5 Principles That Make Outdated Educational Practice Impossible

Last night, the #edchat topic was, "How should teachers deal with colleagues who are comfortable with 19th century and punitive measures for non-compliant students?" Judging by the responses, many teachers either felt they could gently prod this colleague to changing his or her practice. Others did not see this their responsibility at all. They saw it as the responsibility of the administrator.

At first glance, I would agree that the administrator does have the responsibility to address the issue of teachers using outdated practices. However, I think the real solution is a bit more complicated and can be captured with another question: How can a teacher engaged in outdated pedagogy and practice possibly exist in a true 21st century school? Should the school environment not be so innovative and challenging that such teaching is impossible? Perhaps the real problem is that we have been fooling ourselves into thinking our school is a "21st Century School" when it's not. Just maybe our school systemically allows teachers to continue do what they've always done and avoid growing personally and professionally

As long as you have a school, school district, and school system that allows people to use "outdated methodology in instruction and educational practice" such practices are going to exist. In other fields such as medicine, obsolete practice is rooted out by a culture that values innovation and pushes out obsolescence. Why can't schools foster that same kind of culture?

What would a school or school district that has a culture that makes obsolete educational practice impossible look like? What are the operating principles? Here are some ideas to start with.

1. A strong expectation of personal and professional growth permeates the school and school district environment. Everyone, beginning with leadership, are lifelong learners, and their every action is focused to that end. There's an attitude of perpetual learning and professional development surrounding everything that is done.

2. The school and school district culture values risk-taking more than playing it safe. Valuing risk-taking takes courage from leadership and everyone else. It means accepting failure as part of learning. Leadership that values risk-taking can't ask others to take risks if they themselves aren't willing to do so.

3. Leadership in the school includes more than the principal. When the leadership includes strong teacher leadership, it is difficult for those not growing professionally to exist. Teacher leadership means there are peers pushing those teachers to develop professionally.

4. Collaboration among staff is the norm. When issues and problems and challenges are viewed as "our issues/problems/challenges" then everyone is expected to be a part of the solution. This means those who are hanging on to outdated practice find it more difficult to do so. Their colleagues are pushing them to take ownership of the school's future and they can't continue to exist in their tiny isolated compartment within the school.

5. There's a strong sense of entrepreneurship among staff regarding the school. They feel that it is "their school." Staff who feel this aren't just provided a token opportunity to give feedback on School Improvement Plans. They have a say in the direction and focus of the school because it is genuinely their school too. Teachers engaged in obsolete practice can't continue to operate in an obsolete manner because colleagues push them to do better.

So, in answer to last night's #edchat question, "How should teachers deal with colleagues who are comfortable with 19th century methods and punitive measures for non-compliant students?" I submit that the answer isn't just a question of what the teacher should do or what the principal should do. It is a systemic problem that can only be addressed by creating places that make obsolete educational practices impossible. It's a question addressed by creating a school or school district culture that will not tolerate obsolete educational practice.
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