Teachers in Two Paradigms

Often, when working with school leaders and teachers implementing changes and innovations in teaching and learning, I describe the difficulty of living with a foot in each of two paradigms with a growing gap between the two. The question is, “Which foot gets picked up when the gap becomes too great?” Do we fall back into the “old” historical practice or lunge deeper into the “new” practice and culture?  A common example exists with implementing standards-based instruction in classrooms while maintaining an existing grading and report card schedule.  The teacher is telling students that she recognizes they require differing opportunities and time for mastering a standard while the teacher is being told she must have a grade recorded for each student each week.

This two-paradigm struggle came to mind when I read a post by Arthur Levine titled, Wanted: Teachers With The Skills And Knowledge To Succeed In Today’s And Tomorrow’s Schools.   Levine identifies five changes that are needed in schools that will require changes in the skills and knowledge teachers must possess to successfully support student learning. Consider which of these changes are in process in your schools and how your leadership and coaching is supporting the necessary teacher learning.

#1 A shift from teaching to learning: This statement appears often in articles and keynote presentations. I stress that it’s a shift that moves grade-level meetings to real professional learning communities. Levine states:

This will necessitate that teachers develop competency in formulating and measuring learning outcomes, translating the content and skills (including what are being called 21st-century skills) that students must master into outcomes and using data to drive individualized outcome-based learning.

What professional learning and coaching are supporting teachers in making this shift?  Do the feedback teachers are receiving from administrator observations and system evaluations illustrate a shift from teaching to learning?

#2 A shift from classrooms to learning environments: Levine describes that: “the classroom will expand from a walled physical space to a virtual space that embraces both formal learning and informal learning, which occurs anytime, anyplace, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” What actions do school leaders and coaches need to take to support teachers and students in this new environment? What conversations with teachers identify how teachers are expanding learning beyond their face time with students?

#3 A shift from planning to learning design: Designing for learning requires an expansion of teachers’ skills from planning for teaching. Levine suggests teachers will need to, “create individualized learning plans for all students, rather than just for students with special needs; grounding learning design in the cognitive sciences; accessing, evaluating and using an ever-expanding array of learning resources; and choosing the best instructional and assessment practices to fit learning design plans.”   Where do your teachers focus on designing learning? Is it the work of PLC’s? What do coaches and administrators observe to provide teachers with feedback on learning designs?

#4 A shift from instructing to facilitating learning: Levine believes this requires teachers … “to become facilitators of learning who are competent to serve as diagnosticians of student learning needs, prescriptors and counselors of the best learning path for each student, instructors and coaches, and assessors of individual student progress.” Again, PLCs appear to me to be the ideal place for leaders to guide teachers in continually learning the new skill sets of facilitating learning.

#5 A shift from professionalism to leadership: This may be the most challenging of the shifts that Levine identifies: “Teachers will need the skills, knowledge and character to lead educational change and guide today’s schools into the future.”  This suggests to me that teachers need to be perceived as the innovators of the schools we need rather than as the implementers of other’s innovations. How do school leaders create the vision and the culture that supports teachers as leaders?

Teachers need to develop the skills necessitated by these shifts while producing continued successful learning in the current school setting. How do you as a school leader communicate an understanding of that challenge? How do you keep teachers excited about the school you have and the future they can be creating?

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Steve Barkley

For the past 35 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…