Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Power to the Learners - part two

This is the second (of three) posts about educational reform and technology. The first post (link) reviews the words of wisdom from educators who blogged on Leadership Day 2009. This post focuses on technology integration ideas I picked up from a recent graduate class, which used Michael Fullan's excellent book, "The New Meaning of Educational Change". Fullan concludes that educational reform is challenging - especially when it involves technology. Much of the difficulty involves people issues. He believes that "in the field of educational change, everyone feels misunderstood" and that reform is "as much gardening as it is engineering."[1] This post looks at what makes change difficult and suggests ways to improve it. My third and last post will discuss ways to improve education that were shared with me via contributors in my Personal Learning Community (PLC).

Change is difficult for most people. In general, people are resistant to change - even when their life depends upon it. Deutschman (2005) studied patients with heart disease. Two years after coronary-artery bypass grafting, 90 percent of the patients had not changed their life style. In the short run, changes can be done if properly motivated (risk of death, incentives, leadership command, etc.). For changes to take hold over the long run, people’s belief system must be changed. Teachers are people too and so wrestle with change just like everyone else.

School Environment. Teaching is difficult because “the teacher’s craft is marked by the absence of concrete models for emulation, unclear lines of influence, multiple and controversial criteria, ambiguity about assessment timing and instability in the product.” (Lortie, 1975) [1]. Teachers relish their independence, but the autonomy also creates challenges. Teachers are generally isolated during the normal course of a day and it often breeds privatization. That is, teachers become territorial about their classroom and curriculum. Richard Elmore (2004a, 2004b) [1] wants a new definition of professionalism. "Educators equate professionalism with autonomy - getting to use their own judgment, to exercise discretion, to determine the conditions of their own work in classrooms and schools." How will teachers know that they are doing a good job? In absence of feedback from peers or the principal, they may become nervous about their effectiveness. This may, in turn, lead to more privatization of their classroom as a defense mechanism.

Politically-driven Priorities. What is taking shape today as a result of the “get wired” and the “raise test scores” movements, is NOT education addressing the needs of 21st century. It is 20th century, industrial age education supercharged by high-stakes testing and high-tech tools for doing 1920’s types of teacher-centered education. [2] Given that change and collaboration are difficult, these reform movements should be spear-headed by both planners and the people who will be responsible for implementing the changes. Change requires vision at the top and grass roots support from the rank-and-file.

Low Success Rate. Datnow and Stringfield [8 ] studied schools in the same district and reported that only one in thirteen schools studied continued to implement their chosen reform by the third year (8% success rate). Datnow et al. [9 ] conducted a more comprehensive longitudinal study of 13 schools. At the end of six years, only four were still implementing the chosen reform designs (31% success rate). It is helpful to look beneath these statistics and look at an individual example. Philadelphia’s School of the Future (SOF) is a school that opened in 2006 with great fanfare. It replaced a low-achieving school with a new $63 million facility and teachers. Each classroom had a Smartboard and every student was given a laptop. The Philadelphia School District partnered with Microsoft, one of the largest technology companies in the world. Needless to say, the project had significant financial and technical resources. Although it is only been open for a few years, it has been a major failure.[10]

Pathways Problem. Educational reform rates are low because "educational changes is technically simple and socially complex”.[1] Fullan characterizes school change as a “system of [nine] variables” [11] that comprise a “pathways” problem, where combinations are unique and not necessarily transferable between schools. This would be like a doctor building his knowledgebase of symptoms and treatments using a relatively small set of test patients. To make matters worse, most schools don't collect quality data about each of these factors. In their zeal to implement the actual changes, they don't think much about measuring and documenting the success factors.

Research Disconnect. Educational methods tend to change/improve very slowly because there is a large gap between brain and learning research and teaching techniques. Teachers generally do not routinely locate and translate research-based knowledge to inform their efforts (Grimmer & MacKinnon, 1982; Huberman, 1989; Richardson & Placier, 2001) [3] The culprit is once again time for teachers to meet and skills to harness their collaboration.

Professional Development. Professional Development (PD) is a form of incremental change that can lay the foundation for more significant changes. Schools need to find their own blend of effective PD. This will provide insights into how to implement educational reform. It will likely involve buy-in from teachers, teaching to a range of capabilities and beliefs, and providing time and support for teachers to personalize the changes.

Professional Learning Communities. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are an excellent complement to formal PD. They are informal mechanisms for teachers to build and manage knowledge, create shared language and standards of practice, and sustain aspects of school culture. [6] PLCs often done electronically, which opens the doors to other schools around the world. By sharing their teaching methods and curriculum, PLC members gain important insights into best practices. At the very least, sharing is a form of reflection that will likely lead to refinement. Teachers who pursue advanced degrees while teaching can empathize with learners. In turn, this may make them more introspective about their own teaching methods. A teacher who is not taking any formal classes must rely on their PLC to continually improve their teaching. See blog post about PLCs (link)

Where will I find the time? In a constructivist teaching environment, teachers need lots of time. They need time to design a project with or without colleagues, or search for an one on the Internet. They need time to try the project like a student and “debug” it. Further, teachers need time to create questions and scenarios for the activity that will lead to deep meaning. [1]
Josh Allen [4] believes that technology integration needs to be an integral part of every subject and not a stand-alone skill.
Every teacher survey conducted in the last 30 years has concluded that teachers don't have enough time. So, why are we continually presenting technology separately? I would love to have our curriculum writers do more of the teacher training in their building on how to use technology to enhance their curriculum area. As a wise person once said, sometimes it helps for someone else to say the exact same thing you said. The curriculum writers would be expected to learn from the technology leader how to use the tool most effectively, but then the curriculum writer trains the rest of the building with the technology leader in the room and available for support.

Just Hire Better Teachers. Turning over staff to support reform is not the answer. Wholesale changes are even more difficult than the reform effort itself. Sometimes the school professional culture makes change difficult. Maybe schools need to be clearer about their professional culture and differences from other schools. This may help teachers accept jobs at schools that are more closely aligned with their skill set, teaching approach and beliefs. This mismatch probably accounts for the high teacher turnover. The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF) found that:

* 46% of newly hired teachers in the US leave after the first five years (The Teaching Commission, 2006)
* 33% leave after three years
* The first few years of teaching significantly affects careers. This includes frustrating and driving out good teachers and poor induction programs that do not provide enough new teacher assistance.

The Vision Thing. It is critical to clearly articulate changes and why they are neccessary or beneficial. Moreover, building a shared vision requires common experiences and reflection about those experiences. Doing the right thing needs to become part of “muscle memory”, which is not easy for most teachers who constantly question what and why they are doing. They ask themselves, "Is a paticular action innovative and worthy of being shared? Is a particular action helping students succeed?" This self-reflection and critical analysis of their environment is normal for adults and is actually the foundation of Transformative Learning. Gross and Associates (1971) found that problems related to clarity appear in virtually every study of change. Very simple and insignificant changes can be very clear, while more difficult and worthwhile ones may not be amenable to easy clarification.

Curriculum Design. Have an instructional model. Teacher Sean Nash
[5] wants to put more pressure on teachers. (I agree - see my blog post)
Hold staff accountable for bringing their skills up to the present realities of the 21st Century. We’ve been living passively in this century for almost ten years now. It is time for all of us to sit up and take a direct and active role in the changes happening within the learning profession. Implementing technology-oriented change needs to be done in conjunction with the curriculum. If your lone goal is to have students, teachers and administrators all gleefully pushing buttons and gazing at computer screens, then your work here is done. Mr. Nash advocates an “instructional model” that is much more significant than just a "soundbyte". This means driving technology deep into the curriculum so that you have a learner-centered instructional model based on the constructivist nature of human learning.
What can be done? Educational reform is difficult for schools that are not learning environments for their staff. England, Teacher Training Agency (2005) has worked with teachers to make their curriculum reflect new developments in literacy and numeracy reform. It has used financial incentives to attract candidates to the profession, including areas of greatest needs like math and science . Teacher Donelle O’Brien [15] believes that we need to include students in any reform discussions. "Without them, it is like a sportswriter penning a column about a game without interviewing any players. The column will be fact-oriented, one-dimensional and prone to the author’s bias and perceptions."

Success means collaboration. I am a proponent of teachers collaborating on curriculum and pedagogy. Fullan says, successful educational reform shift the focus from my to our via:

* Break down the autonomy of the classroom so that greater consistency of effective practice can be achieved.
* Develop a curricula lab where teachers can come and revamp their curriculum in small groups.
Look in the Mirror. Before implementing a new educational initiative, schools should be frank about their capacity for change. Luo[7] suggests that preparation for change involves being introspective and gauging the school’s readiness for change. Consider the following six questions, which I adapted to be relevant for education:

1. Exactly what problem are we trying to solve with this rule/regulation/innovation?
2. Is this really the best way to approach it?
3. What unintended consequences can be anticipated?
4. What alternative approaches might work better?
5. What is the benefit of the innovation? Are the benefits obvious to those who will implement it?
6. Can you actually demonstrate the benefit? Will the benefit be obvious to those whom it was intended?

The most important points that jump out to me are the unintended consequences and benefits. Reforms can shift workloads intentionally and unintentionally. This is why it is important to have all constituencies represented in the planning stages. The benefits should be obvious and compelling. This will help foster a shared vision and excitement that the reform is worthwhile and will succeed. In addition, Luo suggests the following checklist of factors to help organizations measure readiness for change:

1. Sponsorship (endorsement of change from the top)
2. Leadership (day-to-day support for change)
3. Motivation (urgency from top management to implement change)
4. Direction (clear vision of what should result from change)
5. Measurements (ways of determining achievement of change)
6. Organizational context (relation to other actions or changes)
7. Processes/functions (staff willingness to change for the good of the organization)
8. Competitor benchmarking (how other competitors are doing with similar changes)
9. Customer focus (knowledge and understanding of customers and about the anticipated change)
10. Rewards (what managers and employees get for changing)
11. Organizational structure (balance between flexibility to
12. encourage change and sufficient stability to allow change to unfold over time)
13. Communication (open, two-way communication at all levels about the change program)
14. Organizational hierarchy (number of levels in the organization, the fewer the better)
15. Prior experience with change (and degree of success)
16. Morale (spirit and trust in the workforce)
17. Innovation (encouragement for innovation in the organization)
18. Decision-making (degree of staff involvement in decisionmaking, combined with rapid turnaround when decision is needed)

Effective Leadership. One of the biggest challenges of educational reform is the scarce availability of high-quality leadership. Principal Adam Dewitt [14] thinks that being an administrator reminds him about teaching his son how to ride a two-wheeled bike. Principals need to be close so that teachers can overcome apprehension and be reassured when they look over their shoulder. Principals help teachers regain their balance as necessary. Once teachers start to get the hang of riding without assistance, the principal should “give them time to practice and develop benchmarks to check their own progress.” Good with tech or ask the right questions.
Josh Allen [15] argues that principals do not have to be master teachers in all areas of the curriculum (including technology), "Principals do not need to be tech-savvy. They need only to understand the benefits and ask salient questions to hold people accountable. Take an interest in projects that teachers are expending significant resources or effort. Motivate teachers to innovate and try something new."

A recent post from Sharon Elin [13] made it crystal clear to me how good leadership looks:

Leadership is learned — and earned — from the trenches. A powerful leader should be able to perform any job his or her followers are asked to do, and furthermore, should be able to do it better than they can. No mediocre teacher should be allowed to rise to the ranks of school leadership. As instructional leaders, administrators should be able to pass their passion on to their faculty. They should be able to mentor teachers, model techniques, and identify weaknesses and strengths in their teaching staff. Their first love — their calling, their passion — should be the students and the educational process, above all, not their own career advancement. If we can blend the dividing line between administrators and the “troops” in the classrooms, and between the school board members, district personnel, and school administrators, we can begin to communicate with each other rather than fight a war of “us vs. them.” We are the “embedded leaders,” out in the trenches, in the classrooms, the ones who see most of the action. Like embedded reporters for the media who live with troops in battle, we are close to the action and can best report what we see and what is needed — and we have a first-person point of view about what can be done to improve the chances of success. Once we step over those lines in the sand, we can forge a common bond of leadership to get our messages across. Granted, there will always be positions of power “above us” that set policy and make rules that we must uphold, but as leaders ourselves — in our own spheres of influence — we can affect change and improve the status quo, and by doing so, earn the right to suggest innovative, constructive steps toward the progress we want to see.

Fullan believes that implementation must start relatively soon after the planning phase. "Success is one-quarter having the right ideas and three quarters establishing effective procedures for a given situation." His research shows that too much time in the planning stage usually leads to failure. "People do not learn or accomplish complex changes by being told or shown what to do. Deeper meaning and solid change must be born over time. You get farther, faster by producing quality materials and establishing a highly interactive infrastructure of pressure and support."

Pfeffer and Sutton(2000) have created a list of what to do and not to do [12]:

1. Do not assume that your version of what the change should be is the only one that should be implemented. Exchange your reality with others.
2. Assume that any significant innovation requires individual implementers to work out their own meaning. Effective implementation is a process of clarification
3. Assume that conflict and disagreement are not only inevitable but fundamental to successful change.
4. Assume people need pressure to change. But it will only be effective under conditions that allow them to react, interact with others, and obtain assistance to develop new capabilities
5. Assume effective change takes time.
6. Do not assume that the reason for lack of implementation is outright rejection. Learn to value rejection because resisters have good ideas and have a keen sense for foreseeing problems.
7. Do not expect all or even most people or groups to change.
8. Assume that you will need a plan that addresses the factors known to affect implementation.
9. Assume no amount of knowledge will ever make totally clear what action should be taken.
10. Assume that changing the culture of institutions is the real agenda - not implementing single innovations. Don't be seduced into looking for the silver bullet

Change is difficult. Educational change is extremely difficult because students and teachers cannot stop what they are doing. Meaningful change must be done gradually. Powerful leadership is critical, since teachers need to believe in the vision and goal. Further, there needs to be teacher leadership to provide support and sustain the momentum. I believe that schools with vibrant professional growth and development (PG&D) efforts are more likely to succeed than those without PG&D efforts. In addition, teachers should be refining their pedagogy and curriculum with peers (either in person or via a PLN). If the change is related to technology, it is important for administrators and teachers to experience the technological tools that students will be using. They are more complex than a traditional teaching tools because they have an unique interfaces and their own environment. Lastly, Fullan suggests the following to foster change: (i) reflective dialogue, (ii) de-privatization of practice, (iii) collective focus on student learning, (iv) collaboration, and (v) shared norms and values.

[1]Fullan, Michael. The New Meaning of Educational Change. Teachers College Press. New York, NY. 2007.
[2] Scardamalia, M., Getting Real About 21st century education. The Journal of Educational Change (in press)
[3] Hiebert, J., Gallimore, R., Stiger, W., A Knowledge Base for the Teaching Profession: What Would It Look Like and How Can We Get One?, Educational Researcher, June/July 2002, Vol. 31, No. 5
[4] “Technology Fridge” July 13, 2009. Accessed July 15, 2009.
[5] Nash, Sean. “Four pillars of technology integration”. Weblog entry. “nashworld” July 13, 2009. Accessed July 15, 2009.
[6] McLaughlin, M., & Talbert, J., Professional Communities and the work of high school teaching. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001
[7] Luo, John S, et al, Considerations in Change Management Related to Technology, Academic Psychiatry, Vol 30, no 6, November-December, 2006
[8] Datnow, A., & Stringfield, S. Working together for reliable school reform. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk. Vol 5, num 1-2, 2000.
[9] Datnow, A., Hubbard, L., & Mehan, H., Extending educational reform from one school to many, Routledge Falmer Press, London, 2002
[10] Stansbury, Meris, School of the Future: Lessons in Failure, Inside Higher Ed June 1, 2006, access via web on July 15, 2009
[11] The nine factors fall under three categories of the nature of the change (need, clarity, complexity, quality/practicality, environmental factors (district, community, principal, teacher), and external factors (government and other agencies, standards)
[12] Pfeffer, J., & Sutton, R. The knowing-doing gap. Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA, 2000
[13] Elin, Sharon. "If I Could Change the Educational System". weblog entry. "Edutwist" March 1, 2009. Accessed September 22, 2009
[14] Dewitt, A., Learning to Ride/Learning to Trust. weblog entry. "Leading 180 Days" July 13, 2009. Accessed September 22, 2009.
[15] Allen, J., Leadership Day 2009 Stiff Condiment. "Technology Fridge" July 12, 2009. Accessed October 12, 2009.
[16] O'Brien, Donelle. “Embrace learning in community”. Weblog entry. “Lifelong Learning 2.0” July 12, 2009. Accessed July 15, 2009.