With an increase in findings from education research, more education books that tell us about what we should be doing in schools alongside so many professional learning opportunities, it is worth considering, where do we start with change in our schools?
Certainly, the context of our schools, what is going well and what students need teachers to improve upon should drive the decisions that are made. Making choices for what needs to change, however, is difficult. We have to make compromises though, all too often, we are not willing to do just that, as Robert Simons points out:
“We frequently avoid making choices, in the mistaken belief that we can have it all.”
The above quote is one that is apt for so many educational leaders in schools trying to drive change and improvement. All too frequently do we hear about yet another element of teaching and learning that we have to improve in order to achieve a better outcome for our students. Teachers often get drawn into a world of competing priorities, some of their own and some from others, that all appear urgent to address. Being pulled in all directions, at times trying to unsuccessfully multi-task, craving mastery in everything that is teaching and learning. No wonder we see an unhealthy level of stress, after all, there is only so much that we can do at any one time and patience is required.
Yes, lots of things in our schools can certainly improve and change efforts are needed to implement the change that leaders wish to see in schools. Changing the way teaching and learning is done, however, is a slow and painful process, as we are trying to change habits.
These habits are patterns of behaviour that teachers have become accustomed to as classes are taught. It is highly likely that most, if not all of us, have a teaching habit that can be changed for the better in terms improving student learning. More than likely, we have many habits that can change for the better.
The problem is that habits are tough to break and turn into new ones, yet schools can be seen to be rushing to get everything ‘right’, as though there comes a point when our work will be done. Our work as educators will never be done, there will always be room for improvement and there will always be a finite amount of time, so compromises must be made.
Rather than expend energy trying to ‘fix’ everything, consider this. What one teaching practice would you improve in your school that would lead to better outcomes for your students?
Once the answer has been established, then focus on it until it becomes habit, then the next item for improvement can be addressed.
Remember, we cannot have it all in our schools and we should not waste energy in such a pursuit. It would be far better for every teacher in a school to make one focused, what may appear small, improvement, when combined together a school gets huge improvement.
School improvement is about directing energy effectively and on the ‘right’ things, so that the school may achieve sustained improvement, as opposed to teacher frustration and burn out, which is bound to happen if hard choices are not made.
Spot on Richard!
Often, the problem is compounded by external market forces, driving schools to offer the best possible ‘fine-tuned’ educational programme, in order to remain competitive within their local environment. This particularly applies to smaller international schools, that might not have the ‘pulling power’ in terms of facilities and (financial) resources. As a result, senior administrators in these schools frequently attempt to ‘improve’ every single aspect of the curricula offered, launching several ‘initiatives’ at the same time, without taking into consideration that these take away valuable contact time from teachers. As a result, many of these initiatives are either not completed fully or become academic exercises for the sheer sake of it. This is very much a case of ‘Less is more’!
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I agree 100% with the comment above!!