 years in to start my MAED program. three years after completing that program did I start my EdD program. For many reasons, I never envisioned myself leaving the classroom. The classroom was my domain. My comfort zone. My home away from home. Experimentation in isolation happened here. Thinking that happiness could be maintained here, I grew numb to issues outside of my locus of control.
So what happened? What caused me to change?
There is no simple answer, other than boredom. Life is a series of challenges to me. If I am not stimulating my mind, or trying something new, I am bored. Granted, having adopted children, there is no boredom there. Professionally though, I became unhappy. There are so many ways I believed our school could be run. Leadership was either exceptional, or awful. Also, I saw the changes happening within our schools and became upset and how their version of change impacted teachers and students. Communities were further devastated, because their opinion on the change process was excluded. I started exploring solutions to some of our problems and it lead me to a community of thinkers, philosophers and educators who shared many of the same concerns I had. These same educators looked at their world and sought out solutions to improve their classrooms, schools and communities.
Changing my thinking started slowly. Changing my behaviors is the ongoing process. Even as I enter the classrooms of other teachers, I approach my observation from the students’ perspective and the perspective of someone who wants to see schools not be the places that they have always been. Students need to be engaged in authentic learning. Learning which questions the sources and world around them. Seeing classes dependent upon the textbook makes me sick to my stomach, but I also realize that for some teachers, this is the only resource they have. How is it that in the year 2016, learning is happening in the same way it did back in 1916 (the year my grandfather was born)? Breaking the comfort zone is hard. Making sure students and teachers have the tools they need to excel is even more difficult.
Districts are resistant to change, because someones fiefdom is going to be infringed upon. Whether that is the local alderman, an associate superintendent, or the alumni group. Fear of change is warranted when the change has become cyclical and never given a chance to take root. I look at some initiatives that have been initiated over the years, whether it be the standards movement or technology…To successfully implement, there has to be a clear mission and focus. There has to be ownership from all levels of the organization. If people try to act independently of the mission, the mission is never fully implemented. When the mission is not fully implemented, there are unequal results for the organization. The community and everyone involved in the schools are harmed when this occurs.
What happens if the systems do not change?
Be the change you want to see and impact change within the constraints of the system. I always loved the directives that restricted technology use, because that made perfectly good sense. I usually bucked the system by showing the principal how the technology could be used appropriately. Within a small window of time, the principal agreed to let me pursue tech usage which was previously banned. I was able to justify usage of cellphones, tablets and other means of technology by showing growth on mastery of content. My classroom had few to no disruptions which required an intervention. My relationships improved and grew during this time as well.
I could have been left behind, or facilitated change on my own. When we force change on people, they become resistant and in many cases dig their heels in deeper. Facilitating the change on our own terms makes change easier. However, not everyone is willing to make change that way. Salting the oats of a horse is how you ensure they drink. How can we do that for teachers?