26 February 2006

Put a Cork in It

My district used to pride itself on the fact that schools could do their own things. Want a different bell schedule? No problem. A day each week where you could start late or end early in order to give teachers some common planning time? Done deal. Develop a special program? Go for it.

In some ways, this sounds positively Utopic. There was so much freedom. The problem was that there was no accountability---either for explaining why implementing something new would support student learning nor any evidence supplied to show whether or not a particular program was effective. Meanwhile, there developed a bit of sibling rivalry between the various buildings. "How come they get to do that? Why is the district giving them money?" Throw in the standards-based reform movement and you've got a mess on your hands.

Slowly, but surely, district programs are being implemented. The weird thing about all of this is simply that teachers have to be sold on certain ideas...there's a lot of talk about "buy-in." I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but in what other profession or career area does this have to happen? If I was working in a office environment and my boss said that we were going to start a new program for our customers, what would happen if I said, "No"? Could I flip burgers at Mickey D's and have any system for doing my job that I wanted? Why do educators have to be cajoled and get to do as they please, especially if they don't agree with their bosses?

This is also happening at a school level. One of our junior high schools made a decision to offer an "advanced" class to 7th graders this year---and use the 10th grade book. The other schools want to know if they can do that next year. Of course, they can't, and it's going to be darned hard to make the first school understand that they have to stop.

Anyway, the genie of teacher choice is out of the bottle here...and it's darned difficult to get put back in.


ms. v. said...

Why can't they?

graycie said...

ms. frizzle,
What will the 10th grade English teacher of those kids do when they reach 10th grade? Advanced classes should look laterally for advanced materials, not vertically. We're trying to come out of the results of just such a curriculum materials mess, and it's awful.

science goddess,
I think that it is important for teachers to buy into programs and techniques because teaching isn't the same as manufacturing a product. What works -- and works very well -- for some does not work at all for others -- this means subject area as well as people. It is as much art as science. I suspect that this may be more true of such courses as English or history. (I teach literature, not reading, writing not penmanship.)

The Science Goddess said...

I agree that we need to be looking laterally for materials for differentiation. Our new curriculum materials will (thankfully) supply quite a lot of this.

It is true that we're not making widgets. We have honest to goodness human beings sitting in our classrooms. What I think I object to, though, is a teacher who refuses to believe that s/he is the only one who could possibly know what is best for their students...and then uses that exact same system for the rest of their career. We have a few like that...and I'm not sure what we'll do. I can't believe that students needs have remained exactly the same for 10+ years.

Anonymous said...

---The weird thing about all of this is simply that teachers have to be sold on certain ideas...there's a lot of talk about "buy-in." I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but in what other profession or career area does this have to happen?

In every job I've ever had. In every career. In every field.

Your boss may tell you "we're going to implement X" but unless the majority of his direct reports and their reports agree, the new initiative will fail because it will be undermined. Even if it doesn't outright fail, the resentment that is built when the initiative is disliked is great enough that it will overwhelm other projects, morale, and the department as a whole. You could easily lose productivity, employees, etc.

In my company, and in nearly all large companies, in order to make a new initiative, you need buy-in from EVERY person considered a stakeholder. So, if you're trying to change the way that, say, you test if a product meets a given requirement, you need buy in from: the testing staff, the requirements staff, the quality and process management, the engineering management, a manufacturing representative, and of course, the customer. You will need buy in from multiple layers of folks to make any change at all.

In any case, my point is simply that this is standard management practice. Any kid out of B school would tell you that you needed massive buy in before going forward. Whether they are right or wrong, every company responds this way these days.