Leveraging Change Where It Matters Most: In the Classroom

Congratulations to CLC Seventh-Grade Finalist
February 15, 2011
Links to 5th Grade Work on Class Blog
February 17, 2011

Leveraging Change Where It Matters Most: In the Classroom

(This post, written by Jason Flom was originally published on ASCD Inservice, as part of his Emerging Leaders program responsibilities. Because it is based on professional development here at CLC, we thought it might work here as well.  Comments welcome.)

Policy matters. Just ask anyone who has endured the consequences of not achieving Annual Yearly Progress in one category of No Child Left Behind. Policy has a long reach. However, when it comes to affecting change in classroom practices, its leverage is relatively short.

Despite decades of effort to reform public education, today’s pedagogical practices very much resemble yesterday’s. Teachers still employ many of the same methods of instruction they grew up with, and regardless of the ballyhooing of this score or that score, this program or that program, student “achievement” has remained relatively stagnant.

James W. Stigler & James Hiebert, authors of The Teaching Gap, attribute this to two factors:

  1. Teaching is a system. It is made up of numerous pieces that work together to create an atmosphere of learning (or not). Changing or altering any one piece of that system without regard to how it relates to the others will fall short of achieving its goal.
  2. Teaching is a cultural activity. “Teaching, like other cultural activities, is learned through informal participation over long period of time. It is something one learns to do more by growing up in a culture than by studying it formally.” (p. 86, The Teaching Gap)

Which leaves me wondering: Will policy be enough of a lever for me to improve my instruction? Am I more likely to change because someone tells me to, or because I see a need for it? Will more laws and mandates have a greater impact on my students or will more collaboration and reflective application between my and I?

I’m reminded of a piece by researcher Virginia Richardson in which she concludes, “Teachers often resist change mandated or suggested by others, but they do engage in change that they initiate.” If that is so (and it is certainly true for me), how do we as leaders and classroom practitioners cultivate conditions in our schools and districts that lead to teachers initiating change? Where can we find effective models already in place (like this program in rural Wyoming)?

At our school, Cornerstone Learning Community, we are just beginning to train and learn about Lesson Study, the Japanese approach to professional development that develops teachers as researchers who investigate questions central to their students’ success. Our hope is that Lesson Study will build our professional knowledge about the systems that work, while also shaping our cultural norms around shared best practices.

What are you doing in your schools and districts to leverage real change and cultivate professionals in the classroom?

Image: Buzzle

Leave a Reply