Changing our teaching habits!

At the conclusion of next week, I will have completed meeting with all of our school staffs and visiting virtually every classroom in the division. My conversations with school staffs have revolved around the transformation agenda both as a division and a province. One of my central messages has been that we have to start doing things differently because few of us have the ability to work any harder. While I was having some quality time with our daughter in the States, I had some time to reflect on my message and also finish reading Jim Knight’s book, Instructional Coaching. Although my intent on reading his book was specifically from a supervision or coaching slant, his message about change was most thought provoking. I quote from his book:

” Changing the way we teach requires us to change habits of behavior, and changing habits is not easy, as anyone who has tried to quit smoking, lose weight, stop spending, or increase exercising has realized… Desire and will power usually aren’t enough to make real change occur. Due to our habitual nature, we are naturally inclined to protect the status quo.” (pg 5) I relate to our staff that I’m not much of a role model, as I continue to put in my 70+ hour work week and furthermore, every Sunday has been my “planning day” for the past 26 years in education. Habits do die hard don’t they!

I don’t want to stop the message of changing what we do because I believe each of us needs to be part of the answer.  I also believe that we all need to dialogue about what we can do differently and then, slowly at first, and with small steps, begin to implement the changes required.

Knight also talks about the stages of change from researchers Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente (pg 85-89). The six stages from an educational perspective are as follows:

  1. Precontemplation- teachers in this stage tend to blame externally for problems in their classrooms. They tend to blame students or parents, complain about lack of support from administration, class size or anything other than themselves.
  2. Contemplation- teachers begin to consider why they may need to change and what are the gains and losses of adopting.  They start to look internally but just don’t know what to do.
  3. Preparation- teachers start to take the time to plan and articulate exactly what they want to change. They begin to have conversations with their colleagues in preparation for the change. It is at this stage that I am convinced an environment of risk taking must be part of the culture of the school and/or division. Teachers need to feel safe in knowing that it will acceptable to fail and be prepared to “fail forward.”  
  4. Action- teachers are now doing things differently. They are implementing new teaching strategies. Support is critical at this juncture. Teachers need to feel the support from their colleagues and especially from their administrators. “We don’t do that in this school/division!” will surely put a quick end to any forward action.
  5. Maintenance- teachers need to continue the action in order for it to be sustained. Continual support is still required and the fear of slipping back into old habits is a reality. The maintenance phase is adjusting to and finding comfort in the new routines and can require considerable time and effort.
  6. Termination- teachers at the termination stage have fully integrated their new teaching practices. The change is not viewed at anything other than the normal course of events.  

“Change is difficult because change requires us to change our habits and create new routines. If teachers are emotionally fatigued by the pressing immediacy of their professional life, overwhelmed by innovation overload, is it any surprise if they are not quick to pick up a practice and make it a routine in the classroom? Yet teachers need to keep trying to learn and implement better instructional practices if school are going to get better at reaching all students.” (Jim Knight- Instructional Coaching pg5).  

If we truly want to transform education in our schools, then it is the responsibility of the government, the profession, the division, the public and the individual teacher to fully understand the difficulty of the change process and support with more than just words the actions required. It may begin with one but the end result must be systemic. Every child deserves that!!! 

“What we know today does not make yesterday wrong, it makes tomorrow better.” Carol Commodore


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    • Don Flaig on November 28, 2011 at 1:33 PM
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    Seems like the maintenance phase is always missing. However, assuming maintenance is possible, it underlines the importance of choosing the right things to change in the first place. Be careful what you wish for!

    Maybe, too, we have gotten used to cycles of implementation, knowing the changes will go away soon enough, to be repalced by the next wave of changes, or fads.

    1. Implementation/Maintenance takes a long time before it is what we do without thinking about it. That requires fortitude from the teacher and patience on the part of the one who has initiated the change.

      I would agree with your statement on what is commonly called, TTWP- those things will pass. Unfortunately we sometimes look at those initiatives as just another bandwagon to jump on and off. More often than not, they are excellent teaching strategies that assist us in honing our craft.

  1. Love it!! I think what is hardest is when administration or colleagues aren’t supportive. Teaching outside the box is actually easier given the students we are dealing with, but people fear being judged for it. It was only recently that calculators were banned from classrooms. We are changing so fast…and change really isn’t human nature. Keep posting!!

  2. You hit the nail on the head with this post. I gave a presentation to district-wide third grade-teachers on Friday. It was in relation to the Common Core State Standards, which have a high level of rigor and relevance. As expected, there were a lot of question (ie, how do we manage a high level of rigor and relevance, did they take away some objectives so we can go into depth on the focus areas, what if we don’t meet the expectations of CCSS; how will we be perceived by the public). Part of my answers to these questions centered around the main point in your post: we have to work smarter, not harder. Knowing that is easier than doing, as you say in your post. It’s the whole knowing vs doing gap that is the challenge. But, it can (and must) be done. And, the only way to accomplish that is work smarter together. We cannot have isolated teachers trying to accomplish this. We must have collaborative teams working hard, bring different perspectives and thinking outside the box. Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks Annie for your comments. Education is far too complex today for us not to collaborate. If we continue our isolated tendencies, we will continue to fail kids and ourselves. Working smarter requires us to really change what we do. Not easy but very necessary!

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