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School Improvement, Is Teacher Cognition A Speed Bump Or A Roadblock?

There is little doubt that technology and the Internet are dramatically changing life in our homes and workplaces. But what about our schools? There seems to be plenty of evidence suggesting that the factory model typifying the 20th century classroom is alive and well in our 21st century schools. Why are schools not keeping pace with the technology changes impacting other facets of our lives?

Are teachers impeding real and dramatic change in schools?

Are teachers, by virtue of having successfully played the game of education, perpetuating practices that are obsolete in a socially networked world? A few weeks ago, Tom Whitby called this phenomenon "time-capsule teaching". Jesse Martin, and others, have referenced "teacher cognition" as a reason for change resistance. Most teachers from my generation have navigated and thrived in the factory classroom model. There is little interest in changing what doesn't feel broken. If it worked for us, should it not work for all students regardless of setting?

I have opened several recent conference presentations crowing about my nearly fifty years experience in a school setting as student and teacher. A lifetime of moderate success in a school setting must translate to some form of professional influence and effectiveness, shouldn't it? True, after many years, I have an intuitive feeling of how an effective classroom operates. I recognize when "flow" is occurring, and how to frequently, and informally assess student learning.

Our intuition and experience may becoming more hindrance than asset. The sage on the stage directing rows of compliant students is an ideal from an age long past. This revelation is not to cast blame. Rather, it's acknowledging the difficulty in reversing years, and in most cases, decades of school experience. 

My wife Natalie, an outstanding 2nd grade teacher with more than 20 years experience, frequently uses materials, strategies, and plans that she grew up with. We discuss the need to shake things up to make the learning more relevant and authentic for her students. These conversations have raised awareness for both of us. She is bringing more innovation, authenticity, and wider perspective to her classroom, while I am becoming more aware of the barriers that keep teachers from taking more risk in their practice. Among these are one-size fits all standards, arbitrary professional evaluation, and lack of parent understanding or support.

Without interest, incentive, and support, it there any wonder why schools are not keeping pace with the dramatic change impacting our daily lives? Some successful teachers are enjoying change by adopting a learner-first mentality. They are connecting with other educators to immerse themselves in relevant, authentic, self-determined learning. The conversations and experiences that grow from these connections are helping teachers re-frame their thinking about the school's role in education and learning. Not an easy task, these educators are changing their mindset and their teacher cognition

Is socially networked learning the key to creating timely, meaningful change in our schools?

Related Reading

Resistance to Change - Dangerously Irrelevant, Scott McLeod

The Changing Role of the Teacher - TeachThought, Grant Wiggins

Do We Let School Get in the Way of Learning - The Principal of Change, George Couros

Does Tech Hold Back Educators - My Island View, Tom Whitby

Teacher Cognition - Aplinglink, Geoff Jordan

Photo: creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by ronwalf:


Unknown said…
I am very impressed by your ability to reflect and see what appears to be something missing within your own teaching practice. I am somewhat worried, however, about the way in which we dismiss "experience" and start to see it as a liability.

It seems as though we are fetishizing "the new" and innovative, even when we know (from research and personal experience) that the most effective teaching comes from experienced teachers.

Now, I am not calling for a return to a traditional approach to teaching. Rather, I want to stop looking at our classrooms and veteran teachers as the barrier to change. So many are, like yourself, looking to improve each and every year. So many see that more traditional methods are not producing the same results as they once did.

I see an "us vs. them" being created when we vilify experience and talk about an entire generation of teachers who are unwilling (or unable) to change. I don't think this gets us any closer to supporting all kids.

Forgive me if I have misunderstood your point, however. Again, thank you for your reflection and your honesty.

P.S. This comment is a part of the #C4C15 project. Find out more here:
Hello Ben,
Always good chatting with you. I apologize if the tone of this post comes across as divisive - not my intent. I am merely acknowledging that as we work towards change and improvement in schools - we need to recognize the forces and characteristics that make change challenging, particularly for those of us with long histories in education.
My analogy; If I grew up playing European Football (soccer) and then spent years coaching soccer - I should have a pretty good handle on the nuances of that game. But now the game has changed to American Football. There may be some skills that transfer, but there is a strong likelihood that I will need to re-educate myself in order to be successful at the new game.
I think the concept of classroom, and the role of schools in education is under pressure to change with the connected times. I hope that we won't have our minds closed to change just because of a "this is the way it's always been done" mentality. Success can sometimes be misleading. Thanks again for reading and commenting. Your perspective is appreciated. Bob

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