I’ve been thinking and talking a lot of late about the belief systems that schools have (or don’t have) about student learning, and as I was digging around for some shoulders to stand on (as usual) I found this powerful snip from Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in Schooling by Design (2007). It articulates perfectly what I think may be the biggest barrier to real change in schools and classrooms.
We have seen this phenomenon repeatedly over the past 25 years. More tellingly, even when educators acknowledge inadequacies in student performance, too many express lack of confidence that they have the power or capacity to make a difference. Experience abets the fatalism that many teachers feel: given the way schools are run, few people do actually change much. So the very fear of embarrassment or failure is often too strong for us to publicly acknowledge. But such fatalism is the antithesis of habit change.
In short, most schools have, ironically, been poor examples of learning organizations, afraid as they typically are of taking that first crucial step of admitting ignorance about how to cause more and deeper learning, and stuck as they typically are in unexamined and self-perpetuating routines in which defensiveness about any critique of comfortable practice is the norm. And the typical job conditions abet the problem: individual teachers are often weak models of learners in action because they are asked only to “teach” instead of continually being asked by job requirements and norms to show a commitment to continual questioning and openness to change.
So it won’t do for school leaders and professional development programs to demand something of individuals that schools do not model. Professional development must be based on truly essential questions and puzzles about learning: what would it take to get more learners to learn well? When is the problem their’s and when is it ours? Which practices work and which don’t? Who is having the most success and why? Professional development can then emerge around the action research and training that follow from such inquiries.
It is therefore incumbent on change agents to be the kind of questioners – that is, habit challengers and habit breakers – we are describing, and to work with staff to develop structures and situations in which exploring our most important questions and needs is safe and supported. That will require leaders to charge not only the professional developers but also every staff member to make a commitment to root out institutional inconsistency between mission and practice at central job responsibility. [Emphasis mine.]
Amen. I can count on two hands the number of schools that I have visited where a) the beliefs around how kids learn best are clearly articulated and aligned to practice, and b) where there is a laser like commitment to “rooting out institutional inconsistency” in that regard. The places that are doing it are amazing places of learning.
The scary part? We all know that most schools are “poor examples of learning organizations,” yet we lack the capacity, the courage, and the commitment to change that. Why?