Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Why are teachers so reluctant to change?

Over years of visiting schools it seems mean to say that there has not been as much change as one might have hoped for considering all the imposed reform efforts. Ironically the biggest change I have seen was when a more progressive pedagogy entered our primary schools in the late 60s and early 70s. Out went straight rows, the strap, and the overbearing role of the teacher. Even the introduction of computers hasn’t yet changed school structures as much but there are signs they will.

I guess we are conditioned to act for better or worse by the organization we work in. Even though we like to think we live in an individualistic age, so called authors of our own lives, organizations still determine our actions more than we like to think.

Organizations unconsciously determine the norms and expectations we work under. Organizations are both an expression of who we are and shape us at the same time. This of course includes the school we go to. Organizations stir affection and loyalty and in turn become the breeding ground for shared values, solidarity and conformity.

They can also become bureaucratic and impersonal. In short they exert a powerful influence on our lives. There might be some who might want to be creative and make changes but this is a risky business. Far more have become conditioned to toe the line or limit their aspirations. This is the case it seems in education.

Changing entrenched mindsets is a difficult task even for those in charge. Leaders are more conditioned that those lesser mortal working at the fringes. The idea of getting to the top to change things is a myth. Creative ideas are always watered down by what is possible – the art of compromise.

The trouble is most of our organizations were developed in the nineteenth century and haven’t changed much since. They seem to be oblivious to the realization that we are entering a new era; a post industrial age; an age of instant communication and flexibility; an era which will demand new organizations and new mindsets.

Future changes will force all traditional organizations, including schools, to develop new shapes more suitable for the 21stC. More probably new organizations will appear sidelining traditional school entirely; already there are new innovative and virtual schools putting pressure on the old organizations. These future organizations will have to continually evolve to accommodate new expectations and aspirations. Evolution not tradition will become the overriding force underpinning the future.

It seems that when this new environments occurs teachers who are flexible enough will move into the new environments. Creative teachers and schools could even lead this revolution if they were brave enough. So far there is not much sign of this; they are too busy trapped playing the old game!

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