Change is difficult, and not a pathway that many are comfortable with. When we are expectated to act or think in different ways, there is understandable resistance or guarded interaction.
This response is normal. It also recognises the personal nature of change. There are common phrases around the notion that no one ever changes (think, for instance, about leopards not changing their spots). That is, we are forever the person we have always been; we interact with the world with particular perceptions and beliefs.
This may be so, in which case the request to change seems futile. But whatever the intellectual and personal response to life’s experiences, the changes an individual chooses to embrace are their choice.
“There is understandable resistance or guarded interaction when people are faced with change.”
This leads to the question of what to do when, as an educator, a person is asked to consider change. The change may be in relation to a learning theory, a new pedagogy, a new technology, a different form of communication, a new way of thinking about situations, or an alternative decision-making process.
On one level, it is clear that the choice is one for the individual to make. However, there are also professional considerations.
When a professional is presented with a new or different way of manifesting their skills and experience, there is pressure to change. An argument is presented through academic research, educational articles, conference presentations, educational consultants, professional reading, the exchanging of ideas and so on.
At a personal level, however, most people may choose not to embrace the change. One of the reasons for this apparent resistance is that as we develop as teachers and administrators we also develop a self-image in relation to our abilities.
“When a person has a sense of being excellent at what they do, there is a built-in justification not to change.”
This self-belief is often reinforced by colleagues, students and parents. We can come to the conclusion that we are good at what we do. This affirmation of skills, knowledge and experience is gratifying, and those who receive such support are to be congratulated. The problem is that when a person has a sense of being excellent at what they do, there is a built-in justification not to change.
When teachers and administrators are hired to work overseas they may be designated as “foreign experts”. They are seen as being world class teachers and administrators. The expectation is that when school begins, the students, teachers, parents and administrators will be rewarded by the presence of this professional.
Telling such a person to change the way they teach, administer, communicate or perceive their role in a school is counter to the messaging that has been part of their life experience.
“The skills that are the foundation of the teacher’s self-image may be inappropriate for the students.”
A teacher or administrator who is asked to change the way they perform their tasks when they know that their modus operandi is at a very high level is not going to jump toward that option. As a recognised expert, this person ensures that the school community sees their palette of skills. The proof of their abilities will be on display. In this process the reasons for change are lost. This perspective demonstrates that the educational value of research or ideas developed through experience are not being treated with the respect that they deserve. Most importantly the students are not gaining the benefits.
When a teacher enters a classroom and uses their knowledge, skills, understanding and experience to deliver their best teaching, there is a danger that the very array of skills that are the foundation of the teacher’s self-image and reputation may be inappropriate for the students.
What if the way the teacher teaches is not understood by the students? What if the teaching methods are ineffective or even repress learning? When a teacher from one culture is teaching students from another culture, there is the colliding of world views. The perceptions, expectations, processes of learning and the forms of communication can be out of alignment to the extent that the pedagogy is more of a parallel universe than a valid experience for the students.
“A true professional will recognise and accept that they have to change for the benefit of the students.”
In this situation, the teacher can persevere with their pedagogy because it is central to who they are and how they see their role. When this happens, the teacher is asking the students to change. The students have a very different way of thinking and learning, and now they are expected to undertake and demonstrate their learning according to the dictates of the teacher. When this breaks down, the teacher is likely to see the students as the problem.
If the teacher not changing means that the students have to change, then there is a major professional problem. A true professional will recognise and accept that they have to change for the benefit of the students. This may well mean jettisoning deeply-held beliefs. It may mean developing a completely new and possibly counter-culturally oriented set of skills and forms of communication.
When the personal overrides the professional then the individual is displaying unpalatable attributes. When the professional accepts that their responsibility is for the learning of the students, that means doing anything and everything to ensure that the students have the best chance of success. That is what change is for.
To change is to know that learning in a school setting is a dynamic shaped by the interaction of the teacher and the student. The teacher has to adjust to the circumstances, and that means accepting change as the fundamental to being the best possible teacher.
A longer version of this article first appeared in the Autumn 2022 print edition of International School magazine, out now.