Focus Upon Adoption or Transformation?

When I consult for educational institutions, I often meet school leaders who would like to implement new possibilities, models, strategies, and technologies; but quite often, they self-edit these possibilities.  The most common reasons?  “The teachers would never do that or accept that.”  When I work with independent schools, this first reason is used, but it is frequently preceded or followed up with concern that parents (and by that, they mean the current parents) would not accept it, and if parents don’t like it, then they leave…with the tuition dollars that allow such schools to survive. Being at the Education Innovation Summit for the last day and a half, I’ve met a number of ed tech companies that have the same concerns.  It can be the greatest product or service in the world, but if the teachers will not use it, then you have a problem. Similarly, one of the panelists at EIS noted that, “One of the problems with emerging educational technologies is that they don’t fit into the workflow of the classroom.”  In other words, the product needs to fit the status quo.  That makes sense when selling products and services, but it doesn’t necessarily help school leaders who seek to make rapid and substantive changes in the learning environment and learning experience.

The concern with this approach is that we risk turning schools into places that exist to serve the preferences of the teachers and not the needs of the learners.  Of course, teachers have essential input to offer, given that they have a wealth of direct experience, and it is their charge to implement strategies and models that improve student learning.  Yes, adoption by teachers is critical, but the goal of transformation must drive the efforts.  The schools where everyone is willing to submit their preferences to the goal of transformation are the ones that have a promising future.  This is part of why charters and other schools with unavoidable and non-negotiable school-shaping concepts are so much better at effecting quick changes that help to increase student engagement, improve student learning, increase retention, etc.  It is because the leaders, with the rest of the team, move as one on such matters.  If you are teaching in a project-based learning school, then resisting PBL is not an option.  It is unavoidable and non-negotiable.  If you are serving in a blended learning or BYOD school, the same thing is true.  It is not a matter of if you are going to do something, but how to best do it.

2 Replies to “Focus Upon Adoption or Transformation?”

  1. Bernard Bull Post author

    I love your comments, Mary!

    I agree. Teachers are often “isolated in their classrooms” and this is not good for the learners, nor does it help transformation. I also agree that many people resist top-down edicts. However, I don’t think the principals are the “top”. The students have that position. They and their parents are the boss, and they hold the resources (at least in reference to independent, private, and charter…any school where the funds follow the student), and I’m convinced that this will become more evident in the upcoming few years.

    I’ve seen great individual classrooms where individual teachers were empowered with the necessary time/resources/etc. (even without those things); but I’ve not seen great schools come from individual teachers…only teams of teachers who collaborate with the key stakeholders…and they sacrifice personal preference for the sake of the students, some shared school-shaping concept and a commitment to helping cultivate transformational learning. As it stands, we have teachers in the same school who hold completely different beliefs, values, and educational philosophies. That serves well to keep things the same, because any school-wide change requires that people more shared beliefs/values/philosophies. I see that sort of shared vision when I visit a project-based learning school, a democratic school, a blended learning school, etc.

  2. Mary Hilgendorf

    Unfortunately, teachers are too often isolated in their classrooms. They don’t have the time, resources, or opportunities to attend Education Innovation Summits. Change is not readily accepted when it comes from top-down edicts. If teachers were empowered with time, resources, opportunities, and a collaborative voice in determining the possibilities for their schools, they could become strong advocates for positive change.

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