Dispelling 3 common misconceptions to spur school progress

I just read this article by  about introducing new practices in schools. It offers good advice on how to introduce new concepts in school and change what goes on in the classroom. How do you model what you want to see in your school’s classrooms? We all know that many school initiatives falter for a lack of teacher buy-in. The question is how to introduce changes we know need to come. Like student-centered learning, democracy in the classroom. Going gradeless and fewer formal assessments. It is easy for the leader to say what they want to change, not so much how to do it. I am sharing the three misconceptions here.

Misconception 1: Student-centered practices intrinsically appeal to most teachers

The teachers we interviewed wanted to do what was best for their students. But when school leaders extended this notion in the belief that student-centered strategies would have universal appeal, their approaches often ran afoul. For most teachers, proposed new practices are dead in the water unless they integrate with existing practices without excessive complication or hassle.

This isn’t a selfish inclination. As teachers hone their craft year over year, they collect resources and strategies that build on what works. New strategies—no matter how good they may seem for students—cannot gain traction if they require teachers to radically change their methods…especially after the challenges they experienced during COVID-required online learning. In short, most teachers buy what school leaders are selling only when new practices square with their practical reality.

Misconception 2: Early adopters are the key to building buy-in

New initiatives always have early adopters—the teachers who are ready and eager to try new practices. But it’s a mistake to assume that age or personality type is what makes someone an early adopter. Our research reveals that circumstances, more than personality traits, predict whether a teacher will be eager to jump on board.

Teachers naturally seek new practices when they realize they need something better than the status quo. For example, a teacher of students with learning disabilities will naturally look for new ways to engage them when the default teaching strategies leave those students lost and acting out from frustration. The new strategies teachers pick are those that best address classroom challenges with a minimal amount of friction in transitioning from the old approach. In short, circumstances prime teachers to seek new practices; thus, any teacher can be an early adopter when the circumstances are right.

Misconception 3: Beginning-of-year professional development (PD) ensures an initiative’s success

PD consistently earns top billing in the list of essential elements for effective school change management. We don’t disagree with its importance. Unfortunately, even if teachers receive the best technical training in the world, that may not compel them to adopt a new approach.

From a change management perspective, the purpose of PD is not only to give teachers tactical knowledge on new practices but also to help them feel confident in the change management process. Most teachers won’t feel comfortable pulling new practices into their classrooms unless they feel assured that they’re going to be able to implement those practices effectively. For example, many of the teachers we interviewed said ongoing, job-embedded support is more important than workshops presented at the beginning of the school year or at the start of an initiative on how to use new tools or strategies. In short, effective PD should address the stresses and anxieties that make teachers reticent to change.

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