When I started in education – back in the Brendan Nelson years – one of the many things that was drummed into me (along with lesson planning and not smiling before Easter), was how when you went into education, you also went into an environment that would be in a constant state of change. You needed to be adaptable.
It is easy for us to sit back and somewhat cynically say “the more things change, the more they stay the same”, but the reality is that things have changed, and that they will continue to. Look at curriculum. When I started teaching in Queensland it was the year when there was no “official” English curriculum, we used the last one that had been published and assumed that the next one would pick up the following year. We shrugged our collective shoulders and got on with it. Students continued to be taught and they (presumably) continued to learn (please note that this was also pre-NAPLAN). The new curriculum was published, lessons were revised and we moved on. Particularly me, I moved to the ACT, where the Every Chance to Learn was in its draft phase and being rolled out across the system. It was change – and even though there were complaints about “reinventing the wheel” and how this was “just another thing” that someone had thought up to make life difficult, it happened. Education means change.
Students aren’t the same as when I started teaching. One of the things I love (and miss) about the classroom is that there is the chance to learn from them as well, talk to teachers who have been about for a while and they will tell you that this is a change. As we have moved more to a technology based pedagogy, we have started to play in a playground that some teachers are not comfortable in. Indeed, as a part of the standards for teachers there is now a requirement that teachers are present in the digital space within the classroom (see 2.6 Information and Communication Technology), this particular playground is one that the teachers need to be okay with seeking the help of the student in order to operate. This is a change.
Personal resilience in teaching is something that can be stretched too far. Managing the change in the classroom, both from a curriculum and a student management point of view, can be a challenge and it isn’t for everyone. Leaders of change can only do so much in this journey, individual teachers as a part of a team or community need to take on some of the challenge as well. They need to “own” the change, and of course it is up to the leader to give the individual the chance to play their part, but being a part of the team is a choice that individuals make.
I have watched good teachers leave teaching because they were incapable of managing change outside the classroom. They were inflexible and didn’t want to be a part of the narrative that was being built in a way that it was being offered to them, or they were incapable of building their own narrative that would fit with their expectations of how things should be. They couldn’t see that how we got somewhere didn’t matter, it was that the desired destination was reached that was the important thing.
These lessons learned in middle and high schools have been very important for me in the higher education sector. Working with innovation and change as a part of my everyday sometimes makes me jaded against those who just can’t see the light. Today I have to remember that they may make the journey, just not in the way that I would prefer that they would. I just hope that they get there soon. Because change is inevitable.