When Letting Go Is The Problem

Clay's punctuating comment on my recent Parable 2.0 post caught Leigh's eye and he posted the following to the TALO list:

Below is a comment to a blog post made by an Australian teacher recently. In the post, he and the commenters are expressing frustration at trying to get their colleagues using blogs and wikis and all that, in a networked learning exercise involving international partners. I'm wondering, could those who are blogging professionally consider a post or two on their blogs about the comment below.. specifically, what everyday practices could blogging et al replace for the time stretched teacher? In other words, is web2 beneficial in terms of efficiencies for the way we currently work as teachers, or do we need to change more in what we do? Is using web2 technologies considered an on top of or in place of current work loads? Your thoughts and ideas on this central question facing change management in education would be very valuable.

Even though he was targetting the TALO community, I am very interested in his questions and would like to take his questions to my own readership. I'm happy for comments, your own blog posts linking back here or you can post to the TALO list direct. I added this as a supportive reply.

At the end of the year, my boss and I discussed the idea behind a reflective activity for the staff. (So many teachers are terrible at actual reflection). I pulled out an email from the PlotPD program (not free and not open to the web, but something available to our ed system) that talked about a TRY, KEEP and STOP system. It challenged teachers to identify something to TRY for the new year, a part of their practice they wanted to KEEP because it was successful and finally, something to STOP because you just can't keep adding things onto the plate! It is interesting that this idea had to be provided directly to so many teachers before they'll even consider that there are alternatives to maintaining the status quo.

Clay's point on my blog was really poignant. I think I find that I let things go without any conscious decision - also, once you've become comfortable online, "things" often fall into place because your network nodes provide a flow of ideas and resources in a timely fashion. I see my teaching in a constant state of reinvention and I rarely cover "the same stuff" with my classes from one year to the next. It is those teachers who've locked the whole curriculum down, designed their year from go to whoa over their career and believe that they are just tweaking their well honed methodologies who are in the most trouble when confronted with the reality that the world (and their students) have changed and will continue to change at an unprecedented rate.
Thanks for picking up the idea - Leigh. I too will be very interested in others' point of view.

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9 thoughts on “When Letting Go Is The Problem

  1. ghugs

    Yes, our problem is in showing teachers that there are alternatives to their tried and tested routine activities.

    When technology arrives into a school environment it often is seen to threaten previously well-ingrained processes and is thus resisted by teachers who are well versed in, and practiced, with them. For example, if technology is used for it’s own sake; or because of the “wow” factor; or because of pressure to keep up with neighbour schools, the pedagogical principles associated with drill and practice and teacher-centred tutorial style learning, are sacrificed to make way for “new learning” approaches.

    Despite being based on well researched constructivist theories, teachers tend to resist change because the technology seems to be the driving force rather than the pedagogy which is behind it. Likewise, technology may be seen to support existing pedagogy but at the expense of content because of the increased time it takes for teachers and students to learn how to use the technology.

    Mishra, Koehler and Harris have identified 40 classroom-based activity types that were devised after research in social studies classrooms. They suggest that teachers become acculturated into certain behaviour patterns that fit their expectations for their subject area and attempts to alter these behaviours are doomed to fail. Such existing practices are also quickly inherited by new teachers so that even the young and enthusiastic learn “how things are done here!” And so inertia wins.

    Perhaps our efforts at technology integration need to support these existing behaviours rather than seek to alter or simply replace them. Otherwise, most teachers won’t even give some of the fantastic alternatives a second look.

  2. Kerrie

    I think one of the problems is that teachers have the perception that they have no more room for anything in their lives. They are terrible at identifying things that they do currently that are almost a waste of time. These are things that have become almost like a habit, they are easy to accomplish because they have done them for so long, but they are part of a world that has long gone. What we need to do is make a list of the things we now do, decide whether they are still productive and cull some!
    Re-reading what you’ve written Graham, that is basically what you are saying isn’t it? I recently heard a university lecturer protesting to her professor that she couldn’t take on any more – this time referring to teaching online – because she still had to do what she has always done.

  3. Clay

    Real quick: IF I stay in my job for another year, it will be on the condition that my school requires teachers to co-plan one unit per semester with, well, me….and replace one old thing they do in that unit with a new way of doing it that is more in line with 21st century learning.

    We’re a 1:1 laptop school, and I don’t want to be around if the thing goes to hell because the teaching isn’t made to change with the tools and the times.

    So I’ve proposed as much. A pre-, during-, and after-unit support and collaboration role as the main part of the job description I’m pitching. If that doesn’t happen, I see little point in staying around.

    Do you think I’m being silly, I wonder?

    As usual, Graham, you’re so worth the read.

    (And I love that I’m leaving this comment from inside Bloglines Beta!)

  4. ghugs

    I don’t know about silly Clay, brave certainly. Why do we have to put ourselves in the “firing line” in order to get the point across. I left a 1:1 school, where I was Director of Learning Technologies, because the Principal saw no value in what I was trying to do. Perhaps he didn’t understand, perhaps I didn’t explain it well, but the end result was that there was no point in my staying. This school now has no PD and no integration and 2000 laptops/tablets. I’m now in a smaller school, in a lesser role, and without a 1:1 program. I have tried, this year, to use the peer coaching model without a lot of success – because there was no compulsion or incentive for teachers to get involved…..so most didn’t.

    I’ve said much the same thing that you are suggesting but schools are such political places, and everyone is so afraid of upsetting the status quo (the teachers). Hmmm!

    In another post on my own blog (Define Teacher) I have asked for a role description of a 21st century teacher. Just what are the expectations of a teacher these days. Surely the job is very different now, than it was when most teachers were employed. So isn’t it possible to put a list of expectations in front of a teacher? One of which would be to spend an amount of time with an integrator/mentor.

    Our barriers are the teachers and an administrative structure that is too weak to push changes through . I’ve tried being nice, and that worked with some. I didn’t think I was being arrogant but many said I was/am….oh dear, I’ll have to work harder on my people skills in 2008.

    I love the straightforward approach you have taken and I look forward to hearing about its reception!

    This topic is the nub of the whole issue of progressing change in our schools. As a newbie blogger, I’m hoping for continued discussions on this so at least I know I’m not barking at tombstones.

  5. Clay Burell

    Well, we’ll see. You’re a good writer, by the way, so I hope the tombstones start barking back soon. 😉

    So much of our frustrations come from being held by the economic short hairs. We need a paycheck, so we compromise. It just ain’t right.

    Stay tuned.

  6. tech4teach

    I’ve read these comments with great interest. I know the issues ghugs had at his previous school and it was just a ridiculous final outcome.

    I come form the Technical side, and try to make as much available to our Teachers as possible. I am lucky to work alongside a K-12 ICT Learning Co-ordinator (LG) who is “on the ball” and very passionate about integrating 21st Century (and beyond) Technology into the Classroom. She has been working along side a few of our staff and some are showing great interest in what we are able to offer. Of course many do not.
    One side of this that is especially frustrating for me is that I was asked to get some particular software program’s to be used in our IST Class, which we had to budget for, and they have not been used at all. I’m not sure why this is the case, but do know as some of our staff are teaching new classes, and LG has picked up an extra IST class, that she will now use these tools. The problem is getting a lot of our other staff to do so too.
    We are looking closely at the areas of getting good tools, making them easy to access, letting staff know they are there (see my “How much detail do you need?” post at http://tech4teaching.edublogs.org/2007/12/30/how-much-detail-do-you-need/) and getting them used, and subsequently evaluated. I see that there needs to be a good and close relationship between the Learning Co-ordinator and the ICT Manager to enable this to happen, but how do we as a team get it happening on a wider scale.



  7. Graham Wegner

    As much as it is not “Australian” to be seen praising the boss, I have to state here that I am lucky to be working for a principal who “gets technology” in a big way and is a huge advocate for progressive pedagogy in the classroom. She has pushed and supported my staff to move along in key areas like co-planning, using UbD, inquiry learning, IWB research and has shouldered much of the gripes and angst that accompanies change in school culture. So I’m in a good place there – she is a big advocate of replacing irrelevant practices but as many of the commenters have pointed out, schools are inherently political places and lining up the sacred cows for slaughter can build up resistance rather than support. Teachers here don’t gripe about a lack of support but many perceive a lack of consultation (read “we want to proceed at our own pace and choose when to change”). Another big thing my boss has pushed is a bigger focus on funding professional development with a sizeable budget allocation. One teacher moving schools has found out her new similar sized school’s PD budget is less than one sixth of ours. There are never enough resources to go around but somehow our school’s culture need to embrace and reward teachers who are willing to go out on their own and show pedagogical initiative. Using technology to further that aim will come along as a consequence.

  8. ken

    @ Clay: hey, I’m all for that one co-planned lesson thing. Can I come over and play? Seriously. Do you have room for 2 teachers and 4 children, all under 3 (the children, not the teachers)?

    Graham, my job has in its Pennsylvania Dept. of Ed mission statement: ‘to improve teacher instruction’….as I just told my wife (literally minutes ago) that is one friggin’ hard objective.

    I worked with a teacher today, collaborating and co-planning a podcast project in conjunction with his students’ study of endangered animals. As we began planning, he noted that the project would need to be jettisoned b/c one student in his class stutters…

    All the talk about skills, all the talk about writing, revising, inquiry, research, etc…immediately fell on the cutting room floor b/c of his thought that one student would not be able to record her voice…

    We are a gaggle of Sisyphus’s, all rock and hill…

    may we traverse our sloped terrain with shoulders firmly rooted and our minds, as Camus proffered, free from the absurd reality that houses our dilemma.


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