Change in schools is particularly challenging. Teacher identity is closely linked to our role as teachers and our perception of that role is reflected in our pedagogy. Where the intended change alters the nature of our pedagogy and fundamentally shifts the relationships between teachers and students, and between teachers and knowledge resistance is more likely. Smollan and Sayers indicate the importance of understanding the socially constructed nature of identity and the potentially negative impact that change can have on this for individuals, 'that change ‘dislodges’ identity and leads to anxiety and grieving’ (Smollan & Sayers. 2009 p439) and that this can result in resistance to change.
When the intended change combines a shift in our pedagogical practices and an embrace of new knowledge outside of our comfort zone resistance is likely to be high. A new approach to the teaching of mathematics or literacy is likely to be accompanied by a degree of discomfort as we question the validity of the method and contemplate how we might adjust to the new strategies. In cases where we are confronted with the challenge of teaching entirely new skills and content through pedagogical methods which we also find confronting we have little upon which to construct a new set of actions. This is the challenge facing teachers as they adapt to the teaching of Digital Technologies and Design & Production in Primary Schools.
Successful change requires a clearly communicated and compelling vision if it is to be accepted (Causon 2004, Kotter 2008, Burnes 2011, Rogers et al 2006, Self et al 2007) - Early on in the change process inspirational leadership will be needed to get teachers interested in the new curriculum and asking questions about what it will mean for them and their teaching practice. It might be necessary to communicate a degree of urgency around the process while creating an environment that builds confidence and competence. Teachers need to understand the importance of the endeavour, believe the goal is obtainable and know that they will have the support they require.
Research on change management point to certain conditions which might support the introduction of new methods and ideas. Building on an inspiring introduction that provides a clear vision and purpose as may be described by change experts such as Kotter & Cohen, leadership might shift from an inspirational model to what Perkins (2003) describes as an ‘inquiry-centered leadership’ style where the group’s leadership acts as a facilitator for the development of the group’s collective knowledge processing. In such a model challenges are discovered by the group collectively and solutions are allowed to emerge from within rather than from the top down. Such an approach can be quite empowering and support teacher agency. Given the current pace of change within education it can be easy for teachers to see change as something that is constantly being inflicted upon them. By shifting the locus of control away from external forces such as a new curriculum and back to the teacher a new dialogue becomes possible; one where change is a response to opportunities identified by the teacher.
Research by Gibson-Langford and Laycock (2006) shows ‘that teachers like to learn together through informal knowledge creation and sharing opportunities characterised by critical dialogue, frequent feedback, critical reflection and appreciative behaviours’. This emergent inquiry approach is elaborated on by Burnes who adds that 'It also sees change as a process of learning and not just a method of changing organizational structures and practices’ (Burnes. 1996 p13) - Such an approach to change and particularly to the introduction of a new curriculum is more likely to allow teachers to see how it will fit with their existing beliefs about education and how it might benefit their learners. Providing an environment characterised by dialogue and learning aimed at developing understandings of the curriculum and then using this to guide individuals and small teams towards embracing its affordances in their own way can maintain agency and autonomy.
For the new curriculum to arrive at a point where it can be widely embraced it must first infiltrate the language and conversation of the school to a sufficient level. This is the initial goal and a sufficient goal for a first year. There will be those who rapidly adopt the change, those who are already genuinely interested and enthusiastic about either the content or new modes of thinking and developing understanding. There will be some who are already using the ideas upon which the curriculum is based. Teachers who have embraced a design thinking approach to problem solving or have adopted the use of certain technologies such as robotics will feel well served by the new curriculum. There will be those who are willing to engage with the curriculum and will be open to guidance towards an understanding of what it is all about. There will be those who are willing to engage in dialogue about the new affordances and have some understanding of what they might be but are uncertain about their ability to bring the new methods into their classrooms. There will also be resistors both active and passive. Some will feel very uncomfortable with the new curriculum and find implementing it a great challenge. When ideas are significantly outside of our comfort zone it is very normal to find ways to protect our self-identity. In these cases, learning becomes difficult if not impossible and it is only when we are repeatedly shown that we are in a safe and supportive environment that we are able to engage the challenge. Schools must recognise that for some teachers, Digital Technologies is such a challenge.
Our learners will never now a world where Digital Technologies are not the norm. Using solutions developed within this space and with this mindset is already their normal. Unless they are to be slaves to this technology we must also empower them to be creators of digital solutions. To do this we must begin with recognising the challenges that a curriculum built around mastery of Digital Technologies brings to our teachers and seek to understand the supports they require. There is much to be excited about here but we must help every teacher see the opportunities beyond their fears.
By Nigel Coutts
Burnes, Bernard (2010) Call for Papers: Why Does Change Fail and What Can We Do About It?, Journal of Change Management, 10 (2), pp. 241 — 242
Causon, J. (2004). The internal brand: Successful cultural change and employee empowerment. Journal of Change Management, 4, 4, pp. 297–307.
Gibson-Langford, L. & Laycock, D. (2007) So they can fly . . . building a community of inquirers Accessed online 8.10.2016 https://pypchat.wikispaces.com/file/view/So+They+Can+Fly+-+Building+a+Community+of+Learners+copy.pdf
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Perkins, D. (2003). King Arthur's round table (1st ed.). New York: Wiley.
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