When I first started connecting online and building the amazing PLN I have today, I saw all of the wonderful things people were doing and the changes they were making in education. I thought it couldn’t be that hard if so many people were doing it and being so successful at it. But when I started trying to enact change in my circle of influence, the roadblocks were far bigger and more numerous than I had imagined.
Why is educational change so difficult? Why is it so complex?
The concept of ‘school’, of ‘education’, is mired in so much history and tradition. Everyone has ‘been through’ school, which tends to make us believe that we know everything there is to know about it.
Everyone has a personal concept of school. The structure has been essentially unchanged for a century. We have expectations about what our children will experience when they go to school. Some parents expect that their children will have report cards with near perfect marks. Others assume their children will find school as horrific and demeaning as it was for them. But for most people, the concept of school is static and they don’t think of it as an institution that could or should radically change.
In schools, we have deeply embedded cultures.“By culture, I mean the unexamined, deeply-embedded norms and expectations that district staffs share about performing their central tasks of schooling children. These feelings, values, and patterns of behaving are often unarticulated and passed on to newcomers unobtrusively.” Larry Cuban The Hidden Variable: How Organizations Influence Teacher Responses to Secondary Science Curriculum Reform Theory into Practice, Vol. 34, No. 1, Reforming Science Education (Winter, 1995), pp.4-11 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Unless you have a child in the school system, or unless you are affected by the K-12 system in some way, you likely won’t take notice. The recent Ontario fight over Bill 115 is a good example. In spite of losing extracurriculars, participating in walkouts and seeing the effects of the threatened legislation every school day, when the headline in the papers was, “Bill needs to go, teachers”, people were asking, “Who is Bill?”.
Those who were disengaged from the education system during their youth are likely to remain disengaged until they are drawn back in by the experiences of their own children. They don’t follow what is happening and they don’t contribute to the discussion on educational change.
And so many people fear change. I hear many parents tell me that schools need to get “back to the basics”, and if we want parents to be engaged, we need to stop making so many changes because parents don’t understand what is going on in schools any more. It doesn’t look like it did when they were there (let’s hope) and they are afraid to look stupid in front of their children.
We don’t always see the connection between education and changes in society, even though we know about industries closing because the system is no longer sustainable. For many people, the old school they went to as a child is what is comfortable to them, even though it has become dangerously irrelevant.
For change to work, the discontent with the reality must be far greater than one’s tolerance of it. “You won’t change unless you are really unhappy with the present situation.” (see video below)
As educational leaders – and I use the word ‘leader’ as a mindset, not a position – we need to be aware of the complexity of change so that we are fully cognizant of our entire sphere of influence, and so that we don’t become discouraged. The status quo is never good enough. We can always do a better job of educating children. Let’s look at how we can make small daily changes and celebrate each win without becoming discouraged. Remember Newton’s first law of motion*.
Get many “objects” to start moving in the right direction and we may just start something that remains in motion – with the goal of meeting the learning needs of every single one of our students.
*Newton’s First Law of Motion:
An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
This law is often called “the law of inertia”.
Waks, L. (2007). The concept of fundamental educational change. Educational Theory, 57(3), 277-295.