Change Driver 3: Effective Instruction Requires Collective Action
by Cathy Gassenheimer
According to Michael Fullan, “no nation has ever got better by focusing on individual teachers as the driver” of school improvement. He argues that countries like Finland and Singapore set their sites on developing the entire teaching profession by “raising the bar for all.”
Collective or team work makes processes better. Fullan reminds us in his 2011 seminar paper Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform that focused collaborative activities drive change. He goes a step further: “the judicious mixture of high expectations, relentless but supportive leadership, good standards and assessment, investments in capacity, transparency of results and practice is what produces better results, and better accountability.” (p 12) And when he mentions transparency, Fullan implies the need for teachers to work collectively before schools can make the change process open and fully visible.
Fullan also considers the emergence of new technologies in the school and the tendency of some leaders to assume that technology can improve instruction and learning without regard to teacher effectiveness. He contends that the “notion that having a laptop computer or hand-held device for every student will make him or her smarter or even more knowledgeable is pedagogically vapid.” (p. 15). We see this in our ABPC work. Go into almost any school, and you’ll see the appropriate use of technology next door to a room where the lights are dimmed and the students are being subjected to “death by PowerPoint.”
In many schools, technology was introduced but not accompanied with significant and ongoing professional development. This type of “instructional incoherence” can derail an initiative, as Newmann and other researchers have demonstrated. To gain coherence requires that a school not only provide a professional development design (e.g., to support technology integration) but also seek a high level of agreement around such things as norms, values, and expectations In short, teamwork is a necessary pre-condition for ever achieving a coherent system of teaching and learning in a school.
Thomas Hatch, in his book Managing to Change: How Schools Can Survive (and Sometimes Thrive) in Turbulent Times (2009), suggests that reaching a schoolwide level of common understanding and coherence is difficult.
He believes schools, most of which are faced with the challenges of changing policies, shifting demographics, and financial shortages, “need ways of recognizing when missions have drifted too far or common understandings have been lost, and they have to spend time and resources finding ways to bring the members of the organization back together.” (p. 59)
Hatch then shares an important concept:
“Schools that never establish a distinct focus or a sense of instructional coherence may have a harder time building up a public perception that something needs to be done because they have never experienced what it’s like to have a shared understanding to guide them.” (p. 62)
John Hattie, in his book Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning (2012), contends that teamwork is not only a pre-condition of instructional coherence -- it is the only way for a school to become consistently high performing. Hattie points to a study by Linda Darling-Hammond which found that countries with the greatest improvements in overall student learning invested 15-to-25 hours weekly on teacher collaborative learning and teamwork.
Hattie says: “I want them [teachers] to spend such time working together to plan and critique lessons, interpret and deliberate in light of evidence about their impact on each student’s learning, [and be] in each other’s classes observing student learning, and continually evaluating the evidence about how ‘we as teachers in this school’ can optimize worthwhile outcomes for all students.” (p. 168).
Wherever we look these days, whether it's Fullan's change drivers, or other new pieces of education research and deep thinking we examine, we hear the same message: Schools must become places where educators collaborate and act collectively to improve instruction and serve kids better.
And guess what: in the best schools we visit across Alabama, that's exactly what I see going on.
Learn more about Fullan's change drivers in my earlier posts.
A+ Education Partnership
P.O. Box 4433
Montgomery, AL 36103
Phone - 334-279-1886
Fax - 334-279-1543