March 1, 2007

Teachers Resist Change

Peter Senge, a systems-theory expert and advocate of "learning organizations" in business, relates an anecdote that reveals teachers' perspectives on change. He asked a group of educators if systems change occurs only in response to crisis. Usually in business groups, three-quarters will agree that's true, but the response in the education group was different. When he asked the question, very few said yes. So he asked, "Does that mean you believe significant innovation can occur without crises?" but again no one raised a hand. He went on, "Well, if change doesn't occur in response to a crisis, and if it doesn't occur in the absence of a crisis, what other possibilities are there?" Finally somone from the audience responded, "I guess we don't believe significant change can occur under any circumstances" (cited in Smith, 2001, p. 30).

From Myths and Misconceptions about Teaching

I believe that this is the majority view among teachers. I also believe that is is a rational response by teachers who see a large number of failing student first hand day in and day out. Inherent in this point of view is the realization that teachers are powerless to improve student outcomes. It is beyond their ability to improve student performance and they know it. These teachers have seen a parade of ineffective reforms pass through their classrooms, most of which claimed to have a research base, albeit an unscientific research base. These teachers have settled into a status quo position.

There is a minority, yet vocal, teacher position that refuses to accept the fact that teachers are unable to educate a large segment of the student population. There is a large body of objective evidence which shows that teachers holding this position are wrong. Nonetheless, these teachers have woven a web of rationalizations that permits them to discount this data and maintain the untenable position that teachers know best. They don't. And I'll show why in my next post.

25 comments:

Eric said...

Whoa! Senge's been spun. Here's a version of the quote elsewhere on the web:

[A]s someone who spends considerable time with educators and businesspeople, it is my judgment that educators feel more trapped and less able to innovate than do their business counterparts. Several years ago I asked a group of educators a question I have often asked of business groups: "Do you believe that significant change occurs only as a result of a crisis?" In business groups, typically three-quarters will respond affirmatively. But, then, others will tell stories of significant changes that arose without a crisis, from passion and imagination, from leaders of many types willing to take risks in favor of something in which they believed. The group of educators responded differently. Very few raised their hands at my first question. Puzzled, I asked, "Does that mean that you believe that significant innovation can occur without crises?" None raised a hand in response to this question either. Now really puzzled, I asked: "Well, if change doesn't occur in response to a crisis, and it doesn't occur in the absence of a crisis, what other possibilities are there?" A soft vice from the audience responded, "I guess we don't believe significant change can occur under any circumstances." Those who have not worked within the institutions of education often do not appreciate just how disempowered educators feel.

This situation is entirely different than "resisting change." Ohio's Operating Standards speaks to this. Of course, if the powers that be still insist on badly managing a school or a district, the teachers are still SOL.

It is beyond their ability to improve student performance and they know it. These teachers have seen a parade of ineffective reforms pass through their classrooms

So when will your state dept of ed and ed schools stop inducing learned helplessness on innocent school faculty?

KDeRosa said...

Hi Eric.

I think "Inherent in this point of view is the realization that teachers are powerless to improve student outcomes." captures the learned helplessness problem.

But the title is mine and I will tie it together when I'm done this series of posts.

Pissed Off said...

I had a supervisor years ago that said, "everyone has a learning ceiling in different areas." She wa correct. I cannot learn how to put on eyeliner, no matter how hard I work on it.

Kids have learning ceilings too. While educators can make a difference with some of them, there are some no one can help. It's time we realize this and start encouraging our students to be successful in the areas they have gifts in.

KDeRosa said...

I agree that "everyone has a learning ceiling in different areas"; however, I disagree that most of these academic ceilings are hit by the 12th grade as you allude to.

Pissed Off said...

Some people hit their learning ceilings way before 12th grade. Maybe it's not a pleasant thought, but it is true, just the same. By forcing education on everyone, we are actually crippling our kids. By forcing everyone to take chemistry and higher math, we are turning our kids off to school. Let's train them for vocations that they will like and succeed in.

If someone really decides that education is the way to go, the ocmmunity colleges are always an option at a later time. I work in one. The older students are the best ones. They work hard and take advantage of all the school has to offer. Some high school.

SusanS said...

It's time we realize this and start encouraging our students to be successful in the areas they have gifts in.

Just as long as you don't make that decision for my kid when he's 11 years old. And that is exactly what is going on.

SteveH said...

"It's time we realize this and start encouraging our students to be successful in the areas they have gifts in."

Wow!!!

And who is going to decide this? K-12 teachers?????

Double Wow!!!

Is there a ceiling test somewhere that I don't know about? If a child fails at school, then it's because of the child's ceiling? It's not the teaching and the curriculum?


"By forcing education on everyone, we are actually crippling our kids."

Triple Wow!!!

"Crippling"?!?!?!?


"Let's train them for vocations that they will like and succeed in."


Yeah! Let's. We know what they will like if they can't figure it out. We can add a vocation test along with the ceiling test.

CrypticLife said...

Einstein's fourth grade math teacher thought he'd hit his ceiling.

Pissed Off said...

A 16 year old kid or even an older kid can make that decision. A kid in elementary school or junior high school has no concpet yet what they can or can't do and should be encouraged and their opportunities should seem limitless. And it is not a decision written in stone! That decision is one that should be made by the individual, based on their interests and abilities and not by a teacher or even one test.

And I stand by my comments that forcing kids to learn is not going to do the trick. It is cruel to watch kids struggling day after day with the same math that they couldn't do in elementary school and will never need for anything in their lives.

SusanS said...

P'd off,

Have you read any of Ken's posts over the last few months?

If you work at a community college then maybe what you are seeing are kids who weren't so much forced to learn, but taught poorly to begin with.

Perhaps that is the cruelty.

It is cruel to watch kids struggling day after day with the same math that they couldn't do in elementary school and will never need for anything in their lives.

They will need it if they want to go to college. They will need it if they want to go into the sciences. They'll need it if they want to be a doctor or a nurse. They will need it if they want to work in a bank. They will need it if they want to own their own business. That's a lot of career choices that a kid won't get to choose from all because he wasn't "forced" to learn, as you put it.

And again, many of Ken's posts have been about the idea that many older kids and adults have problem due to poor teaching and bad curriculums.

Of course, people have limits, but the math we were asked to do in grade school is basic arithmetic, and barring a very low or borderline IQ or a severe LD, the vast majority adults can master it if taught properly.

And basic arithmetic is needed for life. Unless you have someone else doing all of your banking, taxes, etc.

redkudu said...

With respect to p'doff, if they are "still struggling with the same math that they couldn't do in elementary school" it would seem to indicate a need to examine why they couldn't do the math in the first place, instead of torturing them by setting them up for failure year after year (which would indicate they've been pushed through the system). While I'm neither here nor there on the idea of learning ceilings, I do question the apparent blame (or responsibility, for a nicer word) placed on the student for their inability to succeed by declaring that they've hit their ceiling, rather than questioning if they ever had the proper tools to reach it in the first place.

Anonymous said...

since when is everyone capable of becoming a doctor?

since when is the algebra and geometry and trigonometry they are required to learn basic math?

responsible caring teacher said...

How about blaming crack addicted mothers? How about blaming kids who never study? How about kids that are disruptive? Maybe it's time to start blaming the kids and stop blaming the teachers.

SteveH said...

"A 16 year old kid or even an older kid can make that decision."


" since when is the algebra and geometry and trigonometry they are required to learn basic math?"


"Maybe it's time to start blaming the kids and stop blaming the teachers."


All great arguments for full school choice.

SusanS said...

since when is everyone capable of becoming a doctor?

How about blaming crack addicted mothers?

Well, talk about completely missing the point. I don't even know where to start with responses like that.

All great arguments for full school choice.

I've been rather agnostic on this subject, Steve, but I think I'm beginning to see the light.

SteveH said...

"I've been rather agnostic on this subject, Steve, but I think I'm beginning to see the light."

There is a lot of room for pragmatism when a child gets to be 16 (a junior in high school). It's hard to fix past educational damage by then, whatever the reason. That is really a different discussion from what Ken talks about on this blog, which is to try to eliminate the educational reasons for that damage in the early grades.

One of the biggest problems in grades K-8 is educational philosophy and low expectations. Schools assume, very early, that many kids are not doctor or engineer material. The question is which ones? They make educational decisions based on low expectations. Everyday Math doesn't worry about mastery of fraction division in fifth grade because few adults need that skill. Of course, this pretty much guarantees that they won't need that skill. Many kids won't be doctors or engineers, but that can't be the basis for K-8 education.

We can argue about curricula, but it's hard to fight philosophy and low expectations. I don't want to argue, and I don't want to be in a position where I have to change someone else's philosophy. I shouldn't have to.

This isn't about proper educational research, which is a great goal. It's about assumptions and control. Parents need to be in control and in charge of those assumptions, not schools.

Pissed Off said...

Parents need to be in control and in charge of those assumptions, not schools.

That is exactly my point. The problem is that schools and the government are now in charge of what children are learning.

And high school is a totally different ball game than elementary school. At the elementary level, kids should be told and encouraged to reach for the stars. Nothing should be impossible for them. Expectations should be boundless.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm with Steve.

I have never met a K-12 teacher or guidance counselor who could predict what a student's "ceiling" was.

Teachers have no business "identifying" ceilings.

Catherine Johnson said...

It's time we realize this and start encouraging our students to be successful in the areas they have gifts in.

Just as long as you don't make that decision for my kid when he's 11 years old. And that is exactly what is going on.


Or earlier.

Ceiling decision were made for my kid when he was 8.

We weren't told.

Nobody was.

Catherine Johnson said...

from Irvington Board minutes:

Dr. Beni said that, in choosing curriculum, decisions are made in a K – 12 perspective and that we should listen to what the teachers recommend. He added that students rarely move out of the group that they were placed in while in the 3rd grade.

Subsequent events have rendered this statement inoperative.

When the middle school gave all 5th graders a math placement test in 2004-2005 7 kids who'd been placed in the non-accelerated track moved to the accelerated track; 21 children who had been in the accelerated track moved down to the non-accelerated track.

More children would have moved down if their parents hadn't refused the move.

So there you have it: teachers identifying ceilings for 8 year olds.

The minute they bring in an objective test the ceilings turn out to be bogus.

NDC said...

Back to teachers and change, if it's okay: I don't think teachers and going to give the same responses for a variety of reasons: first and foremost, the number of innovations and programs that they are forced to attend to that promise changes in results based on changes in superficial teacher behavior. These fail to deliver anything worthwhile and just as the teachers get used to them are replaced with a new system or program.

Secondly, teachers are rarely able to make the kind of changes that they believe will improve the system. Instead, they will be directed in implementing someone else's ideas, which fail to deliver better results. (does it really matter if I write an essential question on the board instead of an objective? Probably not. Would it matter if the school got rid of kids who were disruptive or protected instructional time from interruption, probably.)

If teachers were really presented with meaningful change in school structure, better methods, etc, then they might not show the same "resistance."

But when you have been put thought the time consuming yet superficial change ringer a few times, well, you'd be a fool to keep believing that the latest guru had the answers.

Should DI ever really catch on with school system administrators, be ready to sell hard to teachers, because we won't believe it either unless we see it.

NDC said...

On the ceiling issue, sometimes kids with 85 IQs have parents who think they should take the highest level classes, and when the students aren't successful, blame teachers for not doing enough.

So although I don't think that schools should be in the business of setting ceilings for 8 year olds, I'm not sure that parents always understand the reality of situation either.

I do think we could give placement tests, and as long as kids could more up or down from year to yes, we'd be better able to tailor instruction so as not to waste people's time.

(Bringing back ability grouping would be one of my top three educational wishes should that genie every offer.)

Tracy said...

I had a supervisor years ago that said, "everyone has a learning ceiling in different areas." She wa correct. I cannot learn how to put on eyeliner, no matter how hard I work on it.

Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Kids have learning ceilings too. While educators can make a difference with some of them, there are some no one can help. It's time we realize this and start encouraging our students to be successful in the areas they have gifts in.

But what about if they want skills in other areas?

I have a minor case of dyspraxia. Learning to drive a manual car was very difficult for me. But I did it. I don't drive in the Indy 500, I don't drive taxis, I don't drive trucks, I have other ways of earning an income that draw on my strengths. Still it's incredibly useful knowing how to drive car, including a manual one.

Also I spent years in speech therapy to learn how to speak English (my native tongue). I am never going to be a race commentator, but I can now make a speech or conduct an interview by telephone.

Equally a person may not be gifted in reading, or writing, or maths, but still can benefit enormously from being able to do the basics.

SusanS said...

ndc,

I do see your point, but as the parent of one of those 85 IQ kids, I can tell you that a parent in denial won't last long. That's a special ed kid.

I'm strongly aware of how difficult parents can be, but when you're dealing with that level of IQ or lower, there is no way for the kid to keep up at the pace of the others and so eventually the parent will have to come to grips with reality. It is an extremely painful process and unless you've been there personally, I recommend patience. The reality check is coming.

That being said, I have to tell you that it is critical that my son get as far down the road academically as possible since we, his parents, will be unable to live forever.

"Ceilings" are also imposed on this group, as well. I've seen it firsthand. And it's all very well-meaning. But it is still wrong.

The ceilings are often quietly placed on these kids based on their overall performance which often doesn't tell you much about their abilities or potential.

I brought my LD son up two years in math because the school would not go further with him. I asked and asked and for some reason they would wouldn't send him home with anything above 3rd/4th grade (he was in the 8th grade.) I took it upon myself to buy a homeschooling 5th/6th grade book and after- schooled him for a year. Quizzes, homework, corrections, etc. He did fine.

But the funny thing to me was when his teachers would mention that he just "knew" long division, or did I realize that he was doing pre-algebra. Those skills took about a year (1/2 hr., 5 days a week) to accomplish.

Had I accepted their "ceiling" he would still be coming home with single-digit arithmetic.

NDC said...

I apologize if my comment seemed harsh. You are right that teachers should try to be patient and more understanding about parent concerns.

It's just troubling when as a high school teacher, you see a mom who believes that her son is going to be a doctor when it's really unlikely to happen based on his disability. In the case I have in mind, the kid himself was interested in being a fireman/paramedic which would probably be withing his ability range and for which a set of vocational health occupations classes would have been helpful.

And although you approached your decisions with what would happen to your child when you are gone in mind, a notable percentage of the parents of special education students at my high school often don't allow their students to develop any independence at all. They insist that everything at school be the teacher's responsibility (even writing down the homework as opposed to checking and initialing what the student writes down), and at home they do everything for the kid. I mean to the degree of getting assignments at the high school level in the mom's handwriting for a student in a collaborative class.

So, as a regular education teacher who only works with a kid in one subject area for one year, it takes a certain amount to time even to understand where on the spectrum of expectation the parents' hopes lie, and then, you also deal with the cumulative baggage the parent has with school personnel in the past, which was entirely beyond your control.

I don't think schools should set a kid's "ceiling" and I think teachers should push all students forward. But we shouldn't be delusional about where a student's present performance is or how far it's reasonable to expect a student to advance, especially if the student isn't appropriate placed in his classes