Everyone is capable of change, some just do it more slowly

12th June 2009 at 01:00
When performance suffers, teachers must be encouraged and the reasons for the dip investigated, chartered teachers are told

Chartered teachers may play a role in energising, encouraging and uplifting teachers who have become disillusioned, one of the leading academics on school improvement has told them. But they may also need to resist educational change when that change is wrong, overly-prescribed or badly devised.

This was the message Andy Hargreaves, who teaches at Boston College in Massachusetts, delivered to a national conference for chartered teachers in Glasgow.

Evidence suggested that the people most resistant to change were older male and younger female teachers. Sometimes, they were right - and chartered teachers were part of that resistance. Some heads of businesses and schools talked about their staff being divided into a third, a third and a third - one-third they could not do anything with: they just needed to manage them.

"But they are wrong to say they can't change - they just change more slowly," Professor Hargreaves said. "Imagine the response if we labelled a third of students as being unable to change or develop, as if there was some basic psychological deficiency within them."

He is in the middle of a study of organisations across different sectors who have performed above expectations - Burnley FC, a small English football team which has made it into the Premier League, was one example; Fiat motors, which had been on the verge of bankruptcy and was now the world's third largest auto company, was another. "What do we see in all these places?" Professor Hargreaves asked. "That when someone is performing badly, they find a way to help them perform well; they don't just marginalise them or get rid of them immediately. If a player is not playing well, they move them to another position. The best organisations don't operate the third, third, third rule: they realise that dips in performance happen through things that have happened to them and can largely be reversed."

The same principle applied to schools. "Teachers who have been written off can be turned around by insistent pressure and concentration on what they can do," he said.

Sometimes, teachers changed because of a change in their life circumstances; sometimes, it happened when evidence or data demonstrated that change was necessary.


Andy Hargreaves said there was an "unwritten consensus" on who the teacher leaders in any school were:

They work really hard - at least as hard as everybody else and probably a lot harder;

They do things with their colleagues; they listen and include all kinds of colleagues;

They are prepared to stand up for what they believe - if the head has lost the plot, they will tell him or her, not because they are awkward but because they are courageous; and they believe in standing up to the director of education if they believe he or she has lost the plot too.

They are in it for the students, not for themselves.

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