Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Layers of Instructional Change

Education is a long game. Teachers often don't see the full results of our labors come to fruition, not unless we're lucky enough to have students come back and find us years later. Even then, that's one or two students out of hundreds. And when they come back they act all weird because "Do I still call you Mr Robertson, you're not my teacher any more, how do we have normal conversations, wow you're old, this is awkward, ok I'm gonna go now, but thanks for everything kbye." We accept that change happens slowly, and we accept that sometimes we don't get to see the change we may have created.

Some change happens quicker. Sometimes a student will come to class one day and its like a switch has flipped inside them. A maturity Tetris block has fallen into place and another row is completed. Level up. *chime* This happens, or seems to happen, regularly to those of us lucky enough to run professional developments for other teachers. Those are often aimed at using or modifying tools, so in those cases our students are able to leave and implement what they've learned almost immediately. As you've read on the internet, what we hear we kinda learn, but what we do we learn a whole bunch. Well run PD allows for a trainer to throw a lot of pebbles into the pond and hope for some good ripples. Maybe a surfable wave or three.

For the most part though, education changes in bits and pieces. One person at a time, one reader or inspired session participant, one teacher alone in her room trying to come up with a better way to do something and then trying to decide how to show colleagues (just find someone and tell them, they'll dig it. They have an idea to tell you too). Snowflakes slowly piling atop one another, beginning the slide to something more.

I have more faith in teachers than some I've read, so I think the teachers more veteran than I am are also open to changing their practice, updating their ideas, modifying their existing philosophies to encompass new, shifting paradigms. In other words, I don't think we need to guilt and scare teachers into changing, we just need to show them the way and give them a few minutes of breathing time to think it over without the pressure of everything else going on all year. That's all most of us want- some space to play and think. Pressure creates great work, but some time on the beach, literally or metaphorically, can work wonders.

That's change happening within the profession proper. Those of us in the midst of doing the work. That's not good enough. Change must echo, bouncing back and forth through space and time, to get a real foothold. While changes are happening in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms throughout the country, change should also be happening in university education classes. Students training to be teachers must be getting Newer Better Different ways to teach the subject matter those of us in the classroom are teaching. I want student teachers who know how to make the computer dance in ways I was completely unaware of. I want student teachers up-to-date on the latest everything, which means their professors must be. Maybe education professors need to take some time in the schools. I'm sure some do, and more want to and will as soon as Hermione gives back the time turner. How is the change we're experiencing with our kids getting all the way to those still learning to do what we do?  This accepts, of course, that those of us doing it are still learning it too. If doctors are allowed to call what they do 'practice' then we should too. I'm a practicing teacher.*

The change goes further than that, of course. At the end of everything else I hope my students get from my class, I hope that the few of them that go on to be teachers remember what they liked and didn't like. By trying to teach all of them in different ways I'm reaching into the future and, hopefully, adjusting a classroom not yet built.

Change happens at different rates through all these layers, and can't be rushed. But I believe teaching resists stagnation and teachers fight entropy. To say I'm happy with the speed changes happen would be a lie. I wish more teachers would move it along quicker. In all aspects- equality, edtech, pedagogy. So I do what I can to pushing things along where I can. I write, I speak, I take student teachers, I rant on corners and in the hallways of conferences, and I boost those who preach their own good word.

Education happens so many places on a constant basis. It'll never be fast enough. But if we see the big picture, the long game, and all the layers these waves have to roll through, we might be able to be more intentional with our own change and it might help on those days when it feels like nothing is getting better. There are so many layers, we must always be intentional and strong, pushing in the right directions and riding the momentum to break through. Keeping in mind that as more layers begin to move it'll be easier to move the rest. Sympathetic movement. And all the time knowing that right behind the change we're pushing through there's another set of waves coming.

*I'm gonna leave this here, but it sounds like its own post. No one steal it. Dibs! 

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher

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