Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Choice as pain killer

Patterson (et al) argue that there is a critical difference between punishment and sacrifice. They both have pain, but you have no choice with punishment and choice with sacrifice. That's the nugget, Patterson argues, that leads to personal engagement.

I first encountered Paterson reading an article in December's issue of Teacher Librarian. The whole issue is about teaching and learning with technology. My favorite article is by Vicki Davis, whose blog I have followed for a while. Davis ask, "How do we unleash the intrinsic desire of teachers to help students learn and help teachers make the sacrifices it will take to get there? "(p. 9). Yup, sacrifices. She argues we want to teachers to act as teacherpreneurs: "someone who organizes a classroom venture for learning and assumes the risk for it" (p. 8). Sounds a lot like Collegiate Renewal.

When discussing Collegiate Renewal, we also talk about how engaged learners need engaged teachers. We know what we are asking is actually a really big shift. Sometimes I think we forget about how painful it is.

I think we always need to come back to that intrinsic desire to help kids learn. That's why we are teachers - we make the decision to do things with that desire in mind. Ask two teachers with opposite practices why they do things, and they will both tell you they do it for the learning.

So if choice is the pain killer we need, we have a problem. It is antithetical to "prescribe" choice. And yet, choice in a vacuum is often uninformed or outright wrong.

I have been willing to do a lot of gruelling, devastating and tedious things when I see results for my students. I'm even more willing to do these things when other teachers encourage me to do so. I got my copy of this article from a teacher librarian friend of mine, on the recommendation of another TL. I've shared it with 5 other educators. I went out today to interview a teacher and he talked about why Collegiate Renewal was the only way to go, and then he talked about how hard it is. The choices he is making in his classroom sacrifice his time and energy, but in talking to him, I was reminded that I was prepared to engage, even knowing the pain.

Patterson is right that choice is key, and it is really hard to make a change . Davis quotes Herold et al in the article: "There is no such thing as an 'organizational change...'. When we say an organization has made the transition from 'point A' to 'point B', we really mean individuals within the organization have changed their behaviour, so that collectively the organization now reflects these changes" (p. 70). I guess that means we need to keep talking about what is happening in our classrooms, and about what difference it made for our students. That choice to engage is the only balm.


  1. Well stated, Wendy. You can't legislate change in teaching. We choose to make a change, often with sacrifices, and will do so only if we buy into an idea, program, or philosophy. If you don’t buy into it, you might be inclined to shut your classroom door and do whatever the heck you want regardless of your school system’s initiatives. The thing is, if you don't incorporate some changes, the world around you is going to change anyway, and you will get left behind. Unfortunately, so will your students.


  2. In chess you can attempt a sacrifice. If it succeeds you have come out ahead in the game (scarcely a 'sacrifice' at all). If your sacrifice goes awry it won't be perceived as a sacrifice, but rather a poor move. You need to convince people that they stand a good chance of getting ahead in their game rather than looking like they have made a weak move.

  3. Of course, you are both right! But what may be missing are the fine shades of subtlety in between. There are in fact degrees of pain and degrees of sacrifice! You can’t begin to convince me that birthing a child is the same level of pain as getting a flu shot. Some teachers make the choice to fully embrace “collegiate renewal” thereby ruthlessly analysing and altering teaching practises, altering lesson plans and methods of assessment of and for learning, internalizing the language of engagement, all the while baring the pain of this change. The pain is measured in the additional time spent to effect those changes. Time spent on evenings and weekends away from families and friends or doing whatever teachers do to wind down from the responsibilities and stresses of the seasons and cycles of the educational processes. Breathing new life into schools; effecting changes in the way teachers think and do things on a mass scale is going to cost big time birthing and growing pains. Huge sacrifice; great commitment is costly. Is this a surprise to anyone?
    I, for one, cannot help but ponder the multiplicity of realities in life that would come to bare on teacher’s decisions to embrace this quest to engage students in learning. Is it a surprise to anyone that we, collectively, are not on the same page? We do not all feel the same pain nor are we all committed at the same level to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of “collegiate renewal”. But I dare say, if I am permitted to use an analogy, that we are all employed on the same cruise ship. The stake/share holders have decreed the port of call. The captain and the crew have set the course and engaged the engines. It is a relatively small rudder in relation to the ship size that determines the direction the ship travels. In the captains estimation, we are moving in the right direction. As long as the proponents of collegiate renewal keep steering the ship in the right direction, we will get closer to the destination. Sure, there are those who don’t like the direction or port of call and therefore choose to jump ship. It’s their call. But once again, no surprises here! My point is, the ship needs to leave the harbour! We are not in dry dock, nor can we afford to be. If the public through the elected board members affirm that the students we have today are not the same as the students we had 30 years ago and therefore give direction to school administrators to effect changes to adapt teaching strategies to engage/re-engage students in learning, our professional duty is clearly to evaluate our current practises and do so. The last time I checked I was not self-employed. I believe teachers are still considered public servants. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not teacher bashing nor do I presume our administrators are going to heavy- handedly force changes. My gut reaction and my classroom experience tells me that students’ learning styles, attitudes, manners and commitment to excellence have changed. If I want to stay relevant in my profession, then I better pay attention to the indicators around me, none the least of which are the wishes of the students and parents and administrators that I serve.

  4. I just love this conversation. To me, the choice to sacrifice is when you're empowered to be part of the decision for how you're going to change.

    Making teachers, librarians, and principals part of the decision making and part of the change allows them to make choices and when they make choices to sacrifice without being asked, that is when they are willing to do great things.

    Choice is never a mandate but is a byproduct of good managers who understand the human psyche and that humans, especially those living in a democracy, do not like dictators and lack of choice in their work.

    Thank you so much for the compliment and link to my blog!