“You know, if we allowed doctors or people in medicine to resist change like we do teachers, we’d still be using witch-hazel and leeches”
Three times. That’s how many times I’ve heard that analogy about medicine and education in the past 2 months. On the surface, it sure seems to be a good one. Except there is one big difference between medicine and education. In medicine you have a constant – the human body. Last time I checked, our evolutionary changes aren’t happening weekly. So, given you know how a knee will look and what it is comprised – it’s constant – wouldn’t it provide for a much easier time to change how you operated, what you did, how you attached things and how you set about fixing it? But, let’s say that each time a patient came into your office, things weren’t always the same. So, to listen to the heart, first you had to find it. And, you had to know what a 2 valve, 3 valve, 5 valve and 6 valve heart sounded like and also be ready for the fact that it might not be any of these but instead an 8 valve one. Oh, the people would LOOK the same on the outside but on the inside it was never the same. Each person was unique. Do you think that would change the advancement of medicine? Or, let’s say, for argument sake that each body reacted differently to medication, like aspirin. You really couldn’t predict what it would do. Do you think that would affect the advancement of pharmaceuticals?
In education the constant is…..
Really, what is it? It’s not the students as each one comes to school with their own unique learning style, social background, personality and many other things. It’s not the curricula – they are evergreening – changing and evolving. It’s not the teaching strategies – one size does not fit all. What part of education is not being affected by change? Content? Assessment? What is the constant?
If I were to look for one thing that I would say it might be that we could use a constant format for planning which would allow us to take into account all these other factors and provides at least one thing that could remain somewhat constant over time. But, really, the difference between medical advances – based on the constant of the human body and teacher resistance to change is like comparing pineapples and Canada. Really, if you had as many variables changing with each human body – and given the malpractice settlements that occur – would doctors be all that willing to advance heart transplants if each heart was different, located in different spots and shaped differently?
On that note….
You know that proverb -” give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish he’ll eat for a lifetime”?
What happens if he doesn’t learn? No, really. You’ve all see the cartoon with the two boys and the dog and the one boy says “I taught the dog to talk” The second boy says “Really?” The 1st says “Yes” The second asks the dog a question and the dog barks. The 1st say “I said I taught him I didn’t say he learned it!”
So, what happens if the man doesn’t learn to fish? Is there a difference between teaching someone and helping them to learn? Teach someone to juggle and help them to learn to juggle. Is there a difference? If there isn’t, why do I keep hearing more and more “Let’s not focus on developing master teachers, we want master learners in the classroom?” If, in this constantly changing environment there is a difference and there is a need for a paradigm shift in how we approach teaching/learning, what’s the constant going to be?
Back to our regularly scheduled programming….
You know, no other profession can just say “No, we aren’t going to change. We’re going to keep doing things the same way.” If they did, they’d be fired! Well, take a look at the changes that take place EACH day for any teacher. In fact, having worked in a few other professions besides teaching, which seems rare as most teachers have entered the profession right out of university, this is another one of those “it’s not like that, really.” So, being a painter, I didn’t resisted change – I can use a sprayer and use to keep up on the advancements in different materials. BUT, I knew when to use the new technology and when to use the tried and true brush and roller. (Hint – if you spray 4L of paint into a closet, you will need to rent a rug cleaner!) And, yes, latex is just as good as oil paint – really. It is. As in the previous example, I also knew what was going to happen when I applied the primer to drywall. But, I’ve also run into instances when the material didn’t act as it should have – the drying agent in paint not working correctly – and the mess it makes and the problems it causes. Imagine, if you can, that with each can of paint, you didn’t know how quickly it was going to dry. Just that one change would have INCREDIBLE implications in so many ways.
Each day teachers have to deal with all kinds of changes and, in the past few decades, the initiatives that have surged through education have all but eliminated any constant. With the introduction of the internet and instant information access and 24/7 teacher contact, what is the constant? See my above point about planning. Our expectations of teachers/master learners has changed – it’s no longer about delivering content to a class of student but about nurturing learning in each student. How are we changing our expectations of education in relation to the teacher given the ever increasing expectations and constant change cycle that is taking place? Are we increasing learning time for teachers? Are we decreasing teacher/pupil ratios to reflect the individual nature of the learning process? Are we providing individualized/differentiated PD for teachers?
Fatigue will burn you….
In any change cycle, you have to be careful how you move things forward so that you don’t kill so many of your people on the way that you have no one left once you get to where you are going to carry out the changes or initiatives. Anyone familiar with history will remember Hannibal and his daring attempt to defeat the Romans by crossing the Alps. It almost worked. Almost. Take a close look at the changes that people want teachers/schools to make. They aren’t all happening but the sheer volume is staggering. Even with elephants, Hannibal didn’t succeed. I’m still looking for the elephants.
Most of the individuals who will read this have a technological bend to them and I appreciate that. But I also appreciate that there are many more who won’t read this (really, my readership isn’t that large!) but who have a different view on what is important/necessary for learning/students. In fact, ask a coach what is more important for learning and social development and you may get a different perspective. Whatever the perspective, if we teach it but they don’t learn it, how will they feed themselves? And, contrary to popular belief, all the administrators’ salaries won’t be able to feed them each day;)