Education reform often requires fundamental changes in individuals' roles and responsibilities. This may mean that stake holders are asked to assume new tasks in addition to their normal day-to-day duties, or engage in activities that have little in common with their present work. Regardless of the scope of change, all individuals must have the skills that will enable them to support reform objectives. Ideally, this training occurs before program implementation so that individuals have time to understand and relate their new skills to reform objectives, and to identify confusing issues and potential sources of conflict. This lesson reviews how reform can affect school work environments, and describes some potential strategies that reformers have developed to help participants anticipate change.
Changing Roles and Relationships
"...[N]ew materials and philosophies tend to shake up the traditional roles of teachers and students... [N]ew materials tend to demand that students construct their own knowledge and be active rather than passive learners, as well as for teachers to be facilitators of their students' active learning."
Reform can be a complex process that defies intuition and often goes against long-standing procedures. A common mistake that many reformers make is to project their understanding of, and experience with, reform upon others. While the basic concept of a reform may be relatively simple to grasp, putting it into practice may be more challenging than cursory examination might suggest. Most education reforms require individuals to assume new roles and responsibilities to which they are unaccustomed. For example, teachers in districts adopting school-based management are often asked to become more involved in facility administration, a task that requires a number of technical skills including evaluating curriculum and assessment tools, designing professional development sessions, budgeting and staffing school positions, and setting institutional goals and objectives (School-Based Management, 48, 97). Moreover, changes in organizational relationships, such as the development of articulation agreements between secondary and postsecondary institutions, may require entirely new modes of communication between institutional partners.
Reforms can also change the nature of the relationship between schools and their communities, transforming the roles that family and community members play in the education process. Parents, in particular, are often called upon to become actively involved in their children's educational task that may require considerable skill building. One means of gaining buy-in among parents is to design training programs that help them to understand how they can support the proposed project. For example, the Minneapolis Public School District offers a Parent Institute that focuses on training parents to take a leadership role in educational problem solving. Specific parenting skills, such as talking with a teacher, are highlighted, as are more general reform-oriented skills that encourage parents to discuss and evaluate the quality of instruction that takes place in their child's class (Community Involvement, 4041).
Changing Classroom Roles: Teachers and Students
When the mathematics department at a high school implemented a new student-centered curriculum, teachers were forced to reexamine their traditional role in the classroom. As part of the curricular reform, teachers were asked to link academic content to real-world applications, and to do so in a manner that encouraged cooperative group work, problem solving, and written and oral communication. While teachers were still expected to assume their familiar position at the front of the room, lecture time was now limited to five minutes, with the remaining time reserved for students to set the pace of their own learning.
Moving teachers both physically and pedagogically away from the center also required that students assume a different classroom role. While before teachers were solely responsible for communicating information, new student-oriented curricula emphasize individual and group efforts among students; as a result, students must now serve as classroom leaders, and interact as participants in class discussions. Thus, reform has changed the respective roles of both instructor and learner, with teachers acting as the facilitators of knowledge, and students taking greater responsibility for their own learning.
Adopting Training Strategies
"[A]cademic work becomes more complex when students try to make sense of biology or literature than when they simply memorize the frog's anatomy or the sentence's structure."
(Systemic Reform, Vol II, 85)
Schools can adopt different strategies to ensure that teachers have the knowledge base they need to undertake and implement reform. Schools that are successfully implementing reforms generally link staff development to project objectives, and involve teachers in identifying their own training needs. Schools in the Spring Branch Independent School District (Texas), for instance, prepare staff development plans that are connected to school-wide improvement efforts (Student Diversity, Vol. II, 3). Schools may also use teachers with special expertise as trainers to maximize resources and teacher buy-in. For example, whenever possible, Mt. Edgecumbe High School (Alaska) takes advantage of staff expertise for in-service training. In addition, the administration sets aside money to send teachers to summer training and national conferences, with the expectation that they will serve as trainers for others upon their return (School-to-Work, 7).
"Some of the best in-service training we have had was teachers within the school putting on a bunch of mini-workshops that their colleagues could choose from. They seem to really value the voice of experience."
(Teacher Professionalism, Vol II, 130)
Individual schools may also work with consultants to build teachers' capacities to initiate reform. For example, teachers from Wheeler High School (Jefferson County, Kentucky) attended a nationally recognized professional development center in order to review the research literature and discuss issues related to reform among themselves and with others. Teachers at Wheeler also joined with other instructors to share information on a pilot project addressing participatory management. As part of this project, teachers received on-site technical assistance in designing and implementing a model of shared decision making and attended workshops on consensus building, communications, running productive meetings, problem solving, leadership, and conflict resolution. In addition, the principal and two teachers received special training as facilitators (Uses of Time, 57).
The Accelerated Schools Project offered a five-day training program for teams of 8 to 10 people from individual schools. During the week-long session, participants were advised about the five-year goals of reform, and were taught strategies to implement short- and long-term changes.
Follow-up of school progress a few months later revealed that one-third of schools were floundering in their reform, and another one-third had given up in their effort. Determining that they were trying to do too much over too long a period, the Project subsequently developed a training-and-certification component for reform "coaches" who are based at the school district and who provide regular assistance on reform issues.