Are We Rushing Education Change? The Case for Slowing Things Down
Education is known for endless change, and over the years that’s taken many forms: testing modifications, curriculum adjustments, new committees to join, fresh acronyms to learn. With these continuous shifts comes an accompanying sense of urgency, one that tells educators to hurry up and implement whatever is on the horizon, even if that leaves us feeling a little like the hare in the classic tortoise and the hare fable. When change is needed, why is it accompanied by a mindset that necessitates rushing the process?
Whatever the reason for our various (and often knee-jerk) reactions to constant change, it is fairly vital that we breathe and just slow down. Otherwise, we run the risk of having to fix a series of broken pieces that create a less than ideal whole. Looking at change on multiple levels can help us determine how to take our time and maximize the effectiveness of new initiatives. Here are a few.
I used to feel a lot of urgency around writing instruction, particularly when it came to skills that students would be held accountable for on standardized assessments. One day, I had a lightbulb moment. Instead of asking the class to write a whole essay that demonstrated proficiency with analytical writing, I asked for two full paragraphs instead. This shorter assignment still allowed students to demonstrate mastery toward the standard, and we had more time to make sure not just that those two paragraphs met the objective, but that students could also move their writing forward with a fuller understanding of the process.
Rather than working fast to assign lengthy tasks, teachers can do more with far less. That way, instructional shifts are focused and intentional, creating desired results the first time around. It is tempting to push through curriculum requirements just to get them done and tell ourselves we can always go back and reteach the content, or (upping the ante) apply interventions to instruction. We rush because we perceive that slowing down would put us behind; after all, how else do you make up for snow days, pep rallies and fire drills? There are too many interruptions to class time, and we respond by speeding up. Instead, thinking about high-quality first instruction is the key to ensuring that learning needs are met without needing to retrace our steps.
Before creating anxiety with a set of directives each new school year, greet staff with an overall “why,” and then enlist the help of all to break the work into manageable chunks that follow a clear progression. For instance, it is not uncommon for administrators to survey staff and then encounter data that indicates an unideal school climate. In that situation, slow down and gather more voice from teachers to learn about what is causing the issue. Is it a lack of transparency from leadership? Perhaps expectations are not clear? Once the specific problems are isolated, it is much easier to move forward.
In the past, I have worked with school community members to create a specific climate plan that takes us through the calendar year, recording all actions that are being done to gradually improve the school environment. Then, we set up a series of checkpoints to analyze results. Giving the process the time it needs saves angst down the road.
Professional Development Change
A few years ago, my department expressed an interest in learning more about blended learning models. Instead of jumping into advanced options, I started by giving them a playlist with differentiated resources (videos, podcasts, and articles) to get the conversation going. Once we had a baseline of understanding, it was possible to move into professional development that modeled blended learning more actively by creating station rotations and participant-centered meetings.
Consider the power of slowing down the change process when it comes to training. When school leaders see a gap, they want to fill that need as quickly as possible, which is understandable. However, creating a wish list for professional development results in a lack of focus. As a best practice for staff development, identify the most salient goal through root-cause analysis. Then create a progression of professional development by back-mapping where staff should be at the end of the year, moving toward where they currently are. If we go too quickly and try to get to an end result with staff development without a proper process, we will almost certainly fail.
So much of what we do in education (and in life) can be improved by slowing down, breathing, and thinking about the “why” before the “how.” Otherwise, when we barrel ahead, we almost always have to go back and fix part or all of our work. Before we go forward in the mistaken perception that sprinting throughout the race will get us to our goals authentically, it would be advisable to think about moving slowly, just like the tortoise in the story, toward success.