Posts Tagged ‘change’

The ether is recently re-focusing on teachers and teaching, what with George Seimen’s Teaching in Social and Technological Networks and Will Richardson’s Teachers as Master Learners.

The conversations are nuanced and respectful and full of expertise.

Still, I wonder if we’re missing a piece. Because while it makes sense to talk about how teachers need to learn to do things differently, and need to teach differently, and need to use different tools, this all seems to revolve around a focus on function.

Whereas I tend to see any potential changes in education – in our conception of learning– as first requiring a focus on belief.

There is a poetic and sincere symmetry in seeing the solution to education and learning as more and/or different education and learning. And I do not refute the potential for education to create change, and for people to change through their learning.

But I worry that asking  or requiring teachers to be learners, or to be shapers of networks, can be superficially interpreted as a basic shifting of job tasks—a mechanistic replacement of “doing x” with “doing y.” I know most folks engaged in the conversations understand it isn’t this simple. But to put a more pointed spin on this, I wonder how much this conversation is about as effective as telling Catholic priests that they will need to conduct Wiccan services from now on because, after all, it’s all religion in the end.

I wonder to what degree the acknowledged resistance to educational change has to do with a tension in which those asking for change are essentially, inadvertently, and tacitly perceived as being disrespectful of the beliefs of those invested in traditional conceptions of teaching.

Understanding the job of education as transmission or socialization or whatever other roles we wish to attribute it with is one level of analysis. But how and why we do this says something about what we believe about people, about “learners,” about children, and about ourselves.

All of the potential of the “new” world of learning really forces an age-old question. Do we believe that people are innately capable of personal development, of choosing learning, of goodness, of acting in the best interests of themselves and society? Or do we believe that people inherently need to be watched, guided from above (or from the side) and kept within structures and parameters with ideals set by “wiser” others because it’s “helpful”? (Nel Noddings writes of the difficulties of insisting on providing care not desired by the cared-for, perhaps out of a desire to feel significant.)

I suspect the vision of what a “teacher” is gets set very early in life. And folks who want to be “teachers” by title and job definition do so with that early image of a teacher in mind, with all the cultural and social accoutrements and assumptions that vision holds. Teaching as a named profession in our current environment requires a set beliefs that are subsequently expressed in structures and rituals. Folks who are less willing to engage with these structures and rituals, who find them, perhaps, hypocritical to their beliefs, are, I would suggest, not seeking to be “teachers.” (OK, maybe a few Lutherans have wandered into the sunrise rites, hoping for an interesting post-service potluck….)

So what is all this talk of change really asking of current teachers? Is it to change their work? Or is it something that’s really more fundamental… requiring a conversion, if you will? It’s an uncomfortable notion. Lots of questions here– about the effectiveness and rightness of evangelism. And about the lines between evangelism and education.

Maybe there is some common ground in all of this educational, cultural and societal change. But I think it will take some teasing out, because, quite frankly, when it comes to bedrock beliefs about people, skepticism and distrust are deeply embedded in the structures and rituals of teaching in its current form. And that belief is running smack up against the potential for more, shall we say, heretical forms of learning in a changing environment.

So how can this tension be addressed?

For those who might be inclined to take the “human potential” view of learning, I’d start by offering the early (1970’s) observations of humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, who wrote [quotes condensed from various essays]:

“…there is no doubt that… insistence upon a known and certain universe has been part of the cement that holds culture together….Today we face a different situation…

… It appears to me that the way of the future must be to base our lives and our education on the assumption that there are as many realities as there are persons, and that our highest priority is to accept that hypothesis and proceed from there … Here lies the challenge to educators–probably the most insecure and frightened among any of the professions–battered by public pressures, limited by legislative restrictions, essentially conservative in their reactions. Can they possibly espouse… a view of multiple realities…? Can they begin to bring into being the changes in attitudes, behaviors, and values that such a world view would demand?…

… It seems obvious to me that we need a change, amounting almost to a revolution, in the training of our teachers. …Suppose only a very small percentage volunteered? That would not concern me.… I happen to believe that such turbulence would be constructive. Traditionalists would be angry at these new innovators, and vice versa. Sacred cows would be questioned….”

Rogers goes on the envision a “free university,” where learners set their own curricula, facilitate their own learning and evaluate with tools other than grades.

“The persons who emerged from such a training program could be channeled into one of a limited number of schools that would welcome them….”

I think the potential of learning today goes well beyond the assumptions of structures and programs Rogers envisioned. But in terms of choice and change and rationale and “learner-centeredness,” Rogers seems quite prescient.

Believe it… or not.

Noddings, Nel. Starting at Home: Caring and Social Policy. University of California Press (2002),

Rogers, Carl. R.  A Way of Being. Houghton Mifflin (1980).


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The last time I traveled, the Transportation Security Administration managed to inspect every single bag from every single person in the family… at least according to the little cards they left behind inside the suitcases. Were they bored, or were we a suspicious lot? We’ll never know.

What's in your luggage?

What's in your luggage?

The thought of strangers rummaging through all those undergarments is a bit disquieting. But I have been wondering if such scrutiny, as uneasy as it might make us, might be useful in other venues.

For example, I’m still unpacking the implications of George Siemens’ question “does education need to change?” My answer was yes, but– surprise!!– not everyone agrees on how, if at all. Here are a few things I’ve heard from other adults in the last month or so:


“I can’t imagine ‘going to school’ in my jammies.” (In response a description of the connectivism course. Yes, there were air quotes.)

“It’s not healthy for kids to learn too much from computers.”

“Our [professional education] group has to meet in person [as opposed to using online communications], or we can’t sense each other’s electrical emanations.”

I know, I know: this raises questions about where and with whom I hang out. Actually, these were three separate and rather casual encounters, so it’s probably not fair to hold the speakers to these comments in perpetuity. But as a quick view off the top, they stuck with me, because they serve as a good reminder that while we share some demographics or geography, shared thoughts on education are not as easy to find.

Of the people above, two are female, one male. Each was born on a different continent. Two are currently employed in professional positions, one is currently a stay-at-home parent. All have lived or traveled extensively abroad. All are what I would consider current-events savvy. Two are politically “liberal,” one “conservative.” They all know how to use “the Google.” All have master’s degrees. (One has two).

All have kids under the age of 12.

And, taken in isolation, their comments suggest that ideas related to educational change have some pretty big hurdles.

In unpacking these statements, it strikes me how difficult it is to counter them with data or facts or logic or examples. They reside in an affective zone that is not quite neo-Ludditism, but something…else. And while these parents would certainly argue that their concern is for their children’s futures, the statements seem to be rooted in their individual presents.

Change advocates sometimes see present and even future-oriented resistance to educational change as people just “not getting it.” But I do wonder if it’s helpful to ask why people aren’t “getting it.” What allows people to stare changing circumstances in the face and choose to continue on in a linear trajectory? And, conversely, what causes people to see radical change in what others view as an unaffected or mildly transitional situation? (Is it brain wiring?)

There is a lot of uninspected baggage when it comes to change. Jamais Cascio recently wrote about the concept of legacy futures, old beliefs about what will happen in the future that obstruct our ability to construct new visions. (The classic example: How many of us are still waiting for our jet packs?)

… We get legacy futures in business from old strategies and plans, legacy futures in politics from old budgets and forecasts, and legacy futures in environmentalism from earlier bits of analysis. Legacy futures are rarely still useful, but have so thoroughly colonized our minds that even new scenarios and futures models may end up making explicit or implicit references to them… we have to figure out how to deal with the leftover visions of the future that still colonize our minds.

I’d say that education is not immune to this phenomenon. I hear a pre-industrial, knowledge scarcity “legacy future” in the demands for standardized content. I hear a Sputnik-Cold War “legacy future” in the pervasive statements that students will have to “compete” globally. I might even hear a Puritan “legacy future” in the insistence on “rigor.”

In thinking about how to address or bridge different understandings about change, I have been intrigued by ethnographic and action research processes that are intended to develop community-based understandings of how people view their futures and why. In particular, Sohail Inayatullah’s causal layered analysis explores beliefs about and expectations for the future on four levels: litany, social system and structure, worldview, and myth and metaphor. All of these layers, as suggested by the situations outlined above, seem to be part of educational viewpoints.

Some baggage seems heavier than others

Some baggage weighs less...


One intention of such layered explorations is to create conversations with multiple perspectives within a community or communities. Another is to create futures scenarios. These descriptions of what could happen in the future, based on a deep view of spoken and (previously) unspoken understandings, open opportunities for making (hopefully wise and insightful) choices in the present.

My knowledge of causal layered analysis is rudimentary. Additionally, reports from this rather marginalized field suggest that the space, time, and tolerance for such explorations are limited or non-existent. For the non-futurist, it may seem that such explorations are nothing but blind conjecture, or that the speed at which the future arrives makes such explorations impossible — or moot. And there is a certain truth to the idea that educational changes are coming, no matter what, thus suggesting that the best advice for those who are not interested in understanding and exploring them is indeed to “hunker down, keep doing what you’re doing, and take early retirement.”

But since a lot of folks can’t afford to retire for a while (or ever), it might not hurt to respectfully examine the luggage of assumptions we’re all toting around.

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In which the best I can do is try to “be the change…” 

Do schools and education need to change?

Yes, at least for some.


1. Because some learners are unhappy/ worried/ stressed/ frustrated/ bored/ ill-served.

2. Because learners are easily and commonly convinced that these conditions are trivial/normal/good for them.

What obstacles are in the way of change?

Upright and locked positions. The ease of the status quo. Fear of loss. Fear of loneliness. Lack of confidence in self and others. Unexamined cultural or personal assumptions about “well roundedness.” Presumptions about the superiority of academic knowledge. Vicious circles. Fondness for the devil one knows. Adulation of the past. A “survival of the fittest” view of the world. Hierarchical mindsets. A linear conception of learning and life.  A “tragedy of the commons” approach to knowledge. The belief that quantities are limited while supplies last.

How do we create educational change? 

Prioritize learners’ happiness. Examine their futures. Act on new perceptions. Trust learners’ choices and self-knowledge. Be adventurous. Be available. Fold, spindle, and mutilate. Find like-minded travelers. Accept their different journeys and destinations. Balance idealism and realism. Show commitment. Ignore some stuff. Experiment. Facilitate resiliency. Cut everyone some slack. Draw the line at dysfunction. Listen carefully. Speak up when necessary. Accept uncertainty. Understand ambiguity. Live with imperfection. Compromise wisely. Know that terms and conditions are subject to change without notice. Breathe deeply.  Model hard work and happiness and learning.

Lather, rinse, repeat.


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