Teachers as Agents of Change

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Task: Using insights from the foundation disciplines in education, examine the extent to which classroom teachers see themselves as agents of change in their school. Discuss ONE way in which educators can become more committed to their role as change agents.

According to Fullan, (1993), “change is in essence, learning to do something differently, involving adjustments to many elements of classroom practice and everybody is a change agent in quality education” (p. 24). The question however arises as to whether teachers see themselves as change agents. Bansford, (2000) states, “teachers do not view themselves as leaders and educating teachers as change agents is a challenge”(p. 106). However according to Holt (1970), the best way to introduce change in our schools is through the teachers themselves .

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He writes; “The proper, the best and indeed the only source of lasting and significant change must be the teacher in the classroom”. (p. 211). Teachers are members of and identify with the system, they have a sense of pre- history about the school organization, they are aware of the norms of their colleagues, their attitudes, values and behavioural responses. Teachers may also live in the communities in which they teach which give them great insights concerning the values and attitudes of the community at large.

Finally teachers are on the scene in the schools; therefore they are in a position to initiate planned change on the basis of needs and are available to implement these changes. Despite this there are many factors which prevent teachers from being an agent of change in schools. Factors which prevent teachers from being agents of change in schools include the change in school management. Prior to the turn of the century teachers received much of their direction from classroom practice from outside sources, primarily the community that hired them.

Schools however with the demands placed by public pressure adopted a more “scientific management model” and the teacher lost most of their decision- making powers, according to Callahan (1962) “teachers were relieved of the burden of finding best methods for teaching children” (p. 176). The second factor stems from this narrowing of teachers roles, the teachers poor self- image. This negative report of self tends to be related to feelings of helplessness and powerlessness which then generate apathetic and passive professional behaviour.

Another major problem faced by teachers that inhibits them from taking leadership roles in change is their fear of reprisal, not only from administrators, but also from their colleagues. Both of these factors loom large in the willingness of teachers to engage in change. Fear of reprisal causes teachers to assume a passive role in the system to avoid being hassled, questioned, criticized or in any way draw attention to them. Included with this fear is the lack of administrative support for teacher – generated innovation. Administrative neutrality may be considered as disapproval and teachers may read this as negativism.

Further, teachers’ complacency coupled with defensiveness of a profession that is seemingly under constant attack also interferes with teachers seeing themselves as agents of change in schools. Finally and a point which must not be overlooked is many times the sheer business of the job leaves little time for questioning or thoughtful analysis of the educational endeavour which might result in an effort towards change. While the above are contributing factors as to the extent teachers see themselves as agents of change, (1993), “the problems are most obvious.

That is, teachers do not change schools because they do not know how to approach the job. Ignorance, rather than apathy, is a large part of their problem but ignorance can be corrected, if we as educators lead the way. Teachers are not dumb … they are just trained to act that way” (p. 28). As educators within the secondary school system we can become more committed to the role as change agent by seeing the school as an enormous social organization. In order to operate efficiently, within this organizational environment teachers need to become, “knowledge workers”.

A knowledge worker, according to Fredrick Taylor, is a person who has been trained to use systematically organized knowledge as well as a person who can make knowledge productive in systematic ways. These kinds of skills are of great importance to a change agent, and the knowledge that teachers need to use productively concerns the dynamic, as well as the proper problem – solving approach to planned change. It is only through such preparation that teachers can assume the role of change agent with the chance of being successful.

Specifically one way teachers can be committed to their role as agents of change is to foster a “health promoting school”. School policy and curriculum design provide a nurturing and culturally- rich environment in which children can fully develop their physical well-being, social confidence, emotional and behavioural maturity, language richness, knowledge kills and moral awareness. The idea of the teacher as a change agent has roots in the progressive education movement and was first articulated in Dewey’s (1920) book, Reconstruction in Philosophy.

The idea was put forward that society must be transformed and schools in general and teachers in particular can be the agents for this transformation. This philosophy points to the profile of a teacher as change agent, as an educator who possesses the skills, desire, and motivation necessary to make schools more equitable. The teacher who is a change agent believes that schools must not simply perpetuate the present social order but seek to affect change by assuring that all students have the necessary skills for equal access to the job opportunities that, in turn, will provide access o the good life.

A motivated teacher can change the attitude of students and through them, the society. (Dennis, 2003) As an educator committed to the role of change agent through fostering the “health promoting school”. It is expected that the teacher meet the emotional needs of students if they are to facilitate learning. According to Cooper, (2003), “The effective teacher is one who is able to bring about intended learning outcomes”(p. 3). In order to achieve this, teachers need to exhibit characteristics of empathy, caring and consideration.

Teachers should “take into account complexities arising from the classroom situation, such as the presence of many pupils of unequal aptitude, readiness, and motivation; the difficulties of teacher-pupil communication; the particular characteristics of the subject matter being taught; and the age-level characteristics of the pupils”. (Ausubel, 1968, p6) Teachers need to create an inclusive learning environment. Students appreciate teachers who show respect for them and their feelings and who are genuinely interested in their likes and dislikes.

Obviously if such a basis is formed in the relationship between teacher and student, teaching and learning will effectively take place. As a change agent within the education system and referring to one aspect of “health promoting schools”, which is promoting, “well-being”. Maslow’s vision of the hierarchy of needs in the 20th Century educational system must be taken into consideration. In my experience the greatest need of students after the physiological and safety needs are taken care of is the need to belong.

In the field of education the effective way to boost student’s self-esteem is to provide students with the opportunities to experience success and this should not be achieved by encouraging them to “jump through the prescribed academic, physical or personal hoops”. Students hold the keys to their own learning and teachers as change agents must understand the critical role that students play in their own learning and use this understanding to become more student- oriented, rather than subject or self-oriented. Students must not only be involved in learning, they must also experience success as they learn.

A problem may occur when teaching styles conflict with students’ learning styles often resulting in limited learning or no learning. Understanding learner-centred instruction from the perspective of multiple intelligences is key to student’s success and following the trend of well-being and social confidence as part of a “health promoting school”, the role of the change agent is to use this to their advantage. MI theory, introduced by Howard Gardner, centres on the concept that there is no general intelligence, but rather each person has at least eight distinct intelligences that can be developed through a lifetime.

MI theory suggests that there is a plurality of intellect. From birth, individuals may differ in particular intelligence profiles and life experiences may alter these profiles over time. According to Gardner, one of the most important purposes of school is to develop multiple intelligences, thus helping people reach vocational goals that are appropriated to their spectrum of intelligences. It is important to note that integrating multiple intelligences into the classroom setting does not require a major overhaul of teaching methodology or a total revamping of adopted curricula.

It calls for, in most cases for the supplementing and revising of existing lesson plans with creative and innovative ideas. The most important issue to remember is that MI does not allow for the “one size fits all approach”, there is no cookie cutter prescription for teaching in a student- centred, learner diverse environment. (Hadley, Vol. 3. 4, No. 1) In a “health promoting school”, the 21st. Century teacher must move from the individual discretion view of professionalism to a more collective view of internal accountability.

The school is the group of people who work, socialize and learn together. The facilities support the education programmes, contribute to the experiences of the students and promote safety and health of occupants. (Education Policy Paper 1993-2003). The teacher as a change agent should seek to develop positive attitudes towards themselves, their charges, parents and peers, as well as their subject areas. This is essential to foster learning. If the teacher develops a positive self-concept this will translate to a nurturing and supportive attitude towards the students.

According to Harris&Muijis (2005), the effective teacher has a high sense of self- efficacy. The teacher is aware of and check personal biases and dislikes especially when dealing with students (pp. 13-14). A teacher who is tired, frustrated, emotionally upset,insecure, cannot successfully pass on positive attitude, knowledge, skills to students. “Education is a means of looking out beyond the boundaries of the immediate it can be the visible means that creates individuals with the intellect and capacity to develop and lead societies, communities, villages and neighbourhoods and families of the future.

It should be responsive to and stimulate the searing human spirit and the emphatic quest for human communication, interaction, love and trust. (Education Policy Paper (1993-2003). The teacher in the role as change agent recognises the importance of interaction with colleagues and administration in order to be more effective as a teacher and as a school. “There is a body of evidence that demonstrates that teachers work most effectively when they are supported by other teachers and work together collegially.

Successful schools create collaborative environments which encourages involvement, professional development, mutual support and assistance in problem-solving”. (Hopkins, 1994, p225). In the “health promoting school”, the needs of both students and teachers are taken into consideration. Teacher collaboration with parents is essential. It would be in the best interest of the student if there is a consistent link between teachers and parents. The teacher appreciates that in order to reach the students it is essential to know as much as possible about them. One way of doing this is by interacting with parents of the children.

Often problems at home result in poor performance at school. As such the caring teacher makes every effort to deal with these problems in the interest of the child. Teaching in rural areas has its particular issues, one of which is poverty. In rural areas this is a reality, no matter how extraordinary an educator is, without necessary supports such as community and health services, the effects of poverty will have a negative impact on student achievement. Collaboration between teachers and parents can also help in the improvement of the school and by extension the wider society.

With parents and teachers working together to impart knowledge as well as values to the children, the chances are increased that students will become valuable citizens who make a meaningful contributions to society. A teacher will commit to the establishment of a positive “ethos “in the school environment, focusing on the reality that as a change agent the ethos or climate of a school depends on the nature and personal relationship informing its organization. These relationships should be founded on respect for persons- between head and staff, between colleagues, between teachers and pupils and between the pupils.

Thus the primary condition for building a good school community is that everybody in it respects everybody in it. (Castle 1977. p225). If this is achieved a community based on the sense of the common good will develop. It is this progression of good which is the basic project in democratic society and also the unfinished project that young people need to be invited to take up. This philosophical perspective is closely linked to the interpretive view in sociology that engages teachers in actual process of education. This view is unlike the Functionalist and Marxist views, one of which breeds passivity, the other which focuses on capitalism.

The Interpretive view encourages teachers to look at themselves and their students as social beings who learn from interaction with others as well as their environment and community. This Interpretive view can be extended into the creation of a” health promoting school “. The focus is on collaboration among teachers, administrators and also students, which should lead to a feeling of community and gradually more meaningful experiences for all involved. Education is based on “reality” and this is essential for students since they are able to express themselves and relate to subject matter.

As such the concept of life and living is made real to them. Since they are becoming critical thinkers they are able to face the world and make meaningful contributions in society as well adjusted adults. “Having an opportunity to present one’s own ideas, as well as being permitted to hear and reflect on the ideas of others is an empowering experience. The benefits of discourse with others particularly with peers facilitates, the meaning-making process” (Brooks 1993, p. 108). This also allows for emotional and behavioural maturity, all part of a, “health promoting school”.

The type of language used by teachers is critical to the development or progress of students. Deficit discourses can be used to demean and insult students resulting in low motivation and poor performance in the classroom. This will, of course, create an uncomfortable environment which will discourage learning. According to Bruner language is the key to cognitive development. This is linked to the Constructivism as well as to Interpretive theories. “It is through language that others communicate with us, teaching us their conceptions of the world.

It is also through language that we communicate our conceptions of the world to others and question the way the world functions. Most important is the fact as we grow older we learn to use language to mediate, interpret and reconcile events in our world”. The teacher is able to facilitate this process by determining how the child functions with and without adult assistance. The difference between these two levels of functioning is called the zone of proximal development (zpd) coined by Lev Vygotsky. According to Vygotsky, “Instruction is good, only when it proceeds ahead of developmental level.

Instruction must awaken and bring to life those functions that are in the process of maturing, that is, those in the zone of proximal development”. He went on to say the child had to be led systematically through this area by the teacher who was responsible for providing, “the intellectual scaffolding for the child to climb. ” As such, as was echoed in the philosophical theory. “In the zone of proximal development, social knowledge becomes individual knowledge, and individual knowledge grows and becomes more complex. Ultimately, development leads to a successfully functioning adult in a particular community” ( Max, 2007).

In an effort to assist students in understanding and facilitate learning, the teacher, in keeping with a student-centred approach, respects the language practices of the students. The teacher needs to remember that the students’ home environment would inevitably affect the way they speak and as such tailor lessons with this in mind. “… Learner-centred environments include teachers who are aware that learners construct their own meanings, beginning with beliefs, understanding and cultural practices they bring to the classroom.

If teaching is conceived as constructing a bridge between the subject matter and student, learner- centred teachers keep a constant lookout on both ends of the bridge. Accomplished teachers “give learners reason” by respecting and understanding learners’ prior experiences and understandings, assuming that these can serve as a foundation on which to build bridges to new understandings (Watkins, Carnell, Lodge, 2007, p. 104) Teaching at its core is a moral profession. Teachers must combine the mantle of moral purpose with the skills of change.

Teachers as change agents must strive to move away from the impulse of being,” mentor in the centre to guide on the side”. John Dewey clearly states that,” students should be presented with real life problems and then help to discover information required to solve them. Students should not merely regurgitate information but through discovery and inquiry learn problem solving skills which is critical in student – centred learning and is akin to life- long learning skills needed in the workforce and the community as a whole.

In this writers opinion there is no better commitment for a teacher to make as an agent of change than that of working towards a “health promoting school”. This concept ensures the safety nets students need to learn, feel safe and to develop is attempted to be provided. The teachers are also not excluded, as this is a holistic approach to schooling. Attempts at reform may be hindered by people’s beliefs and the way they have been socialized. The core beliefs of classroom teachers can only be engaged in the process of reform through transactional, collaboration, collegial, participatory modes of relating.

As professionals, we must be involved in continuous discussion and dialogue that would help us to clarify thinking, to let go so as to move from prejudice and ideology to a more thoughtful disposition. References Anderson, L. W. (1991). Increasing teacher effectiveness: UNESCO. For Educational Planning. Ausubel. D. (1978). Educational psychology: A cognitive view. New York Winston Inc. Bansford, J. D. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington D. C. : National Academy Press. Brooks, J. G. & Brooks, M.

G. (1993). In search of understanding: The case for constructivist classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Callahan, R. (1962). Education and the cult of efficiency: Chicago; Illinois: University of Chicago Press. Castle, E. B. (1970). The teacher: London, Oxford University Press. Cooper, J. M. (2003). Classroom teaching skills (7th ed). Boston : Houghton Mifflin. Dennis,S. (2003). Change agent an interview with Michael Fullan. National staff development council, Vol. 24 No. 1.

Retrieved from http:// www. Educationalleaders. gov. nz/Pedagogy-and-assessment/Builbing-effective-learning-environments/Interview-with-Michael- Fullan- Change Agent. 05/09/2011 Fullan, M. (1993). Change forces: Probing the depths of educational reform. London: Falmer Press. Harris, A. & Muijs, D. (2005). Improving schools through teacher leadership. Maidenhead, U. K. : Open University Press. Haley, M. Understanding learner centered instructions from the perspective of multiple intelligences: July- August, Foreign Language Annals: Vol. . 4, No. 4 Holt,J. (1970). In my country school diary: Dell Books. Hopkins, D. (2007). Every school a great school: Realizing the potential of system leadership. New York: Open University Press. Watkins, C. et al. (2007). Effective learning classroom. London: SAGE Publication. Max. C. (2007). Learning theory paper. Retrieved 08/09/2011 from http://www. funderstanding. com/vygotsky. cfm Ministry of Education, Educational Policy Paper (1993-2003). National Task Force of Education (White Paper). Port-of – Spain, Trinidad. Author.

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