How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, the joke goes, but it has to want to change!
Effecting change in a school environment is a daunting task. This is due to the fact that, as the above quip illustrates, the environment has to want to change. This is rarely the case. On the contrary, change in schools usually happens at a glacial pace, if at all. One of my favorite posters, which adorned my office wall, featured a crying baby sitting in a soaking wet diaper. The caption read: Diaper Philosophy – If it Stinks Change It. Why don’t we?
There are many reasons schools remain mired in doing things ‘the way we have always done them’. Teachers, who would bear the brunt of implementing reforms, are particularly resistant to change. While many may debate the reasons why (or if) this is so, I subscribe to the theory that teachers are, by and large, a rather insecure lot (let the hate letters begin) who find reassurance in traditional methodologies. The cadre of forward-thinking and innovative staff who champion new ideas are often a silenced (sic) minority, who fear to be the cause of the increased workloads, or of the stress that significant change will bring. The above explains why school reform is almost never initiated by teachers themselves, but rather, decided on the administrative level.
However, before we place all the blame on teachers (hey, the parents do, why should we be any different?) let us analyze the role principals play in initiating change. The plain truth in most schools is that principals do not champion change either. When reforms are encouraged, or mandated, the push usually comes from the district or the boards of education, not from the office of the principal. Like teachers, most principals seem so mired in the smooth running of current systems, that they have little time or inclination to consider whether those systems match the mission they were to have addressed. When those directly involved with the implementation of reform are not those who have initiated the reform, the desired change will be met with resistance at every turn. “What do they know about our students?” “Let them try to teach this class!” “Here we go again, another flavor-of-the-month reform movement.” “Sure, in theory it sounds great, but it will never work in the classroom.” Do the above complaints sound familiar?
What becomes particularly frustrating is that the teachers and principals are usually correct. How would the district know your students’ specific needs? How could they accurately ascertain whether these theories will work in the real classroom? If those designing the diapers do not change babies, and those who change babies cannot smell when things stink, we have a problem.
I wish I could offer a simple solution. However, the current structures that exist in most schools do not allow for constructive change. Unfortunately, inefficient systems continue to exist as long as they are allowed to do so. Perhaps expected challenges to traditional educational methodologies from Internet-based learning will be the catalyst that will force our schools to take a long and hard look at the way we educate and consequently adopt the diaper philosophy.