I’m trying to create an atmosphere of change in my Language Arts department. Now, I knew that there would be resistance from a few teachers, but I thought that the passion and purpose of what we (my co-chair and I) are doing would convince these teachers that we are not trying to hijack the department with an anti-basic skills agenda. That was until I talked to a veteran teacher in our department. I realized then that universal buy-in is going to be nearly impossible. After this “illuminating” conversation, I started thinking the opposing viewpoint of this complex dilemma. I really wanted to distill the differences between the two ways of thinking about a department so that I could get a hold of what I was up against. Obviously, I have some bias in this debate, but I tried to eliminate as much inflammatory language as possible. Ideally, I would find a way of bringing both visions of a working Language Arts department together so that all voices can be heard. Perhaps my optimism is too expansive, but here is what I have come up with so far.
These are the assumptions about the two competing orientations of Language Arts department:
- We are a leading department in the district and we are doing the best that we can.
- The main objective of the department is to follow the directives of the district and the school administration.
- Reflection is touchy-feely and therefore unnecessary.
- There is no time in the regular meetings for talking about the specific lessons and resources we are using in class.
- You must go through drudgery and organizational hoops in order to accomplish anything worthwhile within the department.
- Striving for change is either a hopeless endeavor or completely unnecessary.
- All issues involving students and teachers can be looked at through a black and white lens and are therefore easily solvable without debate, nuance, or further research/intervention.
- When you find something that has worked in the past, there is no reason that it shouldn’t continue to work in the future.
- Technology is simultaneously unnecessary in the classroom and too hard to learn to make the effort worthwhile.
- Young teachers cannot add significantly to a department until they have had sufficient experience and have adopted the teaching styles of veteran teachers.
- Unnecessary social and pedagogical differences hold us back from really fulfilling our roles as master teachers and supportive colleagues.
- The main objective of the department is to create a unifying voice of all of its members so that we make sure that all students can learn in all classrooms.
- Teachers (members of the department) know what is best for the classroom (in terms of assessments, lessons, programs, etc.).
- Reflection leads to a greater depth of learning, higher retention rate, and greater buy-in from all participants and is therefore an essential part of the department.
- The only way to make sure that our department stays student-centered is to bring the classroom into the department via easily digestible, highly engaging lessons that have worked well with our population of students.
- Striving for change is courageous, filled with promise, the inevitable result of looking at where we are and where we need to be.
- Passionate ideas, candid discussion, and a safe environment that allows teachers to freely mentor and seek help can circumvent most of the unpleasant tasks and red tape associated with the process of creating worthwhile/useful materials.
- There is nothing that works so well that it should never be revisited, reflected upon, or bettered somehow.
- The student issues surrounding reading and writing and teacher issues of development and interpersonal clashes are inherently complex and should be met with understanding and appropriate action to bring about lasting resolutions.
- Technology is an integral part of any classroom that aims to engage our savvy student population and prepare them for a 21st century world.
- Young teachers should learn as much as they can from veterans who are continuously improving their craft. These young teachers should not have a qualified voice in the department because they are the ones who will either continue teaching if they are fulfilled by it or leave teaching if they find that serving students has taken a back seat to logistics, assessments, or tradition.
I’m not sure how I am going to bring these two viewpoints together, but I think enumerating these viewpoints may lead to some good discussion amongst our department’s members. I have visited the Classroom Change Wiki, and I think that a lot of these ideas are congruent with the ones that are already there. It may be of use to the Edusphere to start another section of the Wiki devoted to change at the department level. Please let me know what you think about any of these ideas. I am particularly interested in refining these points so that we can discuss them as a department and not have people throwing chairs at one another.