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Serious change takes some planning

4 min read

Education

Fall in Indiana brings a lot of change. The wind switches from the south to the north, bringing in cold, crisp air from the Arctic. The leaves on trees stop producing new chlorophyll, showering us with red, orange and yellow. The sun sinks lower into the horizon and we set back our clocks to pretend the days are just as long as they used to be. This is real change. In five months, we’ll begin to reverse the shift to begin a new cycle. We cannot control the movement, and we’ve learned to adapt and enjoy the cycles in our own ways.

Education is in a state of flux right now. There is a surge on one side for accountability through testing, data collection, metrics and ranking systems. There is an equally large surge on the other side for authentic learning opportunities, creative learning spaces and accountability through collaboration and community. It’s almost like a Harry-Potter-meets-Voldemort-wand-battle happening, with lines being drawn in the sand.

As a teacher, I have to consider changing something every day. Maybe a lesson didn’t go well and I need to re-teach a topic. Perhaps it went really well, and we can move faster than I was planing. Or someone asked a great question, and we need to explore it more. Whatever the situation, change is always imminent in the classroom.

Rather than approaching change as an isolated action, why don’t we consider it an attitude? I think change in general requires three things:

  1. Commitment — This is a double-edged sword. First, you have to commit to planning for meaningful adjustments. Think about data, your class culture, your school’s learning culture, and most importantly, your students. How can you make the transition easier on them? Commit to communicating with them. Second, commit to making the change happen. Evaluate each individual decision, and drop the ones that don’t work. Commit to making meaningful change when it is needed. Don’t dwell on the failures but commit to learn from your mistakes and continue to move forward.
  2. Risk — Risk is inherent in change. You have to be willing to accept the unforeseen consequences of the decisions you make, both good and bad. Reflect on the impact the change had on your students and then reevaluate. Is it really in the best interest of your students now that it is implemented? Or do you need to back off and try something different? Be open with your thought process, both with colleagues and students. Model the dialogue process that changes bring and have your students help you make decisions on how to improve the learning climate.
  3. Resilience — No matter how much you plan, there will be someone who absolutely hates the change you make. The ripples will alter comfort zones, and you will receive some negative comments. Remember that the criticism is usually aimed at the change, not at the changer. Take all criticisms at face value and always remember to ask for suggestions on how to improve. You’ll often find that students are surprised when you ask for their opinion. Show them through dialogue that you are making decisions to help, not to make their lives more miserable.

Don’t fear change, but be careful about the process you follow and the attitude behind the alterations. Use shifts as an opportunity to begin meaningful dialogue with others in your building and you’ll see the attitude of change begin to do amazing things.

Brian E. Bennett (@bennettscience) is a science teacher living in South Bend, Ind. He has spoken nationally and internationally on flipped learning, most recently speaking at ISTE 2012 in San Diego, and as the opening keynote speaker at the 2012 Flipped Learning Conference in Chicago. Bennett writes frequently about flipped learning on his blog, Educator, Learner.