Competence – The Greatest Barrier to Change

A very brief post. Just sharing what I’m thinking about today.

At the moment I’m trying to lead some change at school. Basically, I want teachers to embrace ICT across the board. It’s hard work. There are all sorts of barriers. There are technical barriers (apparently), cost barriers (also apparently), all sorts of barriers. However the barrier I’m thinking about today is unexpected. I work with a bunch of people who are highly resistant to change. They’re resistant because they’re really good teachers who get excellent results in the system as it is.

Teachers whose outcomes are… ahem… less than excellent aren’t a problem. It’s easy to point out to them that we need to change the way we’re doing things. Teachers who just don’t care are even easier; we can ignore them and move ahead. It’s the teachers who are really good who are the problem for me. Until the system in which they’re doing so well changes, where is their incentive to change what they’re doing? They get excellent results out of students, and have done so for years, and show no signs of stopping.

Not only that, but they make me doubt the need for change at all, at least the changes that I’m thinking about. The good thing is that they make me think carefully and clarify why I’m seeking to change how we do things. Also, thankfully, they’re generally supportive and open to new things and improving their practice. However, I suspect that deep down, they’re humouring me when they take my advice.

Why, I hear you ask, and I ask myself, would you want to change the practice of teachers who are getting good results? I honestly ask myself this often. Why should I worry about what constitutes 21st century learning when there are teachers getting excellent results with 19th century practice?  I exaggerate, obviously, but you get the idea.

I think I know why it’s important. Firstly, they are the teachers that others look up to. If they aren’t using ICT effectively, then there is less incentive for others to do so, and I believe that many teachers can improve their outcomes by using ICT effectively. Secondly, just as with literacy and numeracy, I believe that teaching safe and effective use of ICT is the responsibility of all teachers. I wouldn’t dream of saying that I choose not to embed literacy and numeracy into my courses, and yet some really good teachers believe that it’s okay to say that they don’t see the need to embed ICT.

Finally, and most importantly, it is through the consistent use of ICT in all areas of education that outcomes improve across the board, as pointed out by Mal Lee here. I keep coming back to this post. I’ve also written about it here. If strong teachers aren’t pulling in the same direction as those of us who struggle a little bit more, then they’re letting us down, in spite of their excellent individual results.

If we accept Lee’s argument, and I do, then there are some obvious consequences:

ICT infrastructure must be so solid that the use of ICT is never a hindrance. We can’t ask excellent teachers to sabotage their lessons by incorporating sub-standard ICT. Devices need to start up quickly and resources need to be consistently accessible.

The second consequence is that schools need strong leadership to guide these excellent teachers in the direction that is going to be necessary for all students (not just their own) to succeed. This isn’t to say that excellent teachers need to sacrifice their own students results to benefit everyone else. I believe that their own results can in fact be enhanced by the appropriate use of ICT. But they do need to alter their practice and endure some short-term discomfort if we are all to move forward for the benefit of everyone.


* I work with a mixed bunch of teachers. All of them are great people and every one of them has some positive impact on their students. Most of the truly excellent ones aren’t actually a hindrance to my vision for ICT in the school. I’ve take a little poetic licence. Was it worth it? I think so.



3 thoughts on “Competence – The Greatest Barrier to Change

  1. Great piece Eric. I think that you make some really good points, especially in regards to leaders letting the rest of us down and the need for proper infrastructure. Great to have your voice back in the blogasphere.

  2. Thanks, Aaron. I suspect that the problem really lies in the requirements of VCE. As long as we’re assessing students, in the end, with a common exam on set skills and knowledge, then effective teachers are going to get students ready for that. I don’t think that preparing students for the exam and 21st century skills are mutually exclusive. However, it’s easy to forget about the latter when you’re doing well in the former. So until this system changes (which I see no sign of) there is going to be some tension between the two. Bigger brains than mine are thinking about this. I’m happy to leave the job to them.

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