This was inspired by reading Chris Kennedy’s post by the same name.

Chris starts his post:

“With all the discussions swirling around personalized learning, and school reform, I have been thinking a lot about change, and how we do it right.”

In my comment, I said:

I think that the need to learn the tool at the same time as you are also using it to teach, is the issue. Throw a new textbook at a teacher, or a new course, and it could take a while to acclimatize to as well.

I think we are at a point of transition now where teachers are often learning to use tools as they teach with them & so a few key things are needed to help foster effectiveness:
1. Time- Pro-D, preparation, planning & play
2. Co-teaching & collaboration opportunities
3. Models & Mentorship

We spend so much time making learning a social experience for students, but I think most of a teacher’s career is spent in an isolated learning environment. That’s why so many people in my twitter network are hooked on their pln… because it offers them the rich learning experience they desire,but can’t find in their schools and districts.

But in thinking about change, I wonder if it is just the need to learn tools, as we need them, that is the issue or is the entire structure of teaching as a profession the real issue?

Squeezing the 3 points above into a regular teaching day/week, as it is right now, seems a bit ridiculous. Our model is based highly on instructional time, not on collaboration and mentorship. As professionals, we spend a disproportionate amount of time performing our ‘art’, without feedback and without opportunities to learn from other professionals. It doesn’t make sense.

Something else that doesn’t make sense is the whole move to merit pay. It won’t work. As Daniel Pink says in this RSA Animate – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, about cash incentives:

“As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as would be expected, the higher the pay, the better the performance… But once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance.”

Thinking about change- Image from RSA Animate- Dan Pink's 'Drive'

Don’t get me wrong, I think that teachers deserve good pay, (and they also, especially in the West, deserve greater appreciation), but merit pay is not one of the great guiding changes we need to see. Even the weakest of teachers I have met have had a desire to be better. The best teachers are always improving and humble about how much more they have to learn. They want to be paid fairly and appropriately, but what drives them is opportunities to be better… opportunities that they need to seek out because they are not embedded in most teachers’ typical schedules.

In my last post, I said:

Let’s structurally design classrooms with an expectation of openness and thus be able to ‘peek in’ and offer critical feedback where it is needed.

Let’s change the way we fill a teacher’s day so that they have time to collaborate and co-teach, and actually learn from each other… so that they model what it means to ‘participate in learning’ for their students.

…and in a private conversation with Laura Deisley she said:

“We must evolve a learning community culture vs teaching culture in schools.”

But I think to change the culture, we need to first change the structure. We have to stop counting a teacher’s ‘instructional minutes’ and start giving them ‘learning minutes’. We have to stop talking about ‘teaming’ and starting giving teachers time to be a team.

What if a teacher had 1/3 of the day to plan, collaborate and yes even prep for their classes? What if at least one course every year had to be co-taught with another teacher in the room? How would these structural changes open doors for some cultural changes in school?

1. Time- Pro-D, preparation, planning & play
2. Co-teaching & collaboration opportunities
3. Models & Mentorship

When I think about changes in schools, I want to believe that we can implement structural changes that encourage our teachers to be better, by design of those changes, not in spite of them. I want to believe that we can’t complain about a broken model and then try to fit a new plan into the same model.

I want to believe that real change can happen!


10/10/2010: Daily-Ink – Power.
11/28/2010: Daily-Ink – More Thinking about Change.
11/29/2010: Daily-Ink – And still more about CHANGE!

12 comments on “Thinking about change

  1. I agree with many of these ideas, David, but I am concerned that the school administrators and the union leaders do not want change (i.e.LEAD). They do not want to see the role of the teacher change, as this creates uncertainty, new work, and a lot of new learning. Of course, we must all continue to do what we can to contribute, but if the current system is truly unable to change, as suggested in “Disrupting Class”, then privatization may be the only option. What do you think?

  2. Greetings Don,

    Thank you very much for your comment(s)!
    You make an excellent point about ‘roles’ being an issue. But it isn’t so-much a teacher-administration issue as it is let on to be. Merit pay will make it so, but not changes in teacher roles. I think the issue is at another logical level, it is actually at the government level and the way schools are funded.
    I saw the impact exactly as described in ‘Disrupting Class’, just before I left BC, Canada for China. High Schools were told, “Kids take full courses or you don’t get full funding”. An online course out of district costs the school… a kid going through tough times and planning to take less courses and go through the summer costs the school… etc. Is this the best model for kids?

    On the other hand, I don’t know an administrator that wouldn’t give teachers an extra collaboration block in a school day if their budget allowed it. But that doesn’t mean the money will solve everything. I unfortunately think that this shift in roles will have its’ own challenges. Collaboration time is not prep time, co-teaching takes cooperation and division of tasks teachers are not necessarily accustomed to… Unions will play a role, but will they be protecting teachers or protecting an old system that needs upgrading?

    And here is the big question that you bring up: Can the changes happen fast enough in the face of private competition? My personal opinion is yes! Things can change and the private sector will help it change. Public education has never been a monopoly and it is time for the public ‘system’ to stop acting like it is one. We don’t need to ‘protect’ a model that doesn’t work anymore. Hopefully lessons learned in private programs will help to carve out the new public system.

    The one thing that can’t be lost in all this is that changes need to benefit kids first. If we keep that as the ultimate goal, I really believe meaningful changes will come!

  3. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the excellent post. I was at a recent session focussed on “21st century learning” and the comment I liked from one of the Superintendents in attendance was that her hope for this initiative was that it would lead to an “increased professionalization of our profession.” As she rightly pointed out, in no other profession are the expectations like those in teaching where teachers are to teach their students, plan, assess, collaborate, mentor etc. and maybe get two minutes for lunch. Her hope was that in a “new” system – there would be an increase in time for the activities away from centre stage that would truly help move learning forwawrd.

  4. You’ve raised some great points and provided insightful ideas, David. I particularly like your view of prioritizing collaboration and mentorship over instructional time. Instruction – true and pertinent instruction – is best served through mentoring and a one-to-one relationship. Our students and teachers would both benefit from an emphasis on team-building and self-defined learning goals – not top-down prescriptive remedies to address problems with the current school framework. I’ve addressed one current model in a “Self-Directed School” in Ontario in this blog post (

  5. David, (and others) I keep having this weird thing happen – just as I’m struggling with my own ideas, someone comes along at just the right time to help me clarify and connect my thoughts to practice.

    I have been thinking about a structure in my elementary school that would help to meet student needs and your 3 main points to prepare teachers for change:

    I want to set up a co-teaching classroom involving about 45 grade 4-6 students, and EA, two teachers (one with Learning Support background) and have them work together to guide students through their curriculum using project-based learning and intentional technology. I want to give them 2 rooms (and a third small meeting room).

    The curriculum will be focused on 21st century skills and understandings, not subject areas like math or socials. the subject areas are there to help kids develop their skills and understandings.

    I think we’re on the same page, and I’m going to push forward with this for the next school year.

  6. Hi David,
    Please do not get me wrong: I love change, I think that Its’ Majesty Change is inevitable part of the life in the 21st Century, I think that the need for rapid change will even bigger with time and I think that teachers are among the lucky professionals who can change as quick as it needed because they study all the time and their brains stay young longer.
    Now, to the point. The history teaches us that the structural change comes the last one, when all parts of the society have been transformed and the need for the new structural activity is ultimate: no change, the structure will die.
    At this time we still in the momentum of small and individual changes, every teacher should look up inside with critical eye. I meet teachers and educators all the time while presenting Math Whizz and I found some gaps between what we want to show and what we are.
    For example, I found teachers that will not give me to enter to their class, or will not reply proactively on my emails with reports of their students work.
    I have seen principals that would try to assure me that BC educational system in math is the best and our students perform actually so good in relation to the world marks, so we do not have any need to improve our system or our tools…
    Of course, I’ve met educators with different approach also, what I want to emphasize, that we are still in the stage of personal openness and change, and the initiatives like Kyle Timms are so needed!

  7. […] Instead of thinking of instructional minutes, think of your time as learning minutes. Where can you get the best learning achieved for your students in the time that that you have with them? Prepare your lessons around themes of “less is more” and stick to it! […]

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