Without leadership to change (read as to improve) classroom instruction and school practices, leadership that calls for – more, summons, encourages, supports, and with perseverance pushes for key changes in practice – improvement of results for students will not happen. The inertia and comfort of conventional teaching practices are too strong. Among the many changes in practice that are called for, here are a few examples:
- Nightly error analysis and inventive planning for reteaching material to those students who didn’t understand the first time around
- Constant and broad checking for understanding during instruction Frequent, detailed, nonjudgmental feedback to students that helps them identify and improve performance
- Teaching students to believe in their own capacity to grow ability
- Teaching students how to exert effective effort when learning doesn’t come easily
- Frequent analysis of student results from common assessments by teams who actively help each other design teaching and reteaching approaches
- Using a variety of cognitive tools to make ideas more clear and vivid
The improvements in instructional practice that are needed challenge the very job definition of teaching carried by millions of practitioners. This is a double whammy:
- Changing deep and previously unchallenged beliefs, and
- Undertaking the massive change of teaching practices that proceeds from the new beliefs
The scale of this change and the very large inertia of sticking with the status quo combine with the identity threat to millions of teachers whose self-esteem is invested in continuing to do business as they always have. School principals who rise to this challenge require a high level of stamina, since resistance will surely come from some quarters in the staff, and this inevitably raises normal human fears about the consequences to the leader as he/she pushes for change.
The good news, however, is that we have a great mass of committed teachers who already operate from the seven beliefs above, and they are seeking the leadership that will give them the challenge and the resources to bring children to new levels of achievement. Indeed, they will respond with commitment and inventiveness when we give them both the support and the time that are required.
“We can act our way into new beliefs,” says Michael Fullan. Indeed, we can. It’s hard to tell which comes first, the chicken or the egg. They do, indeed, go hand in hand. Nevertheless, some of these important changes in teaching practice have to be started for the beliefs to begin changing. Beliefs change when teachers start to see results. So, there is a certain forcefulness required from leaders to accelerate the pace of adopting these new practices.