Teachers decide what changes they will make …

David Jones spotted my comment on his post about the need for a third way and writes about the need for academics to feel in control of change in teaching and learning. That links with some reading I was doing yesterday in the process of preparing for my S2 course.

I was digging around for material to support a few comments about the value of professional conversations among educators when I came across a paper in which Meister (2010, p. 883) cites Barth (1990) as having argued

that teachers make decisions hundreds of times a day; yet they are excluded from important decisions that directly affect them, which produces feelings of inefficacy and isolation that erode the profession. Furthermore, because teachers are not closely involved in the decision-making process, they are not committed to the goals.

My own experience as a classroom teacher (8 years) and school principal (9 years) resonates with that. Implementing any change in a school was difficult, if not impossible, if the teachers were not willing parties. Only occasionally would they need to actively oppose; most times passive resistance, doing the least possible, would render an unwanted change largely ineffective. On the other hand, if teachers were on board with a change they would go well beyond the call of duty to ensure its success.

Life as a university academic is very similar in respect to change. Top down, compliance-driven processes seem to predominate. The academic response is typically to do the least possible to produce superficial compliance. Meanwhile, for those things that they value and for which they have some sense of agency they are prepared to commit vastly more effort.

Life is so much easier if we are prepared to believe that most of the time, most people are trying their best to do the right thing. Trust us until it is obvious that there is a problem and then deal with that rather than try to forestall every possible deviance by regulation. Even when we do make a wrong move we are mostly happy to learn how to fix it and move on.


Meister, D. G. (2010). Experienced Secondary Teachers’ Perceptions of Engagement and Effectiveness: A Guide for Professional Development. The Qualitative Report, 15(4), 880-898.