One of our administrative assistants at COFEC likes to put inspirational quotes outside of her door. Most recently it read: “Old ways don’t open new doors.” This quote struck a chord with me because I am constantly thinking about change. I would argue that we all think about change because change drives our personal and professional lives. It’s also what drives society and so I always wonder why people are so averse to change in education? Recently, Rick Wormeli published an article about the grief of accepting new ideas in an online publication, which our superintendent referenced in her recent Superintendent’s Blog with respect to the changes that are taking place in OCSU. In this article, Wormeli states:
“The way we teach is often a statement of who we are. If someone questions our practices, it's like they're questioning our value as teachers. Our classroom instruction, including assessment and grading, technology integration, student-teacher interactions, and more, are expressions of how we see ourselves; they are our identity.”
Furthermore, Wormeli argues that a person’s ego is fiercely protective because of the idea that accepting change and new ideas means that somehow our ways of thinking were incorrect or in need of change. I had never quite considered the practice of teaching in this way before and it opened my eyes as to why as a teacher, department head, principal, and now director of instruction I struggle to make connections with some educators when it comes to philosophical and pedagogical conversations about teaching and learning. I have always been open to collaboration and feedback to support better practices in teaching and learning and believe me that feedback has not always been positive. Furthermore, I would argue that when it comes to decisions about teaching and learning that teachers and administrators only have the best intentions for students. However, as I have learned, it is critical to understand the emotions that change or accepting new ideas can evoke.
Wormeli references Evans (1996) The Human Side of School Change, which I remember reading quite well when I was in my doctoral program. His writing had lasting implications for me as a school leader because he focuses on the importance of building relationships. Anyone who knows me will say that I believe relationships are the foundation to building effective systems in education. As educators, we always focus on having good relationships with our students for obvious reasons; It sets the stage for teaching and learning to occur. When learning happens, change happens. The tenet we hold true about relationships with our students must transcend to the relationships that adults have with one another. Especially considering what Wormeli argues that teachers’ beliefs are held tightly and not easily swayed when it comes to change in practice without careful examination. It does not matter how rational or common sense the change may be because it pushes aside what is or has been common practice. A relevant example of this that I can think of to our current work would be separating academic achievement towards standards and habits of work.
For far too long, our communication about student learning has lacked transparency because we have lumped together academic achievement and habits of work in an averaged-based system. I can’t count the number of times that I have heard teachers say “Johnny is a good kid, he tries hard so his grade averaged out to a “C.” I myself was guilty of this practice in my early years as a teacher. How is a practice like this ethical or equitable if we are preparing young adults to enter in society and they are not meeting the standard? I would prefer that we communicate that “Johnny” has good habits of work but needs additional support to meet the standard and that we as the educators are going to provide him with the additional opportunities and support to get there. Changes like the example above make sense and I would imagine that no one would argue that. However, change takes time, resources, and support.
We need to be able to support one another in making shifts or changes like this in order to protect ourselves and our egos as we experience the change together. Wormeli furthers this thought by stating:
Let's help each other: Let's interact in ways that invite thoughtfulness, not invocation of self-protecting egos. Let's give colleagues time and encouragement to pushback and resist new ideas, and rather than be so self-assured ourselves, let's look for new insights we need to hear in our colleagues' arguments. And finally, let's extend the compassion to others we seek for ourselves, and honor the grief process that happens when asked to give up something we've held so tightly all these years—a truth, reality, perception, or practice—as they struggle to accept something new. Instead of leaving them to struggle alone, we can walk that path together.
One of our teachers recently referenced the following statement in a reflection: “As educators, we must model what it means to change, to grow, to learn, and to improve. That’s what school is all about.” I, for one, live by this motto and trust that this is something that all educators can get behind. As a leader in education, my hope is that we all take risks to improve equitable outcomes for our students, as well as reflect on where we have been and where we are going. When we do this we are the models and the true epitome of lifelong learning.
Rick Wormeli’s Article “The Grief of Accepting New Ideas” can be found here.