The issue - Changing the way you teach

9th April 2010 at 01:00
Change is good, according to many headteachers. But what if you don't want to adjust and are satisfied with your current teaching methods?

Ten-minute lessons, accelerated learning cycles, neuroscience in the classroom - it seems more and more schools are buying into new ideas and asking staff to change the way they teach. But what if you don't want to change? What if you are quite happy with your own tried and trusted methods, honed in the classroom down the years?

"It's a delicate situation," admits Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University. "Resisting change outright is never a smart career move. But if you are not happy about an idea, it would be equally unwise to just go with the flow. The best approach is to say you will give the new way a try, but to make your concerns known."

The good news is that most schools that innovate do so in a sensible way and consult closely with staff.

"We always pilot an idea first, and only those teachers who like the sound of it need get involved," says Paul Kelley, head at Monkseaton High School in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, where teaching methods include "spaced learning" in which short bursts of learning are interspersed with physical activity.

"Only when we have proper evidence that something works do we ask the whole staff to adopt it - and even then there might be room for negotiation if a teacher can prove their own methods get comparable results."

But not all heads are so open-minded. If you feel you are being pressured into a way of teaching that you are not comfortable with, then talk to your union, who should at least lend a sympathetic ear. "Schools have a duty to ensure teachers are kept abreast of new pedagogical approaches," says Chris Keates, general secretary of teaching union NASUWT. "But teachers need to be able to select the approach they believe is best. They have a right to some professional autonomy."

In reality, it is more of a moral right than a legal one. Teaching contracts usually require you to carry out "any reasonable order", and the concept of what is or is not reasonable is a little slippery.

The most likely grounds for a successful complaint are if you find yourself being asked to teach in a way that you have not been trained for, or if the school implements a large number of initiatives in a short space of time, making your workload unmanageable.

Often, the easiest solution is simply to move to a school that is more in tune with your educational beliefs. But before rushing to the job pages, take a moment to consider exactly why you think a two-way observation mirror in your classroom is such a bad idea. Or why introducing a kinaesthetic element to every lesson seems ridiculous. Do you have valid pedagogical objections or are you just afraid of something new?

"We often resist change simply because we think it will be disruptive or mean more work," says Professor Cooper. "It's a knee-jerk reaction. But if you give new ideas a try, you may find at least something in them that proves valuable."

What to do next

- If asked to adopt new teaching methods, you are entitled to proper training and preparation.

- Always ask to see the research findings that back up a new idea.

- Don't refuse point-blank to try new methods. Do voice your concerns.

- It is reasonable to expect new practices to be properly trialled, and the outcomes analysed.

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